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In Battle For Hearts And Minds, Taliban Turn To CDs
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In Battle For Hearts And Minds, Taliban Turn To CDs

Afghanistan

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now to the propaganda war in Afghanistan. The Taliban is producing its own CDs and DVDs in an attempt to influence public opinion.

As NPR's Ahmad Shafi reports, clips of these Taliban songs and other propaganda material are openly sold in Kabul.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

AHMAD SHAFI, BYLINE: In bustling downtown Kabul, Mustafa, a 22-year-old college student is sitting on a chair behind the large glass doors of an electronics store. He's selling music CDs to 20-something customers. He also helps them upload the music on their cell phones.

But not all of Mustafa's customers are looking for the latest Afghan, Indian or Western pop songs. He says he has customers who only look for Taliban songs, a sort of hypnotic chanting of religious and nationalistic poems unaccompanied by music. He clicks on one the audio files.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAFI: In Pashto, one of the two main languages of Afghanistan, the song calls for a holy war against the infidels. The song says the fight will continue until corruption is wiped out and the Taliban's version of Islamic law is restored.

MUSTAFA: (Foreign language spoken).

AHMAN SHAFI, BYLINE: Mustafa says if someone brings him the Taliban CDs that he suspects to have probably been downloaded from the Internet. He sells 50 songs for about a dollar.

Since 2005, in an attempt to demonstrate its resurgence, the Taliban has been mass producing CDs and DVDs featuring footage of alleged NATO atrocities in clips of insurgents battling NATO forces. The CDs and DVDs are readily available in Kabul and other major cities.

In some rural areas, the Taliban operates pirate radio transmitters, through which the militants broadcast warnings to the locals and Afghan government officials.

Bilal Sarwary, a BBC reporter, witnessed the impact of the Taliban's radio programs on a recent trip to his native Kunar province, which lies on the border with Pakistan.

BILAL SARWARY: I was hearing, along with thousands of other villagers, very clearly warnings issued by one of the Taliban radio stations and they were calling the Afghan National Police traitors. They were naming some people, warning them not to help the Americans and the Afghan government or else they will be killed.

SHAFI: Sarwary says the Taliban broadcasts refer to the impending withdrawal of NATO troops scheduled for the end of 2014 as a sign of victory for the insurgents.

SARWARY: It was a Taliban commentator and he said, look, conduct however many Special Forces operations you want. You will not scare the Taliban. NATO is leaving. NATO is losing. NATO cannot fight us.

SHAFI: NATO has been using social media sites, such as Twitter, to try to counter the Taliban's propaganda. However, only a small percentage of Afghans have access to the Internet. NATO has also been supporting some local radio and TV stations, but the Taliban has also shifted tactics, assassinating radio personalities who oppose them. This month, they killed a prominent tribal leader in Kandahar who used his radio station to preach against the Taliban.

In the battle for psychological advantage, many analysts believe ISAF, the acronym for the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, has largely failed to deliver its message.

Candace Rondeaux from the International Crisis Group says the Taliban, on the other hand, has improved its propaganda machine over the years.

CANDACE RONDEAUX: In the meantime, you know, ISAF kind of sits silently or they frequently put out, you know, these sort of propaganda videos or commercials or radio statements that don't really connect with Afghan realities at all.

SHAFI: Many observers believe a victory over the Taliban will only come if NATO does more in the battle for public opinion.

Ahman Shafi, NPR News, Kabul.

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