Intro from Jay Allison: Afghan Independent Radio is about to go on the air, with a projected launch date of September 11th. Sarah Chayes, shepherding the project, is a longtime international reporter for NPR, now taking a break "to make a direct contribution to reconstructing a post-conflict society." She has kindly agreed to file updates on Transom this month, telling us about working on the station and the programming, and about life on the ground in Afghanistan these days. Her opener is below. She has also sent many fine pictures, which we'll continue to post, and we will bring you audio from the field as time goes on. Sarah has only intermittent Internet access in Kandahar and the team from Afghans for Civil Society are incredibly busy, but they will be checking in here as often as they can, so please feel free to engage them in conversation as they move toward broadcast. Photos by Eve Lyman.
Afghan Independent Radio
A Name, An Identity, An Image, and Mr. Timor, Summer 2003
The patient and loyal staff of Afghanistan’s first indigenous free radio station have voted to name it Afghan Independent Radio/Afghan Azad Radio, or AIR. They have designed a logo using the English and Pashtu letters for “AIR,” emanating from a transmission tower.
The arrival of Mr. Ismael Timor and Seyid Mahmad Azil, on April 15, catapulted AIR to a new phase in its development. Timor, the team leader, has an impressive background in Afghan broadcasting. He was reporter/producer at Kabul Television, news department, from 1979-86; then he was in charge of the news department. Afterwards, he founded and ran Balkh Radio Television, in Mazar-i-Sherif, from 1987-98, when the Taliban conquered the city.
He has conducted focus group discussions, and been involved in human rights investigations. Mr. Timor is a gentle man, highly organized, and dedicated to his work. Under his tutelage, the core radio staff, which had been meeting about once a month to discuss basic concepts, and then almost daily with me, to work on radio techniques such as interviewing substance and style, technical recording, tape logging, editing, etc., launched into a two-week course on the principles of journalism. They were examined and graded on the material.
The Launch, The Programming
I still don’t want to predict a launch date, but with equipment literally on the road between Kabul and Kandahar as I write, it’s certainly firming up. We still need to do a lot of work on the radio building: putting in double glass and soundproofing the studio, building work tables for the mixers, and regular desks for computer work and news writing. That’s liable to take a month at least, and will necessarily interfere with the reporting and producing.
Based largely on the preparatory discussions that began last year, Timor has developed a program list. AIR staff will produce the following original programs:
1. Kisht aw Karwanda: Cultivation and Field (agriculture)
2. Radioi Safar: Radio Journey (tourism, life in other provinces)
3. Salamatya: Health
4. Ghotai Ghwariji: Buds Opening (small children’s show)
5. Badani Rozana: Body Exercising (sports)
6. Tserena: (research)
7. Zwanan aw Ratlunkai: Youth and Future
8. Sheze aw Owsanai Taulana: Women and Contemporary Society
9. De Ownai Mohimi Peshe: Important Things that Happened this Week (week in review)
10. De Islam Wrange: Lights of Islam
11. Gulban: Flower Garden (poetry)
12. Bya Raghawana: Reconstruction
13. Zmuj Chapiryal: Our Environment
14. Tikki: Spots
15. Tassu wposhti Zawab e per muj: You Ask, the Answer is for Us (questions for leaders)
16. Radioi Kitab: Radio Book
17. Da Khalku Nazariat: People’s Opinions (man in the street)
An Approximate Daily Rundown
We are planning a broadcast day from 4:00 till 10:00 PM, with the only caveat in the schedule below being 20 minute slots for produced news. Knowing what it takes to put even a 4 or 5 minute produced news story on the air, I tend to think this is a bit ambitious, given the rest of the work our skeleton staff will have to do. So think of this as a draft.
4:00 Jingle, AIR id
4:01 Qur’an verse (XXX)
4:04 Jingle, AIR id, introduction of today’s program
4:10 In-depth news ?????
4:30 Short news
4:33 AIR program
5:05 AIR program
5:30 Short news
5:33 Afghan Music Program
6:05 BBC/VOA/Radio Free Europe/Tanin Program
7:05 Repeat in-depth news ?????
7:30 BBC Pashtu News
8:33 AIR program (repeat from earlier in the week)
9:05 AIR program (repeat from earlier in the week)
9:30 Short news
9:33 Foreign music
10:00 SOC out (sign off)
A Specific Program… “40 Steps”
Mr. Timor has been getting a lot of this material in the can already. For example, he has already recorded a complete children’s program. He said some of the technical quality wasn’t all the way up to snuff, but the guys were absolutely thrilled at the result, realizing that they can really put a program together; that this is going to happen.
I’ve worked very closely with Timor on the research program, which we picked to discuss almost at random. The first show will be about the 40 Steps, a monument to the Emperor Babur (the founder of the Moghul Empire in India) on the edge of town.
We hammered out the structure of the 25 minute show thus: it will start with a famous song about the 40 Steps. Then some vox pop: end-to-end man-on-the-street interviews, relaying the legends people have heard about the 40 Steps, e.g. that Camran, Babur’s son, had a beautiful daughter, and he said only a man who could build 40 steps into the side of this mountain could marry her.
