Friday, August 22, 2014


Afghanistan

Afghan Government Investigates TV Ads Supporting U.S. Security Deal

The TV ads are no longer being shown.
The TV ads are no longer being shown.

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By Frud Bezhan
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has heard the criticism about his refusal to sign a bilateral security pact with the United States, but he apparently doesn't want to see it.

After a series of television ads urging the president to sign the agreement hit the airwaves, the presidential office on January 16 ordered the Attorney General's Office to launch an investigation.

RFE/RL correspondents who have seen the ads describe them as relatively innocuous. One features a TV presenter asking Afghan citizens whether they support an agreement with the United States, with the response being overwhelmingly supportive.

In another ad, a narrator lists the economic and security benefits of signing the pact. The narration is accompanied by footage of Afghan security forces receiving training by foreign forces and Afghans working in factories and on infrastructure projects.

Key to the investigation is determining who is funding the ads, which have been aired on more than a dozen private and state TV stations over the past month.

Karzai's refusal to ink the deal -- formally known as a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which would set the terms for a continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 -- has been met with anger and bewilderment both abroad and at home.

In Afghanistan, the lack of a deal has prompted weekly protests and mass walkouts by parliamentarians. But Karzai has held firm to his decision not to sign the BSA, despite Washington's threats to go for a "zero option" that would leave no troops and less money in the country after coalition forces withdraw. Karzai has said his successor will sign off on the agreement after Afghanistan's presidential election in April.

'National Security Threat'

The head of the Afghan government’s Media and Information Center, Safatullah Safi, said the TV ads were misleading the public about the BSA. He did not reveal the names of the stations under investigation.

Afghan President Hamid KarzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Safi said the president wants to know who is behind the ads -- be it TV station owners, political opposition groups, or foreign intelligence services -- because they were a threat to national security.

"We have ordered the Attorney General’s Office to investigate who is behind this propaganda, which is promoting a political agenda. This should be made clear," Safi said.

The TV ads have not been aired since the investigation was launched.

The president has also ordered the Culture Ministry to open its own investigation.

Jallal Noorani, an adviser to the Culture Ministry, said many private television stations and newspapers are owned, or at least influenced, by powerful figures in the country and by neighboring countries. He says it is therefore important to find out who is funding the TV ads.

Noorani also said the president had ordered the ministry to look into allegations that the TV stations that ran the ads did not have the necessary licenses to air political messages.

"The president has said these ads carry a political message and are misleading the public. We therefore take the president's concerns seriously and we will pursue this. If the stations did not have the proper documentation then they have broken the law," Noorani said.

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Mujib Khalwatgar, the head of the Afghan watchdog NGO Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan (NAI), told reporters in Kabul on January 16 that the investigation is an assault on free speech.

Khalwatgar said the government is trying to prevent the media from discussing the issue. “Every day, the government is creating more restrictions on the media and the president thinks that all media should be in line with his own personal views,” he said.

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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