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NYT 1 Nov 01: Pushto Comes to Shove - William Safire

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  • jeremy@brest.org
    Pushto Comes to Shove November 1, 2001 By WILLIAM SAFIRE WASHINGTON -- Most people in Afghanistan - including Taliban soldiers, suffering civilians and
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2001
      Pushto Comes to Shove

      November 1, 2001


      WASHINGTON -- Most people in Afghanistan - including Taliban
      soldiers, suffering civilians and wavering warlords - have one link
      to the outside world: shortwave and AM transistor radio. No
      television, FM, newspapers or Internet. Radio is it.

      Our bombing knocked out the Taliban broadcast studios. Though some
      transmissions from fanatics in Pakistan can still be heard, we have a
      relatively clear broadcast band on which to get our message across.

      That message, in the voice of every Muslim cleric we can find who
      speaks Pushto, should be: The Taliban are corrupting the Koran.
      Suicide bombers are not blessed with black-eyed beauties in paradise
      but spend eternity in hell. The Taliban and their terrorist "guest"
      are the cause of Afghan casualties. As soon as the fanatic Arab
      outsiders surrender, peace, food and jobs will bless the land.

      Who can deliver that simple, hard-sell message designed to cause
      desertions, produce tipoffs to hideouts, make deals and give pause to
      brainwashed would-be suicides?

      Not the Voice of America. That taxpayer-supported broadcaster puts
      its "credibility" first, evenhandedly presenting the news, never
      getting its hands dirty by stressing messages that would advance our
      military's cause. According to Peter Tomson, a veteran U.S. diplomat
      who served in that area and speaks the language, the V.O.A. Pushto
      service was long penetrated by Taliban sympathizers.

      After an "equal time for Hitler?" outcry, the V.O.A., under Robert
      Reilly, its new director, terminated that tilt toward terrorists. But
      the V.O.A.'s mission is to present a picture of America, and not to
      act as a surrogate free press for the struggle raging inside
      Afghanistan. As battles loom, such a surrogate medium is urgently
      needed to persuade Afghans to desert the Taliban and inform on Al

      Today the House International Relations Committee marks up and sends
      to the floor a bill to establish and finance "Radio Free Afghanistan"
      with $15 million. It requires the Radio Free Europe organization to
      submit a plan within two weeks to the Broadcasting Board of Governors
      that would broadcast our potent message in Pushto and other languages
      to Afghans. R.F.E., with its front line in Prague, is ready to snap
      into action.

      But you're not going to believe who's against it. "The Administration
      is not ready at this time," goes a foot-dragging letter from the
      State Department to the chairman, Henry Hyde, "to commit to the
      concept of a 'Radio Free Afghanistan.' Our choice of options will
      depend in part on how the situation in Afghanistan evolves over the
      coming weeks."

      How's that for urgency? I assumed this lackadaisical approach to a
      wartime need was the work of some striped-pants type at State worried
      about the effect of straight talk on our Muslim brethren. Wrong.
      Ashen-faced buck-passers lead one to the office of Elliott Abrams at
      the National Security Council in the White House. He was behind that
      strange reluctance to have R.F.A. tell the anti-Taliban story to

      Say it isn't so, Elliott, I said to the longtime hard-liner in a
      phone call (monitored by a White House flack, presumably for quality
      control). On background, which prevents attribution to a specific
      person, an administration official contradicted me; he thought that
      the R.F.E. crowd, admittedly harder-sell than V.O.A., was still not
      tough enough. In the back of his mind, I think, is a third option: a
      U.S. government broadcaster under direct control of the White House.

      That third way will never fly, nor should it. Hello, fellow hard-
      liners: in Voltaire's aphorism, "the best is the enemy of the good."
      What's good - and ready for action now, in close opinion-making
      support of our troops within a few weeks - is Radio Free Afghanistan.

      The saintly Henry Hyde is undeterred by the lack of Bush support; the
      House should pass Representative Ed Royce's R.F.A. bill promptly. The
      Senate should take it up as it stands and not let it get bogged down
      in the $280 million worldwide Muslim public diplomacy package Senator
      Joe Biden discussed with President Bush on Oct. 23. The White House
      should stop horsing around and name a new Broadcasting Board right

      Then let's get the antiterrorist message on the air now, as we put
      troops on the ground. Time's a-wastin'; there's a war on.
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