Anand Gopal


Writer ● Journalist

Decoding the Syrian Propaganda War

Anand Gopal | Aug 10th, 2012 | Harper's Magazine

Last month, video emerged from the Syrian town of Tremseh showing scores of blood-sodden bodies of children and adults, some with cracked skulls and slit throats, all of them purported victims of the Syrian army. As the camera panned across the grisly tableau, an anguished commentator read out the names of the dead and cried, “God is greater!” The Syrian National Council, an umbrella rebel group, announced that 305 people had been killed, making Tremseh the gravest massacre of the fifteen-month-long uprising. Hillary Clinton decried this “indisputable evidence that the regime murdered innocent civilians,” and the United Nations issued its strongest condemnation of Syria to date.

But there was a problem—no one had actually visited the town. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to Free Syria

Anand Gopal | Jul 15th, 2012 | Harper's Magazine

Meeting the rebel government of an embattled country

Abu Malek was pacing back and forth in the hospital parking lot, muttering to himself and firing off phone calls. “Don’t say ‘How are you’ to me,” he told one caller, “because I am not fine, I am very, very, very, very bad.” The hospital was in the Turkish town of Antakya, and the staff was treating several rebels who had been wounded in the fighting across the border in Syria, about ten miles away. The Syrian army was in the midst of a major offensive, sweeping through one northern town after another with tanks and heavy artillery, trying to kill as many rebel fighters as possible before April 12, when a ceasefire brokered by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan would go into effect. The revolution had been grinding on for more than a year, and as many as 10,000 people had died already.

From Turkey, Malek had followed events closely and stayed in contact with his family in the northern town of Taftanaz. (Malek’s name and those of some of the people mentioned in this article have been changed.) Soon after he learned that the army had surrounded Taftanaz, phone lines were cut, so he sent a friend to retrieve his family. The friend returned with the news that Malek’s mother was missing, his cousins were missing, and his house had been razed.

Read the rest of this entry »

From Bad to Worse

Anand Gopal | Dec 6th, 2011 | Foreign Policy

You would think that, after ten long and bloody years, there would be little new the Afghan war could offer in terms of brutality. But Tuesday’s twin suicide strikes on Shi’a Muslim processions in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, leaving 58 dead and more than a hundred wounded, marks an unprecedented insurgent assault on civilians. Never before in the current war have Afghanistan’s Shi’a been deliberately targeted, and rarely has an attack been so completely devoid of a military target.

What do the bombings say about the evolving nature of the Afghan insurgency? Read the rest of this entry »

Excerpts of Interviews with Sirajuddin Haqqani

Anand Gopal | Sep 17th, 2011 |

After the recent Reuters interview with Siraj Haqqani, I shuffled through my archives to see if there is anything new in what he said. Below are a excerpts of a few interviews I did with him in 2010. You’ll see he covers similar ground. The Haqqanis are quite pragmatic and have an established track record of exhibiting openness to a deal, although for legitimacy purposes it seems unlikely that such a development would come independently of the Quetta Shura Taliban.

Haqqani has been reticent in the last year–largely because, his people explain to me, of the fear of drone attacks. In fact, if I’m not mistaken this is the first time he has publicly surfaced in over a year. That it comes in the midst of heightened US accusations against the Pakistanis is probably not an accident: Islamabad has for some time been promoting the Haqqanis as responsible interlocutors in a potential peace process.

Your father worked with the U.S to defeat the Soviets. Is there any way you could talk with or work with the Americans to bring peace to Afghanistan?

At that time my father didn’t have a personal relationship with Americans. Back then the whole international community was supporting the Afghan Jihad, including Western and Arab countries. Also back then the Afghan freedom fighters were relying more on the assistance and aid of Islamic countries rather than Western countries. Like today, during the Soviet era the  Mujahidin were fighting an occupying force and believed that foreign forces are the only obstacle which prevents peace and stability in Afghanistan. This is why we wanted the immediate withdrawal of the occupying forces. Today too the withdrawal of the occupying forces is one of our main demands. Once the occupying forces leave Afghanistan the fighting will end and peace and stability will be restored.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Tripoli Uprising

Anand Gopal | Sep 1st, 2011 | Foreign Policy

TRIPOLI, Libya – One night late last month, in a sweltering apartment deep in the heart of Tripoli, a group of men gathered around the television to watch the evening news. The program was carried on Libya al-Ahrar, a Doha-based news channel beaming into Libya in support of the revolution. At precisely 8:30 p.m., after the breaking of the Ramadan fast and as locals were streaming to the mosques, the message these men were waiting for came: “Truly, we have granted you a clear victory,” the newscaster said, before signing off for the night.

