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In Kabul or not: Did Afghans ‘photoshop’ Tillerson’s meeting picture with President Ghani?

A tweet initially mentioned that the meeting took place in Kabul but then a correction was subsequently issued, saying they met at the high-security military base in Bagram.

world Updated: Oct 25, 2017 14:33 IST
Rex Tillerson,Tillerson,Ashraf Ghani
Two photographs of the “secret meeting” between US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani have left everyone scratching their heads.(Twitter)

Two photographs of the “secret meeting” between US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani have left everyone scratching their heads.

Tillerson met Ghani on Monday and reaffirmed his country’s support to establishing peace and stability in the region. But their meeting was made public only after Tillerson had left the country.

The United States’ embassy in Kabul and Ghani’s office issued photographs from different angles of the “productive meeting”.

Both show Tillerson and Ghani sitting inside a windowless room with two giant television screens in the background. Delegates from both the countries are also seen in the photos. The US embassy tweeted the picture mentioning that the meeting took place in Kabul.

It was, however, a clock that gave away the slight discrepancies in the photos.

A digital wall clock hanging behind the two displaying ‘Zulu time’- a military term for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) - appeared to have been morphed out in the picture shared by the office of the Afghan president on Facebook.

A red fire alarm in the background also seemed digitally removed.

The digital wall clock and red fire alarm appear to have been morphed out (Office of the President of Afghanistan/ ARG Facebook)

Equally enigmatic was Tillerson’s Twitter account. A tweet initially mentioned that the meeting took place in Kabul but then a correction was subsequently issued, saying they met at the high-security military base in Bagram.

Hany Farid, a photo forensics expert and professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, told the New York Times that the objects were most likely removed through Photoshop.

“There is no question that the photo has been manipulated,” he said.

Experts say the ‘manipulation’ was aimed at ensuring that the meeting venue was not revealed to avert a security threat. Around 50 rockets landed near the Kabul airport during US defence secretary James Mattis visit last month.

Keeping the venue obscure was also seen as an effort by Afghanistan to project strength and advance a positive narrative about the country’s security situation.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 13:20 IST