UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


[ rfe/rl banner ]

Afghanistan: Taliban Radio Back On The Air

By Amin Tarzi

In April, residents of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar were able to hear again Shari'a Zhagh (Voice of the Shari'a) -- the name used for Kabul's Radio Afghanistan during the Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.

The opening statement of the broadcast in Pashto told listeners that "Shari'a Zhagh radio raises the voice of the Islamic brotherhood against the superpower, United States of America, and its associates who have been insulting the honor of the Muslim world and its religion and who [have] harmed Islamic rule."

Challenging Foreign Broadcasts

On 18 April, neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) that because foreign radio stations broadcasting to Afghanistan while claming to be independent and free are "not actually free," the neo-Taliban has established its own radio station.

Hakimi said the purpose of the radio would be to "report on the realities and facts" throughout Afghanistan and to introduce "the goals and objectives of the Islamic Movement of Taliban" to Afghans.

Hakimi said that the radio station resumed broadcasting after only "a six-month break." However, there is no credible information to suggest that the neo-Taliban operated a radio station in the past. There could have been experimental broadcasts, but neither the neo-Taliban nor others are on record discussing the issue.

According to Hakimi, the radio station began broadcasting on 18 April for one hour from 0600 to 0700 in Dari and Pashto and would resume for another hour in the evening between 1800 and 1900. Shari'a Zhagh was heard in Kandahar on 18 and 20 April, but since then no other confirmation of the radio's broadcast has been available.

The radio station broadcasting to Kandahar is one of three owned by the neo-Taliban, Hakimi said. The other two stations will "start functioning soon," he added. In a separate interview with AIP on 21 April, the spokesman said that the additional stations would broadcast in other local languages, namely Uzbek and Turkmen. The Afghan Constitution recognizes Pashto and Dari as the country's official languages, while several other languages have official third-language status in areas where the majority of residents speak that language.

Hakimi told AIP on 18 April that the equipment for the radio stations was imported from abroad and set up by Afghan engineers inside the country.

Conspiracies Abound

While the message of the broadcast has not been the center of much debate, the fact that the neo-Taliban has managed to establish a radio station has. This has led to conspiracy theories among Afghans and the Afghan media.

The pro-government "Kabul Times" daily on 26 April wrote that while the Afghan government has taken a nonchalant attitude towards the Shari'a Zhagh based on the calculation that most Afghans have suffered horribly under Taliban rule and therefore would not heed any message propagating a return to such a system, the U.S.-led coalition has vowed to find and destroy the radio station. There is "no doubt that the coalition will locate...[the transmitter] with the help of advanced eavesdropping devices," the daily hoped.

The "Kabul Times," however, also speculated that a foreign hand might be involved in the establishment of the neo-Taliban radio. Calling the militants a "bunch of mullahs" who are "completely ignorant about engineering," the daily questioned who is supporting the radio venture technically and financially.

Without directly accusing Pakistan, the "Kabul Times" wrote that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "has been dealing with the Taliban since its inception." The daily added that "surely the ISI" can "find answers" to the location, type of equipment, and funding for Shari'a Zhagh. The "ISI is expected to fall into line and find out" the necessary information about the neo-Taliban broadcast venture, the commentary recommended.

The mere existence of the Shari'a Zhagh has further fueled questions about the motives of not only Pakistan, but even the United States.

Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 21 April interviewed Kabul University Professor Nasir Ahmad, asking why the United States, which "utilizes modern technological equipment and could easily find the Taliban radio station," has not done so.

Nasir Ahmad responded that, since the United States has long-term strategic plans in Afghanistan, it needs the neo-Taliban to justify its presence in that country. Thus, he argued, the United States is not challenging the radio station.

Hakimi told AIP on 21 April that he believes that U.S.-led coalition forces are looking for the transmission station of Shari'a Zhagh. He believes, however, they will fail in their efforts because the broadcasts are transmitted from a "mobile station." Furthermore, the programs are aired at dawn and dusk when "no-one can detect the station's frequencies," Hakimi contended. He also said that "expert Afghan engineers" have designed the station in such a manner to safeguard it "against all possible risks."

Worrying Echoes

For many Afghans, accepting anything associated with the Taliban regime is a dilemma at best, and loathsome at worst. Some may genuinely support the reconciliation efforts of the Afghan government aimed at bringing most of the former Taliban rank and file back into society, but very few seem to lend support to the return of a Taliban-style system of governance.

If the neo-Taliban radio manages to broadcast regularly and expand its coverage area, it would be a moral boost for the few people who still may be supporting the neo-Taliban for ethnic, personal, or political reasons. Many people are nostalgic for what they see as the Taliban's ability to safeguard public security.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list