The new service would be similar to existing broadcasts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, created during the Cold War to broadcast programming promoting democratic values into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Lawmakers said they hoped the service would counter what they say is a campaign of lies spread by Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders.
“As our military is executing our plans in Afghanistan with extraordinary skill, we are falling behind in the battle for the minds and hearts and souls of the people of Afghanistan,” Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said.
Under the House plan, which passed 405-2, Radio Free Afghanistan would be placed under the government-funded Radio Free Europe’s watch. That organization aired its own broadcasts in Afghanistan during the last half of the country’s war with the Soviet Union, but pulled out after the Soviets left in 1989.
The measure sets aside $27.5 million for 2002 and 2003, allowing for a 12-hour broadcast day. Nearly $10 million would be used to move three transmitters from Spain to Kuwait to strengthen the system’s signal into Afghanistan.
Broadcasters would present programming in Dari and Pashto, the two primary local languages.
The decision comes despite objections from some in the State Dept., who say beefing up broadcasts of the government-run Voice of America would better serve U.S. interests in the area. Among the VOA’s on-air offerings are news programming and editorials expressing the policies of the U.S. government.
Geoffrey Cowan, a former director of the VOA, agrees that U.S. goals for a Radio Free Afghanistan would be a better fit with his former agency than with Radio Free Europe.
“Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are designed to be accurate and balanced sources of information that seem to be coming from within the country that they are broadcasting to. They are not propagandistic in the sense some columnists have treated them,” Cowan told the NewsHour.
The VOA has stepped up its broadcasts inside Afghanistan since the U.S. military campaign began last month, but some have criticized the network for not arguing the U.S. government’s case forcefully enough.
The State Dept. said in a recent letter to Congress it is considering other options, but it “is not ready at this time to commit to the concept of a Radio Free Afghanistan.”
The Radio Free Afghanistan measure will now go before the Senate.