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US Lawmakers Push For 'Radio Free Afghanistan' - 2001-11-08

The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed, by a 405 to 2 vote, legislation to create a "Radio Free Afghanistan" to broadcast news and information to Afghans in their local languages.

Washington is seeking to increase public diplomacy in Afghanistan as it conducts its military campaign against terrorist camps there.

Supporters say the new radio service is needed to inform Afghans about their Taleban rulers and explain the goals of the U.S. war on terrorism.

The legislation, which the Senate has yet to take up, authorizes $27-million during the next two years for radio transmissions into Afghanistan under the auspices of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. It would fund 12 hours of broadcasting a day, six hours in Pashto and six hours in Dari, the two primary local languages.

The measure also calls for moving three transmitters from Spain to Kuwait.

The bill's chief sponsor, Republican Ed Royce of California, notes that Radio Free Afghanistan was first on the air in the 1980's during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Funding ended for the service after the Soviets pulled out of the country.

Mr. Royce argues that had Radio Free Afghanistan continued broadcasting, the followers of Osama bin Laden would not have had, what he called 'such fertile ground' to operate in Afghanistan.

"Long before the attacks of September 11, bin Laden's sympathizers waged a psychological war for the minds of Afghans," he said. "They shrewdly used radio to spread hatred about the United States, hatred of democracy, hatred of Israel, and hatred of Muslims who rejected their hate. I believe the establishment of a Radio Free Afghanistan by Radio Free Europe is essential to winning the information war."

Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, also of California, agrees, calling the bill "an extremely important piece of legislation".

He added: "As our military is executing our plans in Afghanistan, with extraordinary skill, we are falling behind in the battle for minds and hearts and souls of the people of Afghanistan. It is almost incomprehensible that our values should be challenged and questioned by the barbaric nihilists of Osama bin Laden and the Taleban leadership. I support this legislation because it is evident that we need to increase dramatically our public diplomacy, not just in Afghanistan, but across the Muslim world."

Mr. Lantos also called for intensifying other U.S.-funded radio services, including the Voice of America.

VOA has increased its broadcasts into Afghanistan since the start of the military action, although some lawmakers argue that is not enough to effectively communicate U.S. policy.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, has yet to endorse the idea of a Radio Free Afghanistan. A State Department official is quoted in news reports as saying the administration is considering a range of options to maintain the quality and substance of U.S. funded radio programming.