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U.S.: Congress Proposes Radio Free Afghanistan

Washington, 2 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A committee of the U.S. Congress has approved legislation to establish a Radio Free Afghanistan to broadcast news to Afghans in their local languages. The measure would authorize millions of dollars to finance news broadcasts into Afghanistan by Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The House of Representatives International Relations Committee approved the measure yesterday over the objection of the State Department. To become law, the bill still must pass the whole House and the U.S. Senate and be signed by President George W. Bush. Bush's administration has not endorsed the proposal.

"This is the best chance at providing information that will help turn the Afghan people against the Taliban and other extremists," Representative Ed Royce, the chief sponsor of the measure, said. Taliban leaders, to maintain power, "use propaganda, they use censorship and they must be countered," he added.

Representative Tom Lantos said it was "self-evident that we need to improve our public diplomacy in the Muslim world," and this "will help us reach millions of Muslims."

"This would allow the Afghan people to hear the truth about what is happening in their country," said Representative Joseph Hoeffel III, who criticized the administration's position.

Paul V. Kelly, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote to committee Chairman Henry Hyde on 25 October that the administration agrees that "radio broadcasting into Afghanistan is crucial for informing and influencing the Afghan people." To further that, he said, the administration is beefing up Voice of America broadcasts to South Asia and "is considering a menu of other options."

However, Kelly wrote, "The administration is not ready at this time to commit to the concept of a Radio Free Afghanistan. Our choice of options will depend in part on how the situation in Afghanistan evolves over the coming weeks."

The measure includes $10 million to move three transmitters from Spain to Kuwait to strengthen the signal in Afghanistan and the Middle East.