Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Friday, September 13, 2002

The US Army is helping Afghans in Bamiyan with a new radio station.

The fledgling radio station, started with the help of the U.S. Army in May, is still battling technical hiccups that can knock it off the air for days at a time. But with a potential reach of 50,000 people, it has a powerful influence throughout the Bamiyan valley of central Afghanistan. ``Our goals are to provide news, to spread new information to the people to improve their thinking,'' said station manager Qurban Ali Fasihi.

Many men take their portable radios to work so they won't miss Radio Bamiyan's one-hour program, which starts at 6 p.m. Women congregate in one home to listen together to the health and human rights programming.

Staff Sgt. Joe Smith, chief of the U.S. Army Psychological Operations team in Bamiyan, calls the station the ``public crown'' of his team's work since coming to Bamiyan in April. His three-member team is charged with building rapport with the residents in a 35-mile swath of the valley, an area rich with historical treasures where people are still recovering from the strict rule of the Taliban regime that was ousted last November by a U.S.-led military coalition.

They talk with residents about their needs, get feedback on coalition activities and distribute posters and leaflets warning residents to avoid land mines, condemning the Taliban and urging support for coalition activities. Other brochures promote acceptance of different ethnic groups. Bamiyan province is home to the Hazara, who suffered heavily at the hands of the predominantly Pashtun Taliban. Under Taliban rule, hundreds of Hazarans were killed or imprisoned and farmers were prevented from planting crops.

I find it somehow touching that we these people now find such pleasure in the simple joy of being able to listen to the radio and drop off letters for programming suggestions. It makes me think of just how wrong all the pampered protesters who say that we were wrong in the toppling of the Taliban. It alos gives me hope that the people of Afghanistan really do get it and want to have peace and a voice in the government. It will spread.

Though there are frequent equipment breakdowns, Radio Bamiyan has already made its mark in the community. Listeners regularly offer suggestions to improve the broadcast — more Dari singers and more international news, for example — and many take advantage of the regular ``Ask a Doctor'' or ``Answers to Your Letters'' programs. Listeners drop off letters personally, since there is no telephone service through much of Bamiyan. They ask for advice on treating children's ailments, why the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas and why the station is not playing a particular singer.

``Every society wants different things,'' said Fasihi. ``We play according to their beliefs. It is difficult because there are modern vs. old-fashioned ideals here. We have to please both.''

The U.S. Army provides the generator to keep the station on the air, but Smith expects it will eventually become completely independent. Fasihi has been soliciting non-governmental organizations for advertising dollars, though the response so far has been minimal. ``Now we're in the crawling stage, but the station is definitely going in the right direction,'' Smith said.

< email | 9/13/2002 12:18:00 PM | link

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