The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 19, 2001
Afghan TV back on air
after a five-year hiatus
The Taliban pulled the plug on the
War With Terror
Afghanistan - The transmitter was destroyed by an American air strike, and
the Taliban burned the most objectionable videos in the station library.
But last night, Afghan Television returned to the air, five years after it
was switched off by the repressive Taliban regime.
will work to have an open culture, to openly receive Western culture, not
deny it," station manager Shamsudin Hamid said in the first minute of
the broadcast, greeting a television audience that until a week ago had to
keep any TV sets under wraps to avoid the wrath of the Taliban's religious
Afghan standards, the broadcast was provocative. The male news anchor was
clean-shaven, having shorn himself of the scraggly beard that the Taliban
forced men to wear. The female news anchor wore a scarf, not the full-body
veil called a burqa that women were obliged to wear in public.
the past five years, the Taliban have destroyed the means of
communication," said Hamid, who wore sunglasses and a four-day beard,
giving him the unfortunate appearance of an underworld enforcer.
"They threw us into a black hole of darkness."
than a week after the guerrillas of the Northern Alliance pushed into
Kabul, the return of the national broadcaster is the most visible symbol
that Afghanistan is restoring ties to the outside world and liberating
itself from the constraints of the Taliban's tyrannical, rigid
interpretation of Islam.
the last five days, the station's engineers have raced to rebuild
equipment that had sat unused in the studio. A spare low-wattage
transmitter was found in the basement to replace the one U.S. bombers took
out early in the air war to punish the Taliban regime for providing safe
haven to Osama bin Laden.
three days people have been asking me when we're going to start
broadcasting," said Mohammed Hashim Naize, a Pashtun newsreader who
spent the last five years working for the state radio station. "I'm
the moment, the station's signal reaches to the edge of the city, a
distance of about five miles.
fact that the Taliban did not destroy the station's equipment is curious.
Taliban also did not get a lot of cooperation from the station staff,
which took pride in a studio that was remarkably modern in the 1980s. The
station staff neglected to point out its library of videotapes until the
Taliban discovered them two years ago and began systematically watching
and destroying the videos that did not meet its standards. Most of the 400
tapes the Taliban burned were of women and boys singing - impermissible
behavior in the dour culture of the Taliban.
the people were against the Taliban," said Homayuon Rawi, the program
director. "Two or three times the Taliban came to look at the
station, but the staff resisted them."
night's programming schedule began with taped passages from the Koran sung
by a blind mullah who was last popular 10 years ago.
was followed by music videos of classic Afghan music, some more than a
decade old. The music was followed by a Russian cartoon whose main
character was a pig - not an animal seen frequently in Afghanistan.
the promises to allow some Western culture into Afghanistan, it will
likely only trickle in. Even with the Taliban gone, Afghanistan is a
conservative culture - in pre-Taliban days Indian romance movies were
shown, but the station blocked out images of kissing couples.
feel free," said Rawi, the program director, who was paid for the
last five years even though he did no work. "We believe in freedom.
But we won't break Islamic law."
the shows broadcast last night was a short segment of on-the-street
interviews with people reflecting on their views about the dramatic change
in Afghanistan's political order in the last week.
of the comments from the public were refreshingly uncensored for state-run
television. A journalism student, speaking through her burqa, said she
hoped the Northern Alliance troops recalled the anarchy they triggered
when they entered the city in 1992, setting off a war that resulted with
the Taliban's rise to power in 1996.
hope they remember their bitter past and don't repeat that again,"
she said. "For the first time in five years, people are laughing and
nightly news itself seemed reluctant to step on toes - there were no items
from Kunduz or Kandahar, where the Taliban is apparently making its last
stands. The final item was a rant blaming Pakistan for all of
Afghanistan's woes. There were no video images to accompany the stories.
the broadcast was the first local television offering since 1996, many
Kabul residents have watched satellite television or videocassettes
surreptitiously in defiance of the Taliban ban. Owners of satellite TVs
kept their antennas covered during the day. One of the station engineers
said he made extra money by repairing televisions at home at night.
the last week, satellite dishes handcrafted out of hammered food tins have
appeared on the streets in Kabul, and the price has doubled to $100 as
demand has soared.