Kunduz: Aftermath of the Taliban Takeover03 May, 2016
The capture of Kunduz province by the Taliban for 15 days in October 2015 caused significant damage to the local media. This was the first time in the 14-year period of the newly-elected government that the Taliban gained control of an important provincial capital.
Kunduz, located in the north and the fifth-largest city in Afghanistan, is of strategic significance and hence a vulnerable target. Almost all journalists were forced to leave their television and radio stations and media houses and move to nearby NATO and Afghan forces headquarter or neighbouring provinces, some even went to Kabul.
The media in Kunduz which operates with limited resources was in the large part very critical of the Taliban because most owners, broadcasters and managements were close to the former Northern Alliance. Most of Kunduz-based media houses were launched by politicians or by former German Provincial Construction Teams (PRTs) during their work and stay in the north-eastern provinces. The few radio stations in operation were mostly managed by local women journalists who had long been opposed to Taliban presence around the provincial capital and surrounding districts.
When trouble began brewing in Kunduz in October 2015, most of the electronic media in Kunduz left their offices and took their equipment with them even before Taliban entered the city.
The Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) called on the Afghan government and international forces to protect journalists and ensure their safe evacuation from the conflict zone. All journalists, producers, support and technical staff left Kunduz for neighbouring safe locations, nearby provinces or to Kabul. Only those that did not have the opportunity to safely remove their equipment, or those who could not arrange adequate security, were looted by the Taliban, as well as other armed gangs. It is unclear who exactly was responsible for the damage and loss.
An officer of the government media in Kunduz claimed that the Taliban had not set fire to any media office and that nothing had been stolen. This seems to have been borne out by eyewitness accounts. A person who lived next to a media outlet told the AIJA monitoring team, “I saw an armed Taliban member looking at the antenna of a radio/television and he said: ‘I think it’s the device which is showing our location to the enemy’. He wanted to shoot the television antenna, when suddenly a civilian told the armed Talib, that it was the antenna of a radio television which was not broadcasting. Upon hearing this, the Talib didn’t shoot the antenna and said, ‘We have not been given permission to go and destroy the media houses and radio and televisions.’”
For three to four weeks, the local radio, TV stations and print media did not broadcast or publish any editions and journalists were not able to enter the city. AIJA took the lead in communicating the problems of the media community to all the relevant government departments involved in the Kunduz collapse and operations for re-control. We also contacted the Ministry of Information and the President’s Office to facilitate the visit out our delegation to the provincial center for investigation.
Soon after the re-control of Kunduz by Afghan officials and obtaining permission from government departments, AIJA sent a delegation to Kunduz for a first hand assessment and to conduct a monitoring exercise. The investigation and monitoring visit from October 24- 27, 2015 was supported by the IFJ and led by AIJA Vice President Hujatullah Mujadidi. The team of media monitors and journalists from Kabul and Kunduz visited fifteen media houses and met journalists, owners, editors, producers and some senior civil society members and eye-witnesses.
The only media house that could not be visited was Radio Jaihoon located away from provincial centre in an area still under the control of the Taliban.
A few days after the Taliban control ended, only a limited number of staff and employees had returned to work. An obvious reason for the lack of return was the adverse psychological impact of the Taliban takeover, and the resultant feelings of fear and terror. The delay in resuming operations was also due to the need to reinstall equipment and set the studios and offices in order before calling reporters and other staff back to work.
When the AIJA delegation asked owners, managers, editors or producers why there were only a few reporters and employees back at work, owners said that they were not in position to pay them on time. A real fear is the attrition of employees who might move to other provinces or the capital Kabul in order to find more secure employment.
All media houses lost their source of income. They were getting small amounts of money from local branches of telephone companies, advertisements from different companies, banks, hospitals, schools, universities and others, which collapsed or relocated or stopped operations due to the instability. Some companies and banks stopped sponsorship of programs or giving advertisements to the media citing security risks.
Although some media houses re-started broadcasts with limited equipment, print media listed in this report have not been able to restart publication, and copies of print newspapers have not been published since October 2015.
Weeks after the collapse of Kunduz, the Taliban were controlling surrounding areas of the city and the majority of districts. Their palpable presence instils fear in the mind of ordinary citizens and the media. In April 2016, the Taliban started new movements to regain control of parts of city and the middle of April saw fierce battles around Kunduz city. There is a very real concern that the provincial capital will collapse at the hands of the Taliban once again
There has been little support forthcoming for the media houses in Kunduz. The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) reached out the women journalists and women owners of stations for support through AIJA and offered technical support to restart broadcasts. The government have collected reports about damages and losses and working on procedure to find ways for support. Some women-run radio stations which were formerly funded by Internews-US are likely to get support from the Internews-Afghanistan office.
