JALALABAD — It's a cold evening in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province. At night, young people here gather around the fire to discuss their daily lives. But over recent months, their meetings have increasingly included listening to broadcasts on an FM radio channel that went live in August.
Supporters here of ISIS, also known as Daesh, have launched a radio station called Sadaye Khilafat, which means "Voice of the Caliphate." In the station's promotional ad, listeners can hear the sound of galloping horses, a strategic approach intended to conjure an image of the Prophet Muhammad, who used horses during war.
The daily three-hour broadcasts include anti-government propaganda, invitations to join ISIS in Syria and interviews with ISIS fighters.
Saad Emarati is a guest on today's program about the heroes of ISIS. Once an active Taliban militant, he has since declared support for ISIS and urges young listeners during the broadcast to join him.
"I ask all people who are not linked with ISIS to get connected soon and follow Abu-Bakar Al Baghdadi as a leader of Muslims," he says. "I especially invite religious people to join ISIS. People do not have any real reason to delay."
Voice of the Caliphate has been compared to Pakistan's Mulah radio, a station the Taliban used to broadcast its messages in 2007 and 2008.
Aerial view of Jalalabad, Afghanistan — Photo: Bryan Battaglia
Naveed-ur-Rahman, 22, has been unemployed for the last seven months and has been a regular listener of Voice of the Caliphate since the station first began broadcasting. But he says he's not convinced of the message.
"I know the main purpose is to recruit young people like me who are jobless and don't have any source of income, but I don't think any sensible young man will join Daesh," he says. "They want to use the name of Islam, but I don't think it will work anymore to deceive Afghans."
By contrast, 25-year-old Hazrat (not his real name) says he is pleased that ISIS has its own space on the airwaves. "Media plays a vital role in wars now, so it's good that Daesh has a radio channel," he says. "I don't want to say if I am an ISIS supporter or not, but I like the radio channel because it gives Daesh an opportunity to share their version of the story. I wait all day long to hear the program."
In Afghanistan, radio is a major source of news and entertainment for people in cities and villages, and there are around 170 radio stations across the country. But earlier this month, Afghan government officials claimed that a U.S. drone strike destroyed the station, killing 29 militants and five radio station employees.
Though ISIS has strongly rejected the claims, Naveed-ur-Rahman says he has been unable to listen to the station for several weeks. He has switched instead to Pashto music — a welcome change, says his mother Gul Bibi.
"My son used to listen to the Daesh programs, but there has not been a program on for more than two weeks now," she says. "The militants want to spread their fear through that station, but ISIS fighters should know that they can't rule by force."