ISIL hits Afghan airwaves to drum up support

Radio broadcasts launched by ISIL loyalists in Nangarhar used to recruit fighters and spread anti-government propaganda.

ISIL's radio broadcasts in Nangarhar province have 'hooked' some listeners [Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA]

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has launched a radio station in Afghanistan to recruit fighters and stir up anti-government sentiment.

The one-hour-long Voice of Caliphate broadcast in Pashto language was started in eastern Nangarhar province by supporters who pledged allegiance to ISIL.

It was unclear when the broadcasts began but Afghan officials say they found out about the station a week ago. 

“The ISIL militants in Afghanistan are growing stronger and this radio channel is helping them recruit fighters which will make them even stronger,”  Achin district governor Haji Ghalib told Al Jazeera. 

ISIL and the Taliban

“Their aim is to brainwash people through this radio channel. However, we are trying to track it and shut it down.”

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Mohammad Yasin Samim, spokesman for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, told Al Jazeera the technology being used made it hard to locate the source of the broadcasts.

“What makes it difficult to immediately shut down the radio station is that it is broadcast via portable transmitters that do not have a fixed location,” Samim said. “It does not have a base station.”

Tolo News, an Afghan news channel,  included an audio clip of the Voice of the Caliphate in a report, in which a presenter said ISIL’s flag will soon fly over the Afghan Presidential Palace.

A resident of Jalalabad, the provincial capital, told Al Jazeera some locals find themselves “hooked to the channel”.

“Their listeners are increasing every day – I am one of them. They say that the current government is un-Islamic and how we should all stand up against them,” said Hamid, who asked that his surname not be published. 

“I found out about this radio channel from my friend and I make sure I listen to it every day. What they say is not wrong because they want to bring Sharia [Islamic law], which I am in favour of.” 

But another resident said the channel is “poisoning the youth of Afghanistan” and demanded that it be shut down immediately. 

“Many people listen to radio in Afghanistan as not all have access to televisions. I have listened to their channel and I can tell you that the ISIL fighters are conveying only hatred. Young people can be fooled by this very easily,” Hamidullah Dawlatzai told Al Jazeera. 

“It can turn into a disaster. It is pure evil.”

Competing with the Taliban

Battles between the Taliban and ISIL fighters have increased over the past few months, most notably in the Taliban stronghold of Nangarhar province.

When asked about ISIL’s radio broadcasts, the Taliban responded that it was an “ineffective way to reach out to people”.

“This [radio] will die out soon. It won’t last long,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera. “The radio channel has a very limited audience. Just a one-hour programme cannot get people to join ISIL.”

The Taliban has a history of recruiting people through poetry, especially those of a well-known Pashto poet in Afghanistan, Faqeer Mohammed Darwish, who wrote about “fighting for Afghanistan’s freedom and jihad against foreign fighters”. 

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“My poems are aimed at reminding the youth how our country was invaded by foreign forces and how important it is to fight them out,” Darwish told Al Jazeera. “My jihad is to motivate young people through my poems to join us in jihad.”

ISIL recruiting and brainwashing Afghan children

Darwish pledged allegiance to the Taliban after the appointment of new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor upon news of Mullah Omar’s death.  

He also wrote a new poem in Pashto praising Mansoor. 

‘Serious threat from ISIL’

US Army General John Campbell, who leads the international forces in Afghanistan, said ISIL had coalesced over the past six months in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces.

Between 1,000 and 3,000 ISIL fighters are in Afghanistan, according to Campbell.

He said its presence has forced the Taliban to redirect resources away from fighting Afghan security forces.

In an unannounced visit to Afghanistan last week, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned of the threat posed by ISIL in Afghanistan.

“We are seeing little nests of ISIL spring up around the world, including here in Afghanistan, but I will say that that is a threat that we track very closely,” Carter said. 

Follow Shereena Qazi on Twitter:  @ShereenaQazi