Short descriptions of the media houses monitored by the AIJA team:
- Radio Cheragh: This radio station was established by Malalai Yousefi and was operating with ten employees, both male and female. When Kunduz was taken over by the Taliban, there was no damage to the external part of the station building. The owners reported that before leaving the building, the doors were secured and during the conflict some locks were opened by unknown groups (maybe thieves, intruders or the Taliban) and equipment and furniture was thrown around. However, nothing was stolen and there was no damage to the transmitter, electric circuits or connectors. Security guards told journalists that they had taken office items to their homes and therefore everything was safe. A local resident near the radio station told the team that no one from the Taliban had entered the street and that nothing had been taken away from here.
- Radio Kaihan: This radio station was established in 2009 by Zarghona Hasan. It started its operation in Kunduz city. The person in charge of the radio told us that before the attack of the Taliban on Kunduz the radio was operating 24 hours. There was no sign of damage on the external part of the building. Inside the building the furniture was orderly and the documents and materials were in place in the cupboards. Only the technical rooms and the two studios were disorganized and furniture was in disarray. The technical equipment was removed and the broadcast was stopped.
- Radio Shayesta: This radio station is also located near Radio Kaihan and was established by Rona Hasan who is the sister of Zarghona Hasan, owner of Kaihan Radio. Radio Shayesta started its trial broadcast three months before the Taliban takeover of Kunduz. The person in charge of Radio Kaihan said that all the tables and cupboards were broken and that the Taliban stole all the technical equipment. The offices are still in disarray condition and the broadcast has not been resumed.
- Radio and Televison Roshani: This seven-year old radio and TV station is located inside the Spinzar (a governmental company) building and is owned by Sediqa Sherzai. The doors and the window panes of one of the windows were broken, but there is no sign of damage on the external part of the building. An employee of the station, Quraishi (who did not want to be identified by his full name) confirmed that all the equipment was stolen, the furniture broken and all the papers torn. The signs of fire were seen only in the remains of paper in a room but not in the rest of the building. A list of tools and equipment which were broken and stolen were presented to the AIJA monitoring tea.The Spinzar Company guards told the AIJA team that the intruders had stolen some company money and there was no sign of damage to their buildings. Only one of the administrative buildings located outside the main compound was burned due to the exchange of fire between the Taliban and governmental forces on the first day of the Taliban attack on Kunduz.
- Radio Kunduz: This radio broadcast under the frequency of 89.6 in Dari, Pashto and Uzbeki. It was launched by Zabihullah Majidi and is housed in a Spinzar building. The banner of this radio was removed and moved to safety inside the building by the owner of the building on the day the Taliban took control of Kunduz. He was also guarding the building and equipment of the radio station till the end of war, when the radio station officials came back. He said he had handed over everything to the management and owners with no sign of damage or burglary. However, Hidayatullah Zeyarmal the station manager, told the team that all the technical equipment including the transmitter and mixer has been stolen and the equipment they were currently using for operating the radio station were borrowed.The statements of the house owner and station manager differed, but there is reason to believe the statement of the house owner that there was no damage to the radio station and that they were broadcasting normally after takeover by the government.
- Radio and Television Khawar: This station was started by Jalal Mahmoodi and began operating six years ago under the radio frequency of 90.1. There was no damage visible to the door or inside the building of the radio and television. The security guard told the team that he had taken care of the station for three days. He then went to Badakhshan and when he returned he saw that the Afghan national security forces outside the building and when he entered the rooms he saw only shrouds (kafans) instead of transmitters and related equipment.The AIJA monitors saw that the archives of the radio and TV were orderly and the television station was also in place. There was no damage inside the rooms. Ziaul Haq, producer of the radio station gave the team a list of the 11 items including expensive transmitter and mixers that were stolen by intruders.
- Kunduz Milli Radio and Television: This radio and TV station was established 28 years ago by the government and is one of the most well-equipped stations in this province. Abdul Shokoor Qaderdan, director of Milli Radio & TV said that they had already moved most of their important equipment such as transmitter, mixers and DVCAMs to Ali Abad district in a secure place. During the control of the Taliban, an officer was assigned to keep an eye on the office The Taliban used their office for two days as a ‘Posta’ or checkpoint but they did not destroy any of the equipment that had remained in the office.As the team checked the building, it could not see any sign of arson or damage except one bullet mark on one of its offices.
