Tuesday, April 7, 2009

VOA in Pashto

An op-ed piece in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/opinion/30feith.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=radio%20free&st=cse) criticized the US government for spending trillions of dollars on military action in the fight against terrorism but not providing sufficient resources to a strategic communications capacity that would be key to victory. The authors make a case in point: the recent bombing of the shrine of Rahman Baba, the most revered Pashtun poet. The authors feel that the US needs to build support among the Pashtun community (the majority in this border region) to rise against foreign Taliban elements. For example, the US could have mobilized support against the Taliban by invoking images of Rahman Baba and commemorating his life and poetry, thus helping to revive the collective memory of Sufism. Voice of America director Danforth Austin hit back in a letter to the editor claiming that VOA runs a daily Pashto program, Deewa Radio and had three reporters on the scene and had programs devoting cultural shows to Rahman Baba’s poetry and interviewing Pashtun literary figures condemning the bombing.

Whether or not VOA covered the bombing and ran Rahman Baba commemoration programs, this points out that not all people in the region are against the United States. We just have to use this segment of the population that is not sympathetic to the Taliban strategically to our advantage and offer them a system of sustainable protection. The extremists have gunned down everyone that has worked against them and the people have no choice but to acquiesce. There is a moderate Sufi presence out there but it needs to be emboldened and empowered up to a point that it cannot be crushed by the much more brutal extremist presence. This has the potential to make our job so much easier.

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