In Battle For Hearts And Minds, Taliban Turn To CDs

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When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, their hard-line policies included a ban on music tapes and videos.

Yet now, the Taliban are producing their own CDs in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Afghans.

In bustling downtown Kabul, Mustafa, 22, works in an electronics store selling music CDs to 20-something customers.

But not all of Mustafa's customers are looking for the latest Afghan, Indian or Western pop songs. He says he has customers who only look for Taliban songs — a sort of hypnotic chanting of religious and nationalistic poems unaccompanied by music. He clicks on one the audio files.

In Pashto, one of the two main languages of Afghanistan, the song calls for a holy war against the "infidels." Its says the fight will continue until corruption is wiped out and the Taliban's version of Islamic law is restored.

Mustafa says someone brings him the Taliban CDs that he suspects have probably been downloaded from the Internet. He sells 50 songs for about a dollar.

Since 2005, the Taliban have been mass producing CDs and DVDs featuring footage of alleged NATO atrocities and clips of insurgents battling NATO forces.

The CDs and DVDs are readily available in Kabul and other major cities. In some rural areas, the Taliban operate pirate radio transmitters, with the militants broadcasting warnings to local residents and Afghan government officials.

Taliban Radio Broadcasts

Bilal Sarwary, a BBC reporter, recently visited his native Kunar province, on the border with Pakistan, and heard the Taliban broadcasts on a local radio station.

"They were calling the Afghan National Police national traitors," Sarwary said. "They were naming some people and warning them not to work with the Americans and the Afghan government or else they would be killed."

Sarwary says the Taliban broadcasts referred to the impending withdrawal of NATO troops, scheduled for the end of 2014, as a sign of victory for the insurgents.

"There was a Taliban commentator, and he said, 'Look, conduct however many special forces operations you want, you will not scare the Taliban. NATO is leaving. NATO is losing. NATO cannot fight us.'"

NATO has been using social media sites such as Twitter to try to counter the Taliban's propaganda. However, only a small percentage of Afghans have access to the Internet.

NATO has also been supporting some local radio and TV stations, but the Taliban has also shifted tactics, assassinating radio personalities who oppose them. This month, they killed a prominent tribal leader in Kandahar who used his radio station to preach against the Taliban.

In the battle for psychological advantage, many analysts believe ISAF, the acronym for the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, has largely failed to deliver its message.

Candace Rondeaux from the International Crisis Group says the Taliban, on the other hand, has improved its propaganda machine over the years.

"In the meantime, you know ISAF kind of sat silently. Or they frequently put out these sort of propaganda videos or commercials or radio statements that don't really connect with Afghan realities at all," she said.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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