- Noorin Local Television: This TV station has been broadcasting since six years and it covers Kunduz city and its districts. There was no sign of loss or damage to its building, antennae or billboards. Sayed Najibullah Hashimi, general director of broadcasting says that; when the Taliban entered Kunduz it was about 1:30 p.m. They left the office and broadcasting was halted for almost 15 days.He told the team, “Our office is located close to the new police headquarters and Kunduz prison, which was the main fighting area. But no bullets or damage have affected our building or banner and Taliban has also not entered our office. He said that some of their equipment was stolen by anti-social elements.
- Radio Zohra: This radio station which broadcasts on radio frequency of 91.1 was established by Najia Khodayar and specializes in programs focussed on women. It is located on the second floor of a building in Feroz Kohi street, which also houses a legal services unit, Fahm-o-Adl. The entry door of this building was broken by bullet holes and the door belonging to Radio Zohra was also broken. However, the legal services office door next to the Radio Zohra door showed no sign of damage or bullet fire.Everything in the Radio Zohra office was disorganized and scattered. The tables were stacked on one side and chairs were piled on them, things were scattered around in the offices, the doors of all the cabinets were open in the kitchen. However the playing cards which were on the table were not touched, although Taliban hate playing cards.The archive of this radio station was not affected. Magazines and publication belonging to NATO/ ISAF forces were spread around, not torn or burned.Mohsin Mohammadi, representative and marketing officer of Radio Zohra was the only employee present to give information to the AIJA monitoring team. He submitted a list of technical equipment belonging to the radio that was looted. Hamid the owner of the office which is rented to Radio Zohra, has a shop on the first floor of same building said, “Three days after the Taliban gained control of Kunduz city, few gunmen with Kalashnikov guns came and wanted me to open the door of the radio station, I couldn’t open the door as I had no keys. Then they broke open the door by gun fire and broke the locks and entered the radio office. They took some of the equipment, put it in a car and gave me a list of taken equipment to give it to the radio owner. Mohammadi however denied having such list.
- Badlon Radio: This radio station was established two years ago under the supervision of Nazifullah Nazif. He told the team that during the Kunduz war and takeover by the Taliban, their building and equipment was not affected, nor was anything looted or damaged. However, they said that they have had lost their advertisement revenue, which was the only source of income. Due to stopping the broadcasting for 15 days, they are facing financial problems.
- Boostan: This daily paper publishing in Dari/Farsi and a few pages in Uzbeki, was started nine years ago in Kunduz city by a young journalist, Noman, who goes by a single name. It has a small circulation of 1200 copies on a provincial level. The daily publication was stopped in September due to financial problems. They daily is widely-read inside Kunduz city and neighbouring areas. Their sole large printer was destroyed beyond repair, and after the Taliban attacked to Kunduz, the printing of this publication seems unlikely.
- Balot: This weekly was started recently by Abdullah. A thousand copies are printed every week for distribution inside Kunduz city. “All the doors and windows of this building were completely destroyed by gun fire,” said Arif, a manager. He added that the publication has stopped since they could not run without some of the equipment which had been stolen.
- Rasanai: This daily newspaper was started five years ago with a circulation of 1000 copies. The owner, Zabihullah Mujadidi told the team that the equipment of this publication was looted and destroyed by intruders or the Taliban. However this publication was located in same building as Radio Kunduz and as per their neighbour, suffered no damage to their equipment or building.
- Amahdy: This weekly cultural publication was established five years ago by the Almahdy Foundation under the administration of Alhaj Sayed Sakhidad Khalily with 1000 copies circulated in Kunduz city. According to Khalily, the weekly has faced no damages or losses due to the Taliban attack on Kunduz province. However, due to financial problems, they are unable to print and continue their publication on time.
- Rooshangaran: This weekly was launched about ten months ago under the administration of Najim Rahim with a circulation of 1000 copies in Kunduz city. The monitoring team saw bullet marks on the window and doors of this publication. However, Rahim told the monitoring team that they had lost nothing due to the Taliban attack on Kunduz. There was no damage to their office or equipment. But due to financial problems and losing their advertisement revenue after the Kunduz war, their press was affected and has now stopped printing.
