A popular radio station in Afghanistan is funded by China’s international propaganda outlet and is broadcasting news with an anti-U.S. and anti-NATO bent, according to U.S. officials.
The Pashto-language Spogmai radio was set up recently as an FM station in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials say it admits to receiving funds from China Radio International (CRI), Beijing’s state-run propaganda outlet formerly known as Radio Beijing.
U.S. officials said an analysis of Spogmai revealed it has received training and equipment in addition to the funding and that much of its news reports include anti-American and anti-NATO material, along with occasional anti-Pakistan broadcasts.
Spogmai broadcasters took part in an international forum in Beijing on Dec. 2 and told attendees that CRI was providing funding, training, and equipment.
U.S. monitoring of Spogmai broadcasts since May reveals that its broadcasts are systematically critical of the U.S. military and NATO, which have been spending billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan and battle the Islamist Taliban insurgency.
One July 31 broadcast stated that Afghans are the only casualty of “someone else’s war” and are fighting their own people on behalf of U.S. and western “politicians.”
In response to a call by a U.S. Republican official to keep a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, Spogmai stated in a May 29 report that the United States is “not on the right path” in the war, and that local Afghans will rise up to “teach foreign troops a lesson.”
In response to the NATO summit in Chicago last May, a Spogmai broadcast said the summit was a deliberate attempt to prolong the war through assistance to Afghan security forces, which in turn will “make Afghans die on both sides.”
Regarding Pakistan, Spogmai appeared to support the Taliban position in opposing Afghan cross-border attacks in Kunar and Nuristan provinces that the radio said were not justified and “contrary to Islamic and international norms.”
The radio, broadcasting at 102.2 on the radio dial, also carries Chinese Pashto-language propaganda broadcasts.
Spogmai’s director, Hameedullah Nasery, was listed at the Chinese conference as working in the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and as the chief spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture until 2010.
The disclosure that China is funding anti-U.S. radio broadcasts drew a harsh response from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on government oversight.
“That China would be involved in anti-U.S./NATO broadcasts in Afghanistan should not be surprising, especially in the Pashto language,” Rohrabacher told the Free Beacon in a statement. “It is from the Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the Taliban recruit.”
Rohrabacher said the war in Afghanistan should be viewed in the context of Pakistani support for terrorist groups that attack U.S. troops. Pakistan’s military is seeking to dominate Afghanistan and use it as a base against India and to expand into Central Asia.
“And behind Pakistan stands China, which shares these same aggressive ambitions,” Rohrabacher said.
“China has invested heavily in Afghan mines and oil fields, expecting Pakistan to defend them after the U.S. withdraws,” he said. “We should be working more closely with India to contain the China-Pak alliance and protect Afghan independence.”
A spokeswoman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Air Force Maj. Lori Hodge, told the Free Beacon, “ISAF supports the development of free and democratic forms of public communication in Afghanistan.”
“To that end, we do not require Afghan radio stations that receive coalition funding to produce specific programming,” she said. “It is local audience desires that largely determine programming. Further, the levels of coalition funding are expected to trend downward until they settle at sustainable levels in the years beyond 2014.”
Hodge said ISAF is not funding Spogmai radio but that such funding comes through “diplomatic channels of some nations of ISAF.”
Asked if the United States government was funding Spogmai, another ISAF spokesman, Col. Thomas Collins, referred questions to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which had no immediate comment.
John Tkacik, a former State Department official, said in an interview that the joke several years ago in Afghanistan was that the Japanese built roads, the Americans guarded them, and the Chinese used them.
“Ever since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, Beijing has seen Afghanistan as a zero-sum game with the United States,” Tkacik said.
China has become a “free rider” in the coalition's efforts to modernize Afghanistan and improve the livelihood of its people while capitalizing on its strategic alliance with Pakistan to influence the Taliban, he said. The Chinese seem prepared for a future return to power by the Taliban in Afghanistan, he added.
“China is doing all it can, from providing small arms and cyber support to insurgents in the east via Pakistan, and in the west via Iran, to staking its claims on Afghanistan's mineral resources, and is now funding anti-coalition propaganda via local radio programming, to ensure that China, not the United States, is the most influential power in the region when the Americans and NATO pull out,” Tkacik said.
If the coalition is funding Spogmai, it would be yet another example of U.S. taxpayer money not just being wasted but “endangering U.S. interests and enriching America's enemies,” he said.
“The Taliban are the same folks that gave aid and succor to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and there is no possible free-speech justification for U.S. taxpayers funding Afghan radio stations that are anti-American,” he said.
Allowing anti-coalition broadcasts by radio outlets such as Spogmai “presents a conundrum on the one hand of allowing a free and open media, and on the other hand, seeing that free and open media that often is not supportive of the United States or its objectives,” said Joseph Myers, a retired Army officer who recently returned from active duty in Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, the most impactful and harmful anti-American and ISAF messenger has been President Hamid Karzai himself, not the Taliban. What the Taliban says and does is expected in context,” Myers told the Free Beacon.