US turns to Pashto radio to win war of words against Taliban in Pak tribal areas

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Washington, Jan. 16 (ANI): In a bid to vitalize a losing war of words waged against the Taliban, the United States is funding Radio Mashaal, a Pashto-language station, aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Pashtuns living in the Pak-Afghanistan border region.

Famous Pashtun singer Haroon Bacha, 37, fled his home in Peshawar, leaving his wife and two children behind when Taliban fighters vowed to cut his throat to muffle his songs of peace, love and the futility of war.

But on Friday, Bacha sang to the Taliban, he sang to his family and to anyone else from his homeland who happened to tune in to a slick new radio program aimed at countering militant broadcasting in the insurgent heartland bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I am very hopeful this will help fight Islamic extremism," the Globe and Mail quoted Bacha, as saying from the studio in Washington D.C., where he will host a cultural-affairs show on the daily broadcast of Radio Mashaal - Pashto for "torch."

Radio Mashaal is funded by U.S. Congress - in addition to drone attacks in northwest Pakistan.

"There is an urgent need for accurate, objective news and information in Pakistan's tribal areas," U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said.

In Pakistan's tribal areas, there are just a handful of legal radio stations, compared with nearly 200 illegal stations run by militants, often from the back of a motorbike.

Last summer, Washington established a new unit within the State Department to counter militant propaganda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, spending up to 150-million dollars a year to fund a range of efforts including new radio stations, expanded cellphone service and journalists' training.

Radio Mashaal's first broadcast Friday featured male and female presenters reading a local newscast.

"It went perfectly. During the first hour, we received over a hundred voice messages. It was a terrific response," said Akbar Ayazi, who oversaw the establishment of the new service, which cost 5-million dollars to launch, and is broadcast by Radio Free Europe out of Prague. (ANI)

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