Afghan DJs play tunes, break hearts in Taliban country

Tue Jul 7, 2009 2:00pm EDT
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By Peter Graff

GARMSIR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The DJs of Radio Garmsir in Afghanistan's lower Helmand River valley knew their station had touched a nerve when the letters started pouring in.

First a few, then more, and pretty soon 20 to 30 letters per day, hand delivered to a box outside the NATO base where they broadcast deep into Taliban territory from a desk in a tiny bunker.

Most are requests for songs. Some are complaints -- about police driving too fast through the bazaar, about the continuing failure of mobile phone companies to bring reception to the valley.

A few are love poems from wistful girls asking if the DJs will run away with them.

"They really like us now. They don't know who we are, but they really like us," said DJ Shamshad, who is actually called Arif Wahdat and comes from Kabul.

The radio station is funded by the British-led provincial reconstruction team in Helmand, Afghanistan's most violent province and a Taliban heartland that produces the bulk of the country's opium crop.

It has served as the only form of media in a vast, densely populated valley of irrigated fields, where there is no electricity, newspapers, mail, internet or phone service, and where Taliban fighters have defied NATO troops for years.

The Westerners behind the project say they hope it will break open an information vacuum that helps the guerrillas keep the population from accepting the authority of the government.   Continued...

<p>DJ Ashiqullah works at the Garmsir radio station in Helmand province July 7, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>