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Taliban Leaders Want Afghans to Plant More Trees

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Sunday, “the Mujahideen and beloved countrymen must join hands in tree planting" adding trees have an “important role in environmental protection, economic development and beautification of earth."

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FILE - In this photograph taken on Nov. 22, 2016, an Afghan child shepherd walks under the changing leaves of trees on the outskirts of Jalalabad.

Afghanistan, Feb 28, 2017: A Taliban leader has issued a statement in four languages calling on Afghans to plant more trees.

The rare public announcement comes amid fears of fresh attacks that usually spike during springtime.

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Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Sunday, “the Mujahideen and beloved countrymen must join hands in tree planting” adding trees have an “important role in environmental protection, economic development and beautification of earth.”

The message still cites that the Taliban will continue to be actively engaged “in a struggle against foreign invaders and their hirelings” referring to the Kabul government the Taliban wants to overthrow.

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Afghan government’s reaction

But Afghan government officials dismissed the message and called it a way to “deceive public opinion” and distract others from the group’s “crimes and destruction.”

Shah Hussain Murtazawi, deputy spokesperson for President Ashraf Ghani, said, “Since the establishment of the Taliban movement the only things that these people have in their minds are fighting, crimes and destruction.”

The United Nations reported the highest number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2015 with 11,500 people dead or wounded. More than 3,000 children were among the victims, an increase of 24 percent from the previous year, the U.N. said.

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“They should stop planting IEDs [improvised explosive devices] that are killing so many innocent Afghans including children and women daily,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

Wahid Muzhda, a political analyst in Kabul, said messages of “planting trees” or claiming the group is building roads and bridges are usually the way Taliban hopes to show they would bring leadership in areas of the country they control. (VOA)

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Afghans Fear End of Press Freedom

Afghanistan is the world's deadliest place for journalists

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Afghans, Press Freedom
While in power, the Taliban raged against traditional forms of mass communication. VOA

Beneath the gaze of the TV cameras a woman begins speaking, at first softly but with growing passion as she faces the “Butcher of Kabul” across a crowded auditorium and asks if he wants to apologise for alleged war crimes.

Without missing a beat, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ruthless former warlord blamed for rocket attacks which reduced much of the Afghan capital to rubble in the 1990s, declined to do so.

The dramatic moment during a recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan, where — for now — traumatised civilians can stand and at least try to hold powerful men to account, live on camera.

“Years ago, these kind of questions could get you killed, but now people can challenge the most dangerous people in mainstream and social media,” Mustafa Rahimi, a university student, said after watching the debate.

Afghans, Press Freedom
The dramatic moment during a recent televised news debate highlights how far media freedom has come in Afghanistan. VOA

But today, even as hundreds of media outlets proliferate across Afghanistan, consumers and journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom.

“We are concerned about a total or a partial ban on media,” Sediqullah Khaliq, the director of Hewad TV and radio in Kandahar — the birthplace of Taliban — told AFP.

“There is fear that we may go back to a media blackout or having a state-controlled press.”

While in power, the Taliban raged against traditional forms of mass communication and entertainment, banning television, movies and allowing only Islamist programming or propaganda to be broadcast on the only radio station, Voice of Sharia.

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Anyone caught watching TV faced punishmentand risked having their television set smashed and then displayed from a lamppost.

Almost all electronic products were outlawed as un-Islamic. For a while, trees in Kabul fluttered with the magnetic ribbon tape from destroyed cassettes.
Photographs of living things were illegal, and ownership of a video player could lead to a public lashing.

Afghanistan is the world’s deadliest place for journalists, who face many risks covering the conflict and who have sometimes been targeted for doing their job.

Afghans, Press Freedom
Consumers and journalists alike worry a potential peace deal between the Taliban and the US could sound the death knell for a golden age of press freedom. VOA

Nine journalists, including AFP Kabul’s chief photographer Shah Marai, were killed in an Islamic State attack in April 2018.

Media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 2018 was the deadliest year on record for journalists in Afghanistan, with at least 15 media workers killed while working.

Despite the risks, hundreds of media organizations have blossomed since 2001, and today there are more than 100 television channels, 284 radio stations and just over 400 newspapers and magazines, according to a government report.

With one of the world’s lowest literacy rates, television and radio play a huge role in Afghan culture, and Afghans have grown accustomed to outlets holding their politicians to account.

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Warlords, politicians, Taliban sympathisers and government officials are openly challenged in televised debates, radio programmes and on social media.

“We now play live music, women call in and share their problems on the radio. But even if the Taliban allow radios, I don’t think they would like our programs,” said Mera Hamdam, a presenter at Zama private radio in Kandahar. “There is huge concern that we will lose all our achievements,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said if they return to power, the insurgents would follow an Islamic interpretation of freedom of expression.

“We won’t allow propaganda, insults and humiliation to people in society and religious values. We will allow those who work for the betterment of the society,” he told AFP.

Afghans, Press Freedom
FILE – An Afghan shopkeeper, right, listens to Islamic State radio at his shop in Jalalabad. VOA

A sixth round of talks between the US and the Taliban wrapped up last week in Doha, with apparently little progress being made on several key issues.

The two foes have for months been trying to hammer out a deal that could see foreign forces leave Afghanistan in return for a ceasefire, talks between Kabul and the Taliban, and a guarantee the country will not be used as a safe haven for terror groups.

But observers worry that in a rush to quit Afghanistan after nearly 18 gruelling years of war, America might not push for safeguards of protections many Afghans now take for granted, including media freedoms and improved rights for women and other marginalised people.

“Freedom of expression as a protective value should be incorporated into any document resulting from peace talks,” NAI, a leading media support agency, said in a statement.

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Rahimi, the university student, said he worried about Afghanistan going back to “the dark era”. (VOA)