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Documentary Challenges New Zealand’s Role in Afghanistan

Documentary Challenges New Zealand’s Role in Afghanistan

New Zealand's military engagement in Afghanistan is the subject of a challenging documentary due to screen on Maori Television on the eve of Anzac Day.

He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan explores New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan – the longest ever war in which this country has played a part.

Commissioned by Maori Television and directed and produced by award-winning filmmakers Annie Goldson (Brother Number One, An Island Calling) and Kay Ellmers (Canvassing the Treaty, Polynesian Panthers) through Occasional Productions, the documentary gives an overview of the engagement, and backgrounds some of Afghanistan’s turbulent history to provide context to the post 9/11 invasion.

Dr Goldson said the documentary sheds light on our recent past and holds valuable lessons for the future.

"By joining in the war post-911, have we been 'good global citizens' fighting the good fight against international terrorism? Or did New Zealand enter into an alliance that has meant our soldiers have been actively and militarily involved in a complex conflict that most of us know little about and have not agreed to participate in?”

Dr Goldson said most New Zealanders’ knowledge of our military engagement in Afghanistan will have been acquired through “embedded” media reports that have been carefully controlled.

She added that the timing of the documentary premiere was very deliberate. “We’ve been making the film over the past two years and were always planning to release it as New Zealand troops withdrew, thus providing an overview and analysis of New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan.”

He Toki Huna (The Hidden Adze) takes viewers on the ground in Afghanistan with independent New Zealand journalist Jon Stephenson as he seeks eyewitness accounts of incidents involving New Zealand troops, and interviews soldiers who have served on the front line in Afghanistan.

“The film does pose some uncomfortable questions about the political motivations that sent young New Zealand men and women to battle in a very ill-defined war against an unclear and shifting ‘enemy’, supporting a new Afghan ‘state’ with little support amongst its own population,” fellow director/producer Kay Ellmers said.

“Most importantly, unlike most other media coverage to date, we hear from Afghans themselves, did they want us there, and what has our presence achieved?

“We give voice to the indigenous population and seek their analysis of New Zealand’s presence in their homeland.”

Maori Television general manager of programming Haunui Royal said He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan is an important documentary that all New Zealanders should see.

“We hope that it will generate meaningful discussion and encourage Kiwis to talk about the reasons behind New Zealand’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan. Many of those who died while serving in Afghanistan were Maori so the documentary will also serve as a powerful reminder of the huge sacrifices our soldiers and their whanau have made over the past 10 years.”

He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan premieres on Maori Television on Wednesday 24 April at 8.30pm. It was funded through NZ on Air with generous support from The University of Auckland. Maori Television will once again dedicate its programming schedule on Thursday 25 April to ANZAC Day.

QUOTES FROM INTERVIEWS IN He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan

Jon Stephenson: “There really can’t be a more important matter of public interest than when a government sends its young men and women to a foreign country to fight, possibly to be killed, and to kill other people… Why are they going ? Is it in our national interest? Is the cause just? Is the war being fought in a just manner? I think those are questions that New Zealanders’ definitely need to have answers to”.

Jon Stephenson: “There will always be wars, there will always be spin, there will always be deception. I’m not naïve about my work and its capacity to stop that. But what I think is important is to put on record as a service to historical truth if you like, what has happened. It is a fundamental component of journalism that media hold the powers that be to account.”

Jon Stephenson’s investigations have at times uncovered stories at odds with the official version of events released by military and government officials. In an extensive piece published by Metro in April 2011 ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, Jon asserts that New Zealand breached the Geneva Conventions by handing over prisoners into situations where they were likely to be mistreated and tortured.

Jon’s article met vehement rejection from military and government officials including attacks on his credibility as a journalist. Long-time colleague, TV3 journalist Mike McRoberts picked up the story and ran it on 60 Minutes.

Mike McRoberts: “It really was quite amazing when Jon's article came out… you just felt the full force of the government and the Defence Force trying to keep a lid on that, and trying to discredit it, trying to suppress it. And these sorts of conditions that Jon was talking about, these circumstances that our troops are put under sometimes, will never change unless someone speaks up about them. And they can't do it. So who better than the media?”

