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Taleban Rule Airwaves in Ghazni
For the past six weeks, residents of Ghazni have been living in the past – at least as far as their radio habits go. The Taleban, who control much of this southern Afghan province, have banned most music and entertainment from the airwaves.
Radio station managers fear the prohibition extends to politics as well. With presidential and provincial council elections due on August 20, journalists are finding themselves heavily restricted.
“We have not done any reports about the elections,” said Idris Soroosh Azadzoi, manager of the Umed-e-Jawaan radio station in Ghazni. “We are afraid of the Taleban.”
Azadzoi has good reason to be worried. On July 8 at 8 pm, the three radio stations in Ghazni went off the air. When they reappeared three days later, their programming had changed radically. Music and entertainment had been cut by 90 per cent.
“The Taleban put conditions on us,” Azadzoi said. “One of those conditions was that there be no entertainment programmes on private radios. The security situation in Ghazni is not good. That is why we have to do what the Taleban tell us until things get better.”
The Taleban have made no secret of their desire to disrupt the presidential poll. Cars full of the insurgents have been showing up during Friday prayers threatening retribution for anyone who participates in the “infidel” elections. Rocket attacks and a suicide car bomb have shaken the capital, Kabul, and in some provinces, such as Helmand, the vote may not take place at all.
Ghazni lies just one province away from Kabul. In between, Maidan Wardak province to the northwest and Logar to the northeast have both been infiltrated by insurgents over the past year.
Amanullah Sultani, a reporter for Umed-e-Jawaan, told IWPR that he would not be reporting on the elections at all during the voting process.
“We will not be able to broadcast anything about the vote in the city or districts on election day,” he said. “Local radio stations are supposed to keep people informed and ensure the transparency of the vote but unfortunately we will not be able to report on this very important day.”
Rahmatullah Nekzad, a reporter for Al Jazeera television based in Ghazni, said journalists in the province were under severe pressure from both the government and the insurgents.
“Until recently the situation of journalists in Ghazni was relatively good,” he said. “But now they are in trouble both with the Taleban and the police. Journalists are afraid, but we still have to cover the elections somehow.”
Sayed Ahad Suroosh, manager of Deh Kada radio station in Ghazni, is also worried about the future as long as the Taleban remain in charge.
“This is a big challenge for the people and the journalists in Ghazni,” he said. “We have no idea what will happen.”
Hamed Yazdan Panah, a staff member of Deh Kada, agrees.
“Journalists in Ghazni are in crisis,” he said. “They cannot go out into the districts because they are being threatened by the Taleban. If we ignore them, maybe they will burn our radio station down.”
The Taleban, said Panah, have also warned journalists not to cover the campaign, “I don’t think anybody is ready to report on the elections.”
Abdul Rahman Shahidzai, head of security at police headquarters in Ghazni, told IWPR that the situation was good, and that the media could broadcast freely.
“We want to assure all of the citizens of Ghazni that there is no problem,” he said. “Security is improving by the day, because of the efforts of the police. We promise the management of these radio stations that no group or person can threaten them or put them in danger, even during the elections.”
According to Shahidzai, there are enough security forces, including police, Afghan National Army and international troops to guarantee security during the elections. The police will not allow cars without number plates into the city, he added, and all such vehicles will be seized.
Abdul Bari Rahimi, head of the Ghazni election commission, told IWPR that the commission had issued cards for reporters so that they did not run into problems with security forces on election day.
But ID cards will not help with the Taleban. According to the official Taleban website, the insurgents plan to close down roads one day before the election, and will not allow free movement around the country.
“If the situation continues like this, none of the reporters will be able to report on election day,” Azadzoi, from Umed-e-Jawaan, said.
Omed, 19, who used to listen to entertainment programmes on Deh Kada radio, told IWPR that he was not optimistic about situation.
“Security is not good,” Omed said. “None of the three radio stations can broadcast music. And I am sure that they will all be closed during the elections.”
The citizens of Ghazni may miss updates on the elections, but most do not seem concerned that entertainment programmes have been almost entirely taken off the air.
“We are happy with the new radio programmes,” said Qudratullah Ghausi, a resident of Ghazni. “We hope that on election day these radio stations are able to cover the elections in Ghazni accurately.”
Taleban spokesman Zabhullah Mojahed said that the Islamic radicals decided to change Ghazni’s radio programming after receiving numerous complaints that the stations were airing “unethical” programmes.
“Ghazni people are religious people,” said local resident Mohammad Nasin. “It is a very good thing that some of these music programmes have been changed into something with a message. There should be Islamic programmes.”
The one radio station that has not run into difficulties is Radio Ghaznawiyan, perhaps because its content was already in line with the Taleban demands.
“We are a religious radio station,” said Farid Ahmad Omari, the chief executive of Ghaznawiyan. “We do not fear anybody, and we can freely do our reporting.”
Mustafa Andalid, a Ghaznawiyan reporter, agreed.
“I am not afraid. The law that was imposed on the media has had a positive impact. It has reduced these entertainment programmes.”
The only person in Ghazni who seems not to have heard of the Taleban restrictions is Raz Mohammad Talash, acting head of the Department of Information and Culture in Ghazni, which oversees the media.
“Nobody has told us about this,” he said. “We have no information on this issue. If I find something out I will let you know.”
Sayed Rahmatullah Alizada is an IWPR-trained journalist in Ghazni.
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