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'Liberty & Listeners' Gets It Done In Afghanistan

Zarif Nazar, Host of "Liberty and Listeners"
Zarif Nazar, Host of "Liberty and Listeners"

Radio Azadi's talk show "Liberty and Listeners" is leading the way in the fields of citizen journalism and investigative reporting.

In Afghanistan, where a fledgling government sometimes struggles to meet the needs of the Afghan people, a popular broadcast on RFE’s Radio Azadi is providing an alternative avenue for the cultivation of organized problem solving.

Bridging the Gap

Since 2004, “Liberty and Listeners” has served as a much-needed intermediary between Afghans and the government in Kabul; creating a forum for civilians to reach out to government officials and community leaders in an effort to find solutions to the many infrastructural and security-based problems facing Afghanistan today.

Explains host Zarif Nazar, “Ordinary people lack access to the government and the media. Therefore the central government is not aware of what is happening in various parts of the country. We are providing people with the opportunity to voice their issues and concerns. This enables them to participate more actively in the country's political life.”

A veteran journalist and former Turkmen Bureau Chief, Nazar also hosts the popular Azadi program “On the Waves of Liberty,” as well as “In Search of Missing Persons” - in which Afghans call in the hopes of locating family members or loved ones that have gone missing in the turmoil of the past several decades. A somewhat less dramatic- but equally utilitarian - venture, “Liberty and Listeners” exists to get things done, often as basic as obtaining clean water or clearing roadways.
Ordinary people lack access to the government and the media. We are providing [them] with the opportunity to voice their issues and concerns.

With two hotline numbers set up to receive calls, “Liberty and Listeners” is composed primarily of pre-recorded messages from Afghan civilians, in correlation with the responses (official and otherwise) to their qualms. In planning broadcasts for the twice-weekly program, Nazar sifts through the messages in search of a theme, eventually choosing an issue to highlight based on popular demand. After a theme has been chosen, “Liberty and Listeners” researches the issue and attempts to schedule for the program an expert or official to discuss the problem – and hopefully find a solution.

Some of the messages are urgent, and to these Nazar responds immediately. Last year, “Liberty and Listeners” received a call from the residents of a mountain village hit hard by severe flooding that cut off supply routes to the region. Facing starvation, and unable to contact local authorities, villagers called Azadi to spread news of their predicament. Nazar in turn called officials, who sent equipment and help to the beleaguered village.

Generally, however, messages tend to focus on issues of importance to the greater population of Afghanistan as a whole. Education and security have topped the call logs of late, and it was to these topics that Nazar devoted two recent broadcasts.

Problem Solving

A recurring request among listeners has been for “Liberty and Listeners” to confront the Ministry of Education about the low quality of the school system. For a recent broadcast, “Liberty and Listeners” compiled the grievances received via phone and contacted Asif Nang, the head of the Publication and Information Center inside the Ministry of Education. Nang willingly answered all of the recorded questions and explained ways for Afghan citizens to inform the Ministry of Education about problems in the future. As a result of the interview (which was pre-recorded and later broadcast), the Ministry of Education has begun receiving significantly more feedback from the local population.

On the security front, Nazar recently devoted a show to the Arbaky - Afghan civilians who have taken up arms in order to protect themselves from the Taliban when the government has failed to do so. Unfortunately, reports of Arbaky abuses (or at least the abuses of those who claim to be Arbaky) have begun stacking up. Accounts of Arbaky forces using their authority to extort money, food, and weapons from various local populations are multitudinous. A year ago, the government in Kabul pledged to incorporate these forces into the government; supplying them with a salary and with needed supplies. Little has been done - and as a result these ragtag militias remain unregulated.

Upon request, “Liberty and Listeners” called Mr. Zamarai Bashari, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, and demanded an explanation for the government’s inaction. Mr. Bashari informed “Liberty and Listeners” that the effort to organize and regulate Arbakai forces was underway, and that he would personally look into the individual complaints in the messages.

Leading the Way

Committed to open dialogue and government accountability for the Afghan population, “Liberty and Listeners” is leading the way in the fields of citizen journalism and investigative reporting. Zarif Nazar hopes that if the show can let the Afghan people realize that they can speak up about injustices that the Afghan people face with out fear of punishment or persecution.

“Liberty and Listeners” is a bi-weekly program airing every Tuesday and Friday on Radio Azadi. For more information, visit Radio Azadi online or check out our Gandhara blog for more on the AF-PAK area.

- Taylor Smoot and John Cleveland