U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said at an RFE/RL event that "the profileration of extremist propaganda by the Taliban needs to be dealt with head-on."
"We need to go beyond traditional diplomacy," he said. "In the tribal areas along the border, radio is the primary means of receiving information, so I'm pleased that RFE is expanding its broadcasts into the Pashtun areas of Pakistan."
Holbrooke spoke at an RFE/RL reception in Washington, D.C.'s Newseum marking the launch of a new initiative to broadcast six daily hours of programming to Pashto speakers along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Holbrooke said RFE/RL's mission of "surrogate broadcasting" is vital to helping solve the problem of "the world's greatest communications nation being out-communicated by people who stand for repressive activities."
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin noted that RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, locally known as Radio Azadi, is the most popular radio station in Afghanistan.
"This new initiative to the volatile tribal areas is smart power at its best," said Gedmin. "Building on the success of Radio Azadi, our additional programming will feature a wide range of news, politics, and culture that will reach deep into the Pashtun heartland via radio, SMS text messaging, video, and the Internet."
Following Holbrooke's remarks, a group of experts spoke on a panel titled Fighting Hate Radio Along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border.
The panelists included author Gretchen Peters (Seeds of Terror
, 2009); United States Institute of Peace Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan J Alexander Thier; and Radio Azadi Director Akbar Ayazi. Susan Glasser, Executive Editor of Foreign Policy and The Af-Pak Channel, moderated the discussion.
Thier and Peters said the Taliban are adapting to the media era and have developed increasingly sophisticated strategies to win hearts and minds.
Ayazi agreed, but argued that "young people are tired of violence and extremism." He said outlets such as Radio Azadi and other independent media that provide open forums for debate "are creating a culture of tolerance" that is anathema to Islamic extremists.
If there is one issue vital to the stability of Afghanistan, according to the participants, it is corruption.
"As long as there is no independent commission set up to explore corruption at the highest levels of the Afghan government, the international community gains nothing by supporting one set of criminals over another," said Peters.
Thier, who was in Afghanistan during last month's elections, was asked who won the vote.
"Nobody," he said. "The process was deeply flawed by the allegations of fraud and it remains to be seen what kind of legitimacy the government will have."
About RFE/RL's New Pashto Initiative
RFE/RL will launch a new 6-hour RFE/RL Radio Azadi radio program for Pashto speakers in the dialect of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. Radio Azadi already reaches a significant number of Dari and Pashto speakers with its nationwide programs -- the most popular in Afghanistan -- with a weekly audience of 7.9 million adults. Content will be tailored to local news and events, in line with RFE/RL's mission as a 'surrogate broadcaster'. RFE/RL will also establish a new SMS service for news distribution and will upgrade security for its journalists. The first RFE/RL programs are expected to go on the air later this year.