(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) On January 15, RFE/RL will begin broadcasting in the local Pashto dialects to Pakistan and the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The new station - called Radio Mashaal ("Torch" in Pashto) - will offer an alternative to the growing number of Islamic extremist radio stations in the region.
"There is an urgent need for accurate, objective news and information in Pakistan's tribal areas," says U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. "Radio Mashaal's commitment to professional journalism in the local language will be an important contribution toward peace, reconciliation and democracy in the region."
Veteran Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid says he hopes Radio Mashaal "will provide people the kind of information they need to make the right decisions about their lives."
One surprise in store for listeners will be the reappearance of Haroon Bacha, a popular Pashtun singer who fled the region last year amid death threats from the Taliban. The 36-year-old recording artist - whose dozens of albums, music videos and television appearances made him one of the most famous entertainers in the region - will be hosting a cultural affairs show for Radio Mashaal. [see The New York Times: "U.S. Refuge for Singer Fleeing the Taliban," 10/12/08]
The first broadcast will air live on January 15 at 4pm local time. Radio Mashaal's correspondents will be covering local and international news with in-depth reports on terrorism, politics, women's issues, and health care (with an emphasis on preventive medicine). The station will feature roundtable discussions and interviews with tribal leaders and local policymakers in addition to regular call-in programs aimed at giving listeners the opportunity to be heard.
Radio Mashaal will operate out of a new bureau in Pakistan and broadcast from RFE/RL's Prague headquarters. The station will share a frequency with VOA's Radio Deewa and transmit via FM and shortwave. Online, Radio Mashaal's website will provide a live stream of its broadcasts.
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