The Pulay Poray, (“Across the Border”) was set up over 4 years ago by PACT Radio, and it is the second radio soap launched in the Pak-Afghan borders by John Butt, the first being the BBC’s highly successful ground-breaking soap opera for Afghanistan, New Home, New Life.
John Butt says: “The BBC in the early Nineties was the only player in the media scene in Afghanistan and the border areas. It had acquired a huge reputation covering the Soviet occupation of the country. On the back of that reputation, New Home, New Life was able to exert enormous influence on its listeners – even on government.
“By comparison, PACT Radio is a small player in a now highly competitive media field. But maybe the reputation that I acquired as a BBC broadcaster at that time is helping build PACT Radio up into an influential force for good in that society.”
Unlike other efforts of the international community to influence the Taliban, New Home, New Life had considerable success – even influencing their policies. At the onset of Taliban rule in the mid-Nineties, women were banned from working – even in health centres. New Home, New Life ran a storyline on this, highlighting how important it was for women to work in health facilities – if for no other reason so that they could treat women.
John Butt recalls how, on a visit to Kandahar, he was chatting to some Taliban foot-soldiers outside the house of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. “You have a Taliban representative in your radio drama, don’t you John Butt?” they put to him in a joking manner. “No,” he countered. “Yes you do – it is Jabbar Khan,” they insisted. “But how can he be your representative – an opium-growing, chillum-smoking good-for-nothing?” John argued. “Yes,” they insisted, “he is our representative: he does not let his daughter-in-law go to work!” Jabbar Khan had indeed been the character who had embodied in the New Home, New Life storyline the initial refusal of the Taliban to allow women to work in health centres.
The storyline led directly to the Taliban changing their policy on this issue.
“In retrospect,” says John Butt, “I think New Home, New Life could have done more to change the outlook of the Taliban on other crucial issues. That was one reason I set up The Pulay Poray.”
John Butt believes he knows the Taliban mentality back to front. A convert to Islam, he studied in Islamic madrassahs in the border regions for fifteen years in the Seventies and early Eighties. These were the very madrassahs that later spawned the Taliban. He has lived among the Pashtuns for more than four decades. “Militancy, radicalism, violent extremism – these things have destroyed the very traditions that attracted me to the area in the first place,” he says. “This is my personal motivation in putting on this soap.”