Key Findings of the Kunduz Media Monitoring Mission
Following its spot visit, meeting with key stakeholders and observing the situation after the short-term takeover of Kunduz by the Taliban, the monitoring team listed the following key points:
- Safety of media houses and personnel
- No journalists or media staff were physically harmed during the Taliban takeover of Kunduz. However, the psychological impact and fear is long-lasting, particularly as the fighting is ongoing and the threat of another takeover is imminent, given the withdrawal of the international forces and a weak government.
- The media owners in Kunduz had information that Kunduz city would fall into the hands of the Taliban. They had the capacity and enough time to transfer their equipment to safer places, as Abdul Shokoor Qaderdan the director of Kunduz Milli Radio and TV honestly shared his pre-planning of equipment transfer. Even though Kunduz Milli Radio TV is national property, they had plans to move their equipment to safe places. It does not seem credible that the other stations, being privately owned, did not have a prior plan in place to ensure the safety of their equipment.
- Damage to buildings and loss of equipment
- Except for the sign of gunfire entry on the door of the building that houses Radio Zohra and the breaking of the lock on the door of Radio Roshani, none of the doors to other buildings housing the media were damaged or showed evidence of the entry of intruders.
- Drawing up long lists of expensive radio equipment and denying the Monitoring Mission the opportunity to cross-check these lists raises questions about the authenticity of such lists and the motivation behind them. Most of local radio stations were funded by Internews and all their equipment were provided free. It is possible that some of them hope they get new equipment with USAID funds.
- The apparent vandalizing and scattering of tables, chairs and other furniture in offices was questionable as the motive seems unclear.
- The fact that the archive and administrative documents of Kaihan Radio, Khawar Radio & TV were untouched, their cabinets intact, not tearing the playing cards and magazines of Sada-e-Azadi (the NATO/ ISAF magazine) in the office of Radio Zohra is also questionable. If an outsider group, particularly the Taliban enters an office and comes across playing cards, foreigners’ documents, certificates or any related papers, they would have immediately torn or burnt them.
- The connectors/jacks which were connected to the transmitters and senders were detached very carefully, without causing scratches, damage or loss, which shows that this was carried out by highly-skilled and experienced people with the required tools. This extreme care cannot be related to the Taliban or other intruders who want to destroy things and loot them.
- If the Taliban has taken the material and equipment of the media and scattered things in their offices, naturally their first action would be to destroy billboards or signage of the stations, but none of the media billboards were taken down.
- Unlocking of the office doors carefully with great skill so as not damage the locks, doors or other carpentry materials shows care taken by the intruders, it seems as though they did not want any more damage to the doors and window of the media which is not characteristic of terrorists and gangs who want to loot or steal people’s property. If all of this damage was done by the Taliban or other intruders, and they wanted to destroy everything in the offices including furniture, equipment and even kitchen equipment, it is surprising that they did not touch any of the office air conditioners, all of which were left in working condition.
- Neighbours of most media houses assured the monitoring team that the media remained safe during the war and Taliban takeover, and few of them even said that the Taliban avoided any attack or forced entry to the media houses.
- Financial instability
- Due to the collapse of Kunduz into the hands of the Taliban, and the ensuing physical and economic upheaval, all the media houses in this city lost their advertisement revenue, which was their only source of income. They are currently facing a financial crisis and lack of resources. Wages to journalists and media staff are reduced, irregular or have been altogether stopped.
- Some companies, banks, stopped sponsorship of programs or giving advertisements to the media citing security risks, thus affecting the sustainability of the media houses.
- Professional issues
- Most of the media in Kunduz lacks professional skills and has limited access to training, especially training in professional standards of journalism. The print media is weak and has limited equipment and facilities to operate and continue their publications. It is a matter of concern that some journalists with less professional skills used for propaganda against Taliban by local politician and warlords which were against Taliban all the time from 2001.
- The media in Kunduz also lacks the ability to report independently, which is very important in a conflict zone. Few reporters from this province had had the opportunity of participating in workshops and training programmes. Covering conflict, investigative and ethical journalism has not been part of their professional training.
- Impact on women journalists
- All five radio stations in Kunduz run by women in this province were severely affected; their broadcasting was stopped for weeks, and some of them lost most of their equipment and necessary tools. Female employees and reporters stopped their work for weeks and remained without income and salaries. Some female reporters and producers in these stations left these media houses and stopped working after Kunduz incident. Some of those who continued to work after some days have not been paid because their media stations have no income even many weeks after the Taliban takeover. With a weak government at the centre, and the withdrawal of the NATO forces, the resistance to such a takeover seems well nigh impossible.
(This is a part of the capsule report for the South Asia Press Freedom Report 2016 which is available to download in resource section.)