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Die Welt Profiles RFE/RL's Akbar Ayazi

On the eve of the first ever Afghan presidential debate, Daniel-Dylan Böhmer discusses the nearly impossible task of organizing such a historical event with RFE/RL's Akbar Ayazi.

Read the article in German here.

Karzai Speaks a Little too Slowly for Television

Daniel-Dylan Böhmer | Die Welt

August 16, 2009

“Television debates”, says Akbar Ayazi over the telephone, “are amongst the best that democracy has to offer!” He knows what he is talking about. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1980, he escaped to the USA. He returned as a presenter for the foreign broadcasting station Radio Liberty and brought something back to his old country: televised debate featuring presidential candidates.

This weekend he can breathe a sigh of relief at last: He has finally managed to convince the incumbent Hamid Karzai to participate. “I’ve just been to his place. And while drinking a yoghurt drink he informed me of his decision”, says Ayazi. Only Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s strongest opponent, declined to participate. But even with the remaining candidates, the debate is sure to be very exciting.

“Of course, we had to adapt the rules to the local mentality”, says the radio reporter: “The speaker’s time limit specification is very strict. Karzai might have some difficulty with this – he speaks quite slowly for television.” He just hopes that viewers in the studio will let the speakers finish and will not interrupt them. The speakers’ battle will be broadcast by state television; all regional stations can get connected free of charge. “We will cover 62 percent of all population and 100 percent of all Afghanis with access to radio and TV”, says Ayazi with confidence. The interest is tremendous.

His colleagues from the West can only envy Ayazi’s pioneering spirit. Nevertheless, the TV pioneer’s complaint sounds somewhat familiar: “The election battle is very personalized here”, says Ayazi, “I would like the politicians to finally start speaking about the content.”