Radio Free Kabul: rallying the Afghan resistance
''The radio you have brought us is worth more than a thousand Kalashnikovs,'' the partisan commander told French human rights activists in late August 1981.Skip to next paragraph
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Barely 15 months have elapsed since its first clandestine broadcast in Kunar Province on that warm summer evening, yet Afghanistan's Radio Free Kabul (RFK) has grown into more than just a vexatious burr for the Soviets.
Supported by a small group of European human rights activists and exiled Soviet dissidents, RFK now has 11 resistance-run radio transmitters (10 FM and one shortwave) in various provinces. The eventual goal is to install a network of 36 stations to cover the entire country. Compact and easily transportable because of the need to avoid communist detection, at least one of the 15-pound FM tranmitters has been established within a 50-kilometer radius of the Afghan capital.
Similar to the haunting ''V for victory'' signal from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony used by Radio London during World War II, RFK opens its nightly broadcasts of news, commentary, prayer, and music programs with the compelling drumming of a tabla (a small Indian drum) and the words in Farsi (Persian) and Pashto (the official national language of Afghanistan): ''Here is Radio Free Kabul of the Afghan mujahideen.''
Usually tagged at the end of each program is a 10-minute prerecorded tape in Russian by such leading dissidents as writers Vladimir Bukovsky or Vladimir Maximov aimed at provoking opposition among the 100,000 Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan.
This war of the airwaves has increasingly irked the Moscow-backed Kabul authorities. In particular, there is known to be growing concern among the Russians about the possibility of resistance broadcasts to the Soviet Muslim populations on the other side of the Oxus River, which delineates much of the Soviet-Afghan border.
''This is perhaps the most extraordinary form of opposition. It is fighting with words and not guns,'' noted Marek Halter, the Polish-born French writer who is a founding member of the RFK committee in Paris. ''During World War II it was Radio London which gave the Europeans the true spirit of resistance. It is what effectively united the opposition movements.''
For some European intellectuals who claim to be ill at ease with the moral question of sending arms without themselves fighting as was the case during the Spanish Civil War, the creation of RFK has enabled them to constructively aid the resistance. The radio network's continued support, they argue, could also provide a means for Americans not willing to involve themselves militarily in Afghanistan to provide direct aid.
Adding insult to injury, however, the Afghan mujahideen have now decided to establish a purely Russian-language station on Afghan soil manned in person by Soviet dissidents. According to Mr. Halter, the European RFK committees will send a team of Soviet exiles (who may not be identified) to an undisclosed location in Afghanistan where they will produce programs using prerecorded tapes and live broadcasts. In many respects, the new station will be like the soldatensender (soldiers' programs) operated by the Western Allies for German troops at the front during World War II.
Since its conception in 1981, RFK has had an enormous impact among the local Afghan population. According to diplomatic, resistance, and other sources, not only are the underground radio programs eagerly listened to in the guerrilla-held areas, but also in the Afghan capital, where the signal received is suprisingly loud and clear. As for the shortwave broadcasts, a recently returned French observer reported picking it up along the Soviet frontier in the northern extremes of Aghanistan.