It was a verse from the Quran, but to the men in this room, in the tightly packed neighborhood of Souq al-Juma, it was so much more — a code that signaled that their uprising was to begin. Over the next 48 hours, the people of Tripoli pushed Libya’s six-month revolution to its staggering denouement, ensuring their country would never again be the same and reinvigorating the Arab awakening — and it all began in this neighborhood.

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An Appeal for Funding

Anand Gopal | Aug 24th, 2011 |

Kandahar & London
An Appeal for Funding

(This is a joint post by Alex Strick van Linschoten, Felix Kuehn and Anand Gopal)

I wouldn’t normally put something like this up on the blog, but after over a year or so of asking around (without success) we’re trying all options.

For several years now, Felix, Anand and I have been collecting old (and new) Taliban documents. Felix and I made a point of finding things that covered pre-2001, and Anand found things post-2001. Some of the research you may have read about on this blog or in books came from this material. For example, the poems written by Talibs in Poetry of the Taliban (published later this year) were all gathered together in this way.

Our collection is pretty wide and comprehensive. I won’t say too much about the kinds of sources we have, but suffice it to say that we have complete collections of most publications and books that the Taliban were associated with (and various other documents/videos/audiotapes). These sources date from the 1980s until the present day.

We are looking — we have been looking — for funds to translate these sources into English and place them (and scans of the originals) online so that researchers and anyone else can access them. Almost none of this material is used (or has been used) in the study of the Taliban (particularly pre-2001) and this project would allow a far deeper understanding.

If you are a donor and are interested in funding this project, please get in touch with me, Felix or Anand at the contact page.

When personalities trump institutions: Two assassinations in Afghanistan

Anand Gopal | Jul 18th, 2011 | Foreign Policy

As southern Afghanistan was still reeling from the assassination of local heavyweight Ahmed Wali Karzai, gunmen on Sunday struck down Jan Muhammad Khan, one of the most notorious powerbrokers in southern Afghanistan. JMK, as he is known to the Americans, was the governor of Uruzgan province until 2006, when his policies proved so divisive that he was removed and given a titular role in Kabul. “He was so hated, even when there was a drought we’d blame him,” an Uruzgani farmer told me once.

In style, JMK and Ahmed Wali couldn’t have been more different — Jan Muhammad was an unpolished, old-guard mujahed, evoking images of the rough-and-tumble life of the Afghan frontier, while AWK was an English speaking, business-minded powerbroker. But both are products of the modern way of war, men of enormous power born of contracting dollars and access to U.S. officials. They leave behind lucrative political and financial networks, and what becomes of these networks will play a big role in determining the shape of things to come in southern Afghanistan. Who, then, is likely to take their place?

Read the rest of this entry »

Who is Tayeb Agha?

After years of rumors of talks with the Taleban, the US is finally meeting a senior Taleban representative face-to-face. In a series of encounters this spring in Germany and Doha, it has been leaked to the press that US officials have met with Tayyeb Agha, a leading Taleban figure. But the world of the Taleban is quite murky—the makeup of the senior leadership is poorly understood, nor is it certain that there is a unified viewpoint on talks within the Quetta Shura.  Who, then, is Tayyeb Agha, and what does he represent?

Read the rest of this entry »

Egypt’s Cauldron of Revolt

Anand Gopal | Feb 17th, 2011 | Foreign Policy

Mahalla, Egypt–In the sprawling factories of El-Mahalla el-Kubra, a gritty, industrial town a few hours’ drive north of Cairo, lies what many say is the heart of the Egyptian revolution. “This is our Sidi Bouzid,” says Muhammad Marai, a labor activist, referring to the town in Tunisia where a frustrated street vendor set himself on fire, sparking the revolution there.

Indeed, the roots of the mass uprising that swept dictator Hosni Mubarak from power lie in the central role this dust-swept company town played years ago in sparking workers’ strikes and grassroots movements countrywide. And it is the symbolic core of the latest shift in the revolution: a wave of strikes meant to tackle social and economic inequities, which has brought parts of Egypt to a standstill.

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The People’s Triumph in Egypt

Anand Gopal | Feb 12th, 2011 | The Nation

CAIRO—Late Thursday night, one could hear the sound of hundreds of thousands of people hushing each other. In Tahrir, the central square that has become the heart of the Egyptian revolution, they jostled, they craned their necks toward the soundstage, they inched closer to the giant TV screen, to listen to dictator Hosni Mubarak.

When he finally appeared on screen, the square fell silent. Mubarak began by sympathizing with the martyrs of the revolution, and acknowledging that the protesters’ demands were “legitimate and just.” He spoke about putting the interests of Egypt ahead of his own. The crowd shivered in anticipation. But the words so many desperately wanted to hear never came. “I will not leave,” he said defiantly, “until I am buried in the ground.”

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