Taliban Hits Airwaves in Southeastern Afghanistan The Taliban has a new radio station called "Voice of Shariat" in southeastern Afghanistan. The radio station, which operates out of the back of pickup trucks, is gaining a following, even as the Afghan government is trying to shut it down.
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Taliban Hits Airwaves in Southeastern Afghanistan

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Taliban Hits Airwaves in Southeastern Afghanistan

Taliban Hits Airwaves in Southeastern Afghanistan

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As it happens, the president of Afghanistan is at Camp David today meeting with President Bush. They'll talk about those South Korean missionaries now held hostage. At the top of the agenda will be a war that's heated up as the search for Osama bin Laden has gone cold. In Afghanistan, besides kidnappings, the Taliban are now fighting with roadside bombs and suicide attacks. And they're taking their war to airwaves with clandestine radio broadcasts. So far, their efforts are modest. They transmit a spotty signal for 90 minutes every night, which reaches parts of the several southeastern provinces that are Taliban strongholds.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson visited Paktia province, where the broadcast is available and Afghans are tuning in.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in Foreign Language)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: It's 8:00 PM and the Taliban is back on the air. Hatabe(ph) village resident Ambrulo(ph) and his brothers grab their steaming cups of green tea and gather around the portable radio on their living room floor.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: To hear the program called "Voice of Shariat," they must constantly fiddle with the dial, like on this night when a BBC broadcast bleeds into the mournful song on the Taliban radio. In the end, the brothers are forced to settle for an annoying blend of the two broadcasts.

(Soundbite of radio static)

NELSON: Ambrulo, who is 22 and studying to be a teacher, says he doesn't like the Taliban, but his 16-year-old brother Jawaldeen(ph) says it's nevertheless important to hear what the militants have to say.

JAWALDEEN: (Through translator) We want to hear how many casualties the Taliban fighters inflict on the government forces with their warplanes and armored vehicles.

NELSON: Taliban radio writer Zobio Lom Mushahed(ph) says anyone who listens to their broadcast will hear plenty of such reports, along with Islamic instruction and devotional songs.

Mr. ZOBIO LOM MUSHAHED (Writer, Taliban Radio): (Through translator) For a struggle, we need propaganda. We want to invite Afghans to join our struggle, and radio is a great tool for this.

NELSON: At the moment, his tool is limited to several transmitters driven around on the backs of pickup trucks to avoid Afghan authorities. But he claims the nightly Pashto-language broadcast, the Taliban's biggest since being ousted from power in 2001, is a success.

In Kabul, the Afghan Intelligence Ministry says efforts are underway to shut down the "Voice of Shariat." The Taliban's Mushahed says he's not worried, given the transmitters are operating in areas under militant control. Those areas exist even in provinces like Paktia, where a constant stream of U.S. military convoys patrol the main roads.

Rafia Labidar(ph), a local Afghan human rights official, says the Taliban couldn't have chosen a better region for its radio project. He says Paktia and its neighboring provinces have a high illiteracy rate and limited coverage by government-run radio.

Mr. RAFIA LABIDAR (Human Rights Activist): (Through translator) We have large areas that are not under Afghan government control. And where we don't have that control, Taliban radio can unfortunately end up inspiring people.

NELSON: Back in Hatabe, Ambrulo says it's fear, rather than inspiration, that people feel after hearing the Taliban broadcast. He says villagers worry the group will return to power.

AMBRULO: (Through translator) Most people aren't happy about this programming. But if the government continues to let it operate, people may decide to support with Taliban because they will believe the militants are winning.

NELSON: This night's broadcast proved to be the least of his worries. Just hours later, Taliban fighters came to Ambrulo's village and kidnapped his distant cousin who worked at a nearby American base. The cousin was beheaded.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Hatabe.

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