Nato and its member states have faced increasing public criticism in Afghanistan. Mass protest was lounged against Denmark, Holland and other western countries for printing Mohammad Cartoons; voices of concern were also heard among political circles against the appointment of Lord Ashton as UN representative to Afghanistan. Public protests in Afghanistan against western countries would negatively affect NATO presence. Nato, appears, to have learned from the culture of protest and can turn it around to its own benefit.
A credible source within Polish Contingent of NATO, which preferred to remain unanimous, has confirmed that the PsyOps Unit of Polish contingent based in Gardez and Sharana was involved in an operation resulting in a mass protest on Monday. PsyOps stands for Psychological Operation and is the military version of Public Relation. The protest took place after a Polish Newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza wrote an article about possible Russian contribution to Nato operation in Afghanistan. the article was translated into Farsi and Pashtu by Polish PsyOps unit and circulated among Gardez citizens. Azizuddin an employee of Gardez Information and Culture Department said to a local journalist that copies were delivered to the State Radio and TV station in Gardez too. The demonstration was staged in the southeastern Paktia province against a Russian plan to contribute peacekeepers to International Security Force. Attended by hundreds of Gardez, Paktia provincial capital, residents. Provincial Ulema Council head Maulvi Khaleq-Dad told Pajhwok News Agency that “deployment of Russian forces will amount to aggression against our motherland; we are staunchly averse to that proposal.” A declaration issued at the conclusion of the protest denounced the proposed deployment of Russian troops to Afghanistan as an act of aggression that would be stoutly resisted. This is the first cleric gathering in Afghanistan in the last few months not to protest against the Nato member states or the Cartoon publishing. The clergy managed to rally thousand of Afghans in the cities of Mazar, Kabul, Hirat, Nangarhar and Kandahar to protest against cartoon reprint. Political analysts have pointed out that the aim was to distract public, or specifically the Mullah and clergy, attention from Holland and Denmark for the reprint of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the forthcoming film.
Gazetta Wyborcza’s story had no mention of the Russian side amid the statements made by the first deputy press secretary of the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, defying rumours of Russia sending troops to the Afghanistan. NATO has a well funded PsyOps unit in Afghanistan to influence public opinion or to persuade them to act in certain ways. For this reason the Afghan operation is most popularly dubbed “Winning Hearts and Minds”. Although the name psychological operation is associated with guerilla warfare, rebellion and subversion Nato has made no effort to camouflage it. to give an example of the scale of NATO propaganda; in 2007 an Afghan marketing agency, alone was contracted for six million dollars by the International Forces to set up hundreds of NATO friendly billboards. The techniques used to influence the public attitude and opinion so far has been the use of positive messages and promises for a better future through the use of newspapers, radio and television. Nato PsyOps is not subject to Afghan media law and legislation, based on the agreement signed by the afghan government and UN in Bonn in 2001. Afghanistan provides unregulated media access, radio and TV frequency for Nato.
In spite all Nato investment the propaganda so far hasn’t been a very successful operation partly because Nato hasn’t yet built a good knowledge of Afghan psychology. The message Nato was trying to put through was to promote women’s’ rights, peace, anti-Talibanism and disarmament; those messages didn’t get through very well. This is the first time that Nato has manipulated a rally through operatives and propaganda. It is quite easy to manipulate the mass organised around the clergy, Afghan warlords and tribal leaders have managed to do this with a very low budget. Clergy rallies are organised around sensationalism, the hot temper of participants are used to intimidate opponents and gather commitment from participants. Afghan Rallies are effective to use if the Psychology is understood. Rallies are organised around trusted authorities or clergy. The participants have little knowledge of the protest and are mostly uneducated, therefore they accept information uncritically. Information is wrapped in Islamic concepts to make it believable for participants. Most often participants do not understand their own motivations or reasons for their presence.
Its hard to understand the purpose of the newspaper for running the story other than lack of facts. But the subsequent circulation is intended to stimulate anger among a fanatic group by reminding of an external threat in order to provide a reasonable justification for NATO's military presence in Afghanistan.