Then the narrator will actually climb up the 40 steps (taking the sound of his footsteps), and describe the place: the view of Kandahar, the carved inscriptions, what the carving looks like, the beauty of the Persian used in the inscriptions, and the pock-marks from bullets and shelling that mar the surface. Then he’ll say something like: People believe so many things about the 40 Steps, we wanted to find out the truth about its origins. Perhaps the best way to begin our research is to find one of the oldest men in Kandahar, and ask him about his memories. Follows an interview with the old guy, who remembers picnicking even higher up in the hills above the 40 steps. Then the narrator will interview a historian, a mujahid (Anti-Soviet resistance fighter), who remembers the battles around the site, and may, as appropriate, read parts of the Baburnamah, the autobiography of Emperor Babur.
Two days after we worked all this out, Timor came back to me with a Script for two 25 minute segments. That seemed like very quick work for such an ambitious project, leaving me to wonder if we might not have to focus more on depth and quality as time goes on. But very well, that will be an ongoing process.
We'll be ongoing with gusto if you...
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On the Ground. No Stability, August 2003
In two years, I have not felt the sense of urgency about the political and security situation that I have begun feeling this week. If the ongoing degradation in the security situation is allowed to continue, the result will almost certainly be a durable disillusionment with the US presence here.
Armed attacks inside Kandahar Province have taken a deadlier turn over the past month or so — fewer audible rocket-launches during the night, but more deaths: 2 moderate, pro-central government mullahs praying in their mosques, for example, two district police chiefs and several of their men, in the border area with Pakistan, at least two serious fire-fights leaving dozens dead and wounded, and most recently, the assassination of half a dozen members of government security forces at a Taliban road-block in the north of the province.
But even beyond the number of actual incidents is the rising level of frustration felt even by those Kandaharis most committed to the stability process, to the central government, and to the Western presence here. The terms in which this frustration is expressed are wholly new.
“Soon Afghans will turn against the Americans the way they turned against the Russians,” several people have told me in the past week. “And once that happens, nothing will stop them.” A businessman added: “Even doctors and engineers took up arms against the Russians.” In the past week, a murky dust-cloud (“Khaura”) engulfed Kandahar. Popular wisdom associates this phenomenon with an imminent change of regime. Kandaharis were harking back to the fall of Daud Khan and Amanullah – when, they said, a similar dust storm obscured view for days.
These comments are coming not from Taliban or religious extremists, but from those who looked to the US involvement here to bring about a new era for Afghanistan. The problem is that the United States is seen as having brought back, and as continuing to support, the warlords the Taliban chased out. The oppression and arbitrary rule Kandaharis are suffering has forced them just about to the breaking point. Recent examples include:
- The monopoly of public resources, such as stone and water, for members of the governor’s family or tribe.
- The jailing or release of prisoners for reasons of personal interest. No significant Taliban or al-Qaeda official has been captured on the governor’s initiative. But the “search for Taliban” has served as a pretext to ransack and loot houses throughout the province.
- The monopolizing of legitimate private business opportunity, like the right to sell gasoline within city limits, or the right to operate taxi services between Kandahar and neighboring cities.
- Threats and intimidation.
- The torture of prisoners.
- The theft of public resources such as customs duties.
- Assassination attempts against officials opposed to the governor’s practices, such as the prison director’s recent (7/29) attempt to kill the chief of police.
- The refusal to pay salaries of security forces not under the governor’s direct command, leaving the governor’s private militia the only viable armed force in the province.
- Open trafficking in heroine and hashish.
“In one year, the Americans will lose this country,” said a highly educated Kandahari recently.
In the Station, A Month Before Launch, August 2003
Under the gentle and skilled guidance of “Timor Sa’ab,” AIR program production has been going on apace. Mr. Timor’s goal has been to put 3 months’ worth of programming “in the can” before launch, September 11. His very fruitful trip to Kabul netted significant additional programming available for our use, from AINA, the French media project, Internews (one of our benefactors), and the BBC and VOA. The AIR team has been listening to and cataloguing that material, as well as continuing to produce our own. Mr. Timor and I continue to meet regularly to discuss content, methodically working through each program, and talking about substance, technique, where to put “sound,” etc.
But the most exciting progress at AIR since our last bulletin has been on the physical plant. Gul Agha the carpenter and his assistant have set up shop in the studio, and, using the most basic local materials (including beautifully seasoned cedar wood), have been building us a custom studio. Our radio building is partly underground for cool, as are many Kandahar buildings, and it is the underground level that we are fitting out as the recording studio. The arched double-windows for the director to see in by are framed in honey-colored wood; the soundproofing – a layer of sponge covered in carpet – is held in place with thin rods of wood decorated with burned arabesques. Gul Agha has made us assorted tables to order, including a corner director’s table with a curved inside edge, and a wonderful pigeon-hole shelf for stocking program and music cds. Now he’s working on the newsroom upstairs and the broadcast studio.
This morning we chose the paint color: a golden cream for the production area, and cool blue-gray for the hall and stairs.
Photos by Eve Lyman