I have a five-year-old son who doesnt listen to music, but he asks me to play the Taliban songs for him and then sings along with them, Dawlat Khan said. These Taliban songs are stored on Dawlat Khans mobile phone. A resident of Nangarhar province in southeastern Afghanistan, he and his son have joined the growing band of fans of the songs and video clips produced by the insurgents. Much of the material is propaganda designed to stir up emotional support for the insurgents war, especially among young people. Passed from hand to hand even among avowed enemies of the Taliban, the songs are capturing the popular imagination in ways that more overt appeals for support - from both the insurgents and the government - have failed to do. Ive got about 50 Taliban songs on my phone. Theyre much better than the meaningless music, dramas and movies that are on TV, Dawlat Khan said. You arent committing a sin by listening to the Taliban songs, but you do so every second if you watch TV. Music might seem an odd vehicle for a movement that included a ban on listening to music among the many restrictions it enforced when it was in power prior to 2001. But unaccompanied songs about Islamic themes or Afghan patriotism were not only allowed but encouraged, and became a familiar sound on the Talibans Voice of Sharia radio station. Now they are enjoying a revival, especially in parts of Afghanistan where Taliban influence is strong, thanks to new phone models that support video as well as audio formats. Everyone offers a different reason for watching the film clips or listening to the songs, from simple enjoyment to a degree of sympathy with the Taliban cause. The clips even circulate among local government officials and members of the Afghan security forces whose job is to fight the insurgents. A member of the Afghan National Army who comes from Nangarhars Khogyani district said the main reason he had material like this on his phone was that it might save him if he ever fell into the insurgents hands. The truth is that I keep these songs in my mobile phone to protect my life, he said. Besides, theres nothing bad about these songs, anyway. They are all songs about the country, and Islamic poems. We too are children of this country and we are Muslims. So we listen to them. Asked about videos showing young people preparing to carry out suicide bombings, the soldier said, Yes, its true there are songs and clips encouraging young people to fight and to prepare for suicide attacks. I dont endorse them, and Id even like to see them banned. IWPR interviewed three young men sitting in a Jalalabad bookshop, watching footage of a childs rendition of a song urging his mother to put a flower in the barrel of his Kalashnikov rifle and send him off to fight for Afghan freedom. Initially they said they just liked the singers voice, but when asked what effect the songs message would have on them, one said angrily, Why dont you ask about the impact of music, foreign movies and [TV] dramas? They are full of immorality, they are driving society to destruction, they make young people forget their country, honour and religion, and they are destroying our culture, language and history. Taliban songs were a thousand times better than Afghan TV channels, he said, adding, The children of this country are fighting for their country. They are our brothers and we listen to their songs unashamedly. Such comments suggest the Taliban have found a new way to reach out and touch people at a personal level - a tactic the Afghan government and its international allies have largely failed to master, despite the substantial resources that have gone into hearts-and-minds work. The government struggles to counter allegations that it presides over warlordism, corruption and lawlessness, while the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led troops have often aroused anger because of civilian casualties, intrusive house searches, and perceived slights on the Muslim faith. Political expert Abdul Basir sees the exponential growth in popularity of Taliban multimedia products as a significant coup. Propaganda plays a very important and fundamental role in winning wars, militarily and ideologically. If you look around, youll see these songs are now in the pockets of almost all of Nangarhars residents. I believe these songs and videos constitute a major factor [in favour] of a Taliban victory. They have increased their influence among the people. He warned that this propaganda defeat could translate into an actual military reverse if the Taliban continued. The rise of the Taliban songs may have been facilitated by a series of bomb attacks on shops in the main provincial town Jalalabad which sold more traditional forms of Afghan music. Abdul Ghani, who heads the local association of music traders and has a shop himself, said the industry had suffered greatly. Theres no doubt that our business has reached rock bottom. People dont buy cassettes as much as they used to, and were funding the rent on our shops out of our own pockets, he said. But I still cant believe that many people listen to the Taliban songs instead of music. Only 10pc of my customers ask me for Taliban songs. Asia Times Online