GETTING AMERICA'S ANTI-TERRORIST MESSAGE TO CENTRAL ASIA
HON. TOM LANTOS
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, December 13, 2001
Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the International Relations Committee recently passed legislation to create Radio Free Afghanistan. I also commend the Administration for the steps it has taken to ensure that the United States does not lose the public relations battle as it wages the war on terrorism. It is vital that the people of Afghanistan and its neighbors know the truth about America's objectives in combating terrorism and understand how our actions benefit all of mankind.
Setting up Radio Free Afghanistan will give us a valuable tool to fight the vicious propaganda that Osama bin Laden and his supporters continue to spew forth. But Radio Free Afghanistan cannot succeed in isolation. Its broadcasts must be supplemented by stepped up and improved broadcasts to Afghanistan's neighbors--Pakistan and the Eurasian states of Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. As my colleagues are aware, the Taliban are actively supporting an Islamic extremist insurgency in the Fergana Valley, where the borders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan converge. It is conceivable that the Taliban's ultimate objective is Kazakhstan, the largest country in the region, rich in oil and minerals.
Broadcasts by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to these countries should be increased both in air time and in quality. They should also be broadcast in FM frequency, not short-wave, in order to reach the largest percentage of the population. In the case of Kazakhstan, I understand that these broadcasts are transmitted only in the Kazakh language, despite the fact that Russian remains the most widely used language in Kazakhstan. The only Russian-language broadcasts report on events in Russia, not in Kazakhstan. We need to broadcast in Russian to the Russian speakers in Kazakhstan.
Journalists and publishers in Kazakhstan and elsewhere are struggling to report the truth to their readers and listeners, but they are harassed and periodically shut down by the authorities. Getting newsprint on a reliable basis is also a problem. On November 27, 2001, President Nazarbayev threatened the media unless editors developed a code of conduct for journalists. The threatened clampdown came after critical articles appeared in the media concerning President Nazarbayev's son-in-law. Government agencies are sabotaging or shutting down Internet access as well. Local sources of non-government controlled news would be a valuable complement to U.S. government broadcasts. U.S. assistance, including supplying printing presses and ensuring continued access to the Internet, would be greatly welcomed by these lonely and persecuted voices of democracy and freedom.
In our broadcasts to these countries, we should bear in mind that repression and corruption are causing the people to lose hope; and if the governments that rule in the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia do not loosen their grip on their people, the people may respond to the siren call of Islamic extremists as holding out the only source of hope for change. Accordingly, even as we work with the governments of Central Asia to oust the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, we need also to make it very clear both to the governments and the peoples of the region that we oppose the repression and corruption that are causing so much suffering, deprivation and opportunities for Islamic extremists.