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s extensive and impeccably documented book ‘Other Peoples Wars’ explores our military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has met with a complete wall of silence from official sources. Nicky provides well informed and insightful commentary throughout He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan

Nicky Hager: The problem with the Afghanistan war, right from the beginning, was that it was the wrong war in the wrong place. A small number of people had carried out a terrorist attack, that were closely associated with Saudi Arabia, they were closely associated with the United Arab Emirates, they’d come from Germany, and there were only the most tenuous links to Afghanistan but Afghanistan was a convenient, easy target for an angry super power. The reason why we need to look at what we did there is that IF we don’t, the next time the Americans or the British or someone ask us to go off to war and there’s political pressures and Foreign Affairs thinks it will be good for trade talks or something, we’ll do it again. In other words, this is a very important part of our history.

Donald Matheson (Senior Lecturer, University of Canterbury): “In a democracy what a government does really only has legitimacy when we the public know what’s going on and that’s particularly the case when it is a matter of life and death when we are intervening in the affairs of another country.”

Former Platoon commander Alpha Kennedy: “Afghanistan has had a long history of foreign intervention and a degree of animosity towards any foreign soldier on their soil with a weapon. But would we tolerate Afghan soldiers on our soil? It could be likened to the activities Maori tribes against European colonial forces certainly at Parihaka and some of Te Rauparaha’s battles.

“I think each individual soldier makes a decision on how, aware he is on the broader political aims and policy reasons for deploying to Afghanistan, and certainly, in my experience the soldier generally just wants to go out there and do his job to the best of his ability, and those policy reasons he trusts the politicians to make the right decisions.”

Major General Dave Gawn (former NZ Joint Forces Commander, now Chief of Army): “As the commander every one of those soldiers, sailors and airmen at the front who literally endanger their life every time they walk out that front gate. Because you never know, you don’t know who the enemy is, you don’t know where they’re going to strike, you don’t know if there’s going to be an IED. Now I won’t compromise that in any way whatsoever. And I know that that is frustrating to the public… there is a sense of this right to know.”

Afghan journalist Dr Ali Safi: “America (and its allies) came to Afghanistan for their own interests. If they really wanted to liberate Afghanistan they should have come long ago. During the civil war 65,000 innocent people in Kabul were killed in the factional fighting and nobody (in the international community) cared about it. Under the Taliban, women and girls were banned from schools; the economy was zero. It was very clear that America came for their own benefits… because America was attacked and there was international terrorism. Having the foreign forces itself is not a good idea, you know. To send your soldiers to Afghanistan, to another country, it is causing problems.”

Afghan PhD student and civil activist Orzala Ashraf Nemat: “A state of Afghanistan can only be built if we Afghans stand together to build it. It can never be built through sponsorship, money, buying, weaponising, militarising, or politicising the situation as a whole.”

BRIEF BIOGRAPHY: ANNIE GOLDSON
Annie Goldson has been making feature and broadcast documentaries for 20 years. Her films have won more than 50 international and domestic awards at film festivals, have opened theatrically in the US, Australia and New Zealand and sold to broadcasters such as PBS, CBC, Channel 4, ARD, Canal Plus and HBO. Major films include Punitive Damage, Georgie Girl, Sheilas, Pacific Solution, Elgar’s Enigma, An Island Calling and Brother Number One. Annie holds an ONZM for services to film and received her PhD at The University of Auckland where she current teaches.

BRIEF BIOGRAPHY: KAY ELLMERS
Kay Ellmers (Ngati Tamateraa/Ngati Raukawa) is one of New Zealand’s most experienced Māori documentary makers with proven success in a variety of documentary genre exploring contemporary social issues. Award-winning projects include: Whānau, Best Māori Programme, NZTV Awards; The Brown Factor, Best Sports Programme, Qantas Media Awards; Hikoi: Inside Out, Wairoa Māori Film Festival; and Trouble with Words, Media Peace Awards. Kay has previously delivered six documentaries to Māori Television: Tā Paora, Whānau, Canvassing the Treaty, Polynesian Panthers, Pōwhiri: Welcome or Not?, and Sons From Afar.

ENDS

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