Good Morning Afghanistan: U.S. air war puts outlawed music back on Afghan airwaves

Thursday, October 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Faint amid the bombs, the warplanes and the answering fire, a strange, forgotten sound is coming from the skies over Kabul these days.

A tinny, distant voice, crooning tunefully each day around dawn and dusk: ``Lover, come and sit by me. Lay your head to my lap, and be at ease.''

In Afghanistan, whose frivolity-unfriendly leaders stage mock executions of TV sets and drape entrails of eviscerated tape cassettes from trees, the radio broadcasts are striking a chord unheard in the Afghan capital for years: music.

Outlawed by the Taliban Islamic militia in all forms after it took power in 1996, music has returned to Afghanistan in broadcasts linked to U.S. propaganda transmissions accompanying the air war over Afghanistan.

For Afghanistan's people, an Afghan musician-in-exile says, it's truly music to the ears.

``Every kind of song will be welcomed, because at least Afghans can feel, 'Oh, the music's back, and it's back to normal,''' said the musician, interviewed by telephone in London. Living in exile, he asked that his name not be published for fear of reprisal against him and his family.

``Afghans are crazy for this kind of thing. They need it,'' he said.

But are they getting it? There's no talk of it on the Kabul streets. Kabul's people, cowering under day-and-night air raids, are concentrating simply on surviving.

Asked whether anyone in Kabul was tuning in, Taliban Information Ministry official Abdul Hanan Himat insisted: ``Absolutely not.''

Afghan monitors listening from positions along the Afghan border and in London picked up the propaganda transmissions early in the bombing campaign.

The broadcasts identified themselves simply as ``Information Radio.'' They were coming in the early morning and evening, Afghan time, said Martin Morgan of the British Broadcasting Corp. monitoring service in London, which tunes in to tiny radio outfits around the world.

Morgan said the broadcasts cleverly use the same frequency as the Taliban's Radio Shariat _ the Taliban's all-edicts-all-the-time station, which was knocked off the air by U.S. bombs in the first week of the air campaign.

Radio Shariat went back on the air this week _ but only for an hour a day, and only in the Kabul area.

The White House had signaled when it opened its military offensive Oct. 7 against terror suspect Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies that it would be using all means possible to get the U.S. side of the conflict to Afghan civilians.

So far, that's included leaflets, and Voice of America broadcasts.

Washington has no official comment on the propaganda broadcasts, but they are believed to come from EC-130 military planes _ flying radio stations that circle and circle in the skies over countries targeted for the U.S. message.

In Afghanistan's case, the message is simple, BBC Afghan monitors say: Taped calls in the Pashto and Dari languages to Taliban soldiers to surrender, and assurances that the Americans aren't there to fight Islam but to drive out foreign terrorists.

Military types call it ``psy-ops'' _ psychological operations, waging the battle of the airwaves as U.S. jets fight the air war.

But for Afghans, the broadcasts offer something more than rote propaganda: wedding tunes, Afghan folk and pop music _ music of romance, love, songs of the definitely outlawed joie de vivre.

The ``Pomegranate Song,'' the lazy invitation to a lover to come lie around, is banned by the Taliban as un-Islamic, along with all other music.

``In the Taliban, the music was gone, and it was really bad,'' the Afghan musician said. ``People were missing it a lot.''