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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Battle for Afghan airwaves
Opposition fighters in the Panjshir Valley
Both sides need the radio in Afghanistan's war
By Suzanne Lidster and Peter Feuilherade of BBC Monitoring

Afghanistan's media have been seriously restricted in freedom of expression and range since the Taleban came to power in 1996.

Radio Afghanistan was renamed Radio Voice of Shariah - the word for Islamic law - and now reflects the values of the Taleban.

Thank God Almighty, now the Mojahedin, the Taleban, are ready to confront the enemy.

Taleban commander on Afghan radio
Voice of Shariah is the sole broadcaster operating in Kabul and provincial centres, and is largely a platform for official propaganda and religious sermons.

On Monday, the radio broadcast reassurances to Kabul residents that they had nothing to fear amid US moves against terrorism.

"They should be confident about the security situation along this front-line just as they were a year ago," said Taleban commander Gholam Mohammad Hotak. "Thank God Almighty, now the Mojahedin, the Taleban, are ready to confront the enemy."

Voice of Shariah describes itself as the only broadcaster in the world where music of any kind is banned.

Mountains around Kabul
Mountainous terrain is a bar to reception
It has radio stations in Taleban-controlled provinces, but some of these areas, particularly in the north and north-west, are under threat from the opposition Northern Alliance.

The external service carries foreign-language programmes on a single shortwave frequency, around 7085 kHz.

It broadcasts in Pashto, Dari, Urdu, Turkmen, Uzbek, Arabic, Russian and English, but transmissions are irregular and reception is difficult outside Afghanistan.

Clandestine Radio Watch (CRW), an organisation monitoring clandestine broadcasting, has asked listeners to record Voice of Shariah bulletins, which are now stored in an online archive available for people around the world.

For Afghans and their neighbours, the radio is the most vital source of breaking news as the current crisis escalates.


International broadcasters are a lifeline in a country with virtually no press freedom, where the internet and television are banned.

A BBC survey carried out before the crisis indicates that about 72% of Pashto speakers and about 62% of speakers of Persian (or Dari) in Afghanistan listen daily to the BBC World Service.

Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Motawakkil, shown on Chinese TV
The Taleban distrust TV - but still use it
The BBC World Service has added a new frequency to reinforce its medium-wave transmissions serving a large part of the region surrounding and including Afghanistan.

Shortwave transmissions to the region in Arabic, Pashto, Persian and Urdu - the key languages of the region - have likewise been expanded.

Radio France Internationale (RFI) has added an extra half-hour of programmes in Persian targeted at Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan and the whole of Central Asia, while Voice of America (VOA) too has expanded its news broadcasts in Dari, Persian and Pashto.

Other broadcasts in Pashto/Dari to Afghanistan include Radio Pakistan, China Radio International, All India Radio, Deutsche Welle, Radio Cairo, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Voice of Russia, Tajik Radio and Radio Tashkent (Uzbekistan).

Opposition voice

Northern Alliance-controlled media are another key source of news from within Afghanistan.

There are no Alliance-run radio stations, but news is broadcast by loudspeaker in the towns of Charikar, Jabalosaraj and Golbahor, in Parwan Province, neighbouring Kabul.

The Northern Alliance also runs the online-only Radio Voice of Mojahed, which broadcasts on three days a week in Pashto and Dari via the internet.

In the past, the Northern Alliance operated Takhar Radio, in Taloqan, north-eastern Takhar Province, but its current status is unknown.

Fears about hostile coverage of Afghanistan in the Western media have been the Taleban's pretext for imposing strict media controls and silencing dissent.

'Stand-alone' TV

The only television station broadcasting in Afghanistan is in Feyzabad, capital of north-eastern Badakhshan Province, which is under Northern Alliance control.

The station, calling itself TV Badakhshan, broadcasts programmes in Dari and Pashto, but reception is weak and irregular.

In the areas they control, the Taleban have banned TV as a "source of moral corruption" and regard music as suspect.

But according to the Pakistani newspaper Jang, Taleban officials have recently installed satellite dishes in Kandahar and Kabul to see for themselves how international TV channels are covering events in the region.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Commander Hotak, speaking on Voice of Shariah
"People of Kabul should not worry. The Taleban are ready to confront the enemy"
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