Iran Seeks to Use Media to Influence Opinion in Afghanistan

Reporters and writers in Afghanistan say Iran tries to recruit them to craft reports painting the U.S. presence in the worst light and threatens some who have criticized Iran.

A journalist with Afghanistan's first commercial television station, Tolo TV, Mohammed Reza Shirmohmadi said Iran tried to recruit him to get inside U.S. military bases to report on the activity of the military personnel.

"They said we can make you the boss of a filmmaking company that we will set up in Herat. They told me you can make a reality film from the American base, from any foreign base and show what they are doing in this area and what they are doing in other areas," Shirmohmadi said.

"I said to them, 'It is right (what you say) that our country right now is in the hands of foreigners, but we are getting benefits from them,' and then they left me alone."

Iranian television, which disparages the United States and its policies, is widely watched in western Afghanistan, where people speak Persian, the language of Iran.

"Iranian television programs say Afghanistan is being controlled by America and it shows programs about the mistakes that Americans are making with people, searching women. Iranian television says that the constitution you made was an American constitution and against the Quran," Shirmohmadi said.

"The programs tell us that if Iranian soldiers were in Afghanistan they would not behave like American soldiers. They say you can't go on the same roads as American soldiers and you can't talk to them because they will attack Afghans who approach them."

Nasser Ahmed Raha, head of Enlightened Youth of Afghanistan, a small group of young people in Herat dedicated to building a civil society, said he received death threats after writing editorials warning of Iranian interference in western Afghanistan.

In early January the phone rang at his home in Herat, and on the other end of the line was a senior Afghan intelligence official, Raha said. "He warned me: 'Don't go against Iran. They will kill you."'

The threat came after two editorials were published in his organization's newsletter.

One editorial, written last June, warned that the election of conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's new president could reverberate in the region and particularly in Afghanistan in the form of increased interference.

"Because of Iran's politics today other countries, particularly Afghanistan, its neighbor, should be particularly cautious about Iran's concentration in Afghan politics," Raha wrote.

Raha's second editorial, published in December, accused Ahmadinejad of stirring international unrest with his statements against Israel.

"Calling for a country, recognized by others, to be wiped off the map is the kind of talk that comes from a general or a government at war with another. It should not come from the mouth of a president when the world is trying to put an end to these old enmities," Raha wrote.

Shirmohmadi said he was barraged by telephone calls from Shiite Muslim clerics following a round-table discussion on Tolo Television that debated Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel.

"I got some telephone calls from mullahs who said it was part of a secret agenda against Iran. The mullas called me directly and said Tolo Television was working for America," he said.