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Asif Maroof

When portraying social groups, stereotypes should be avoided. But we must also be aware of the danger of depicting a society that does not exist.

Where prejudice and disadvantage exist we need to report and reflect them in our programmes. But we should do nothing to perpetuate them.

Reflecting Afghanistan's ethnic groups - by Asif Maroof, Kabul Editor, Persian and Pashto Service.

Kabul in 2001 was a grim city. Music could not be heard from any home and no beardless man could walk down the road. TV was non-existent - even the voices of female newsreaders were banned from the radio.

It's been a year since the Taleban collapsed - life is difficult and reconstruction is slow. The BBC in Persian and Pashto is now seen as a reference point and many Kabulis like to compare their own points of view with our news and analysis.

People engage in debates about their future at home and in mosques, bazaars, weddings and funerals.

Ethnic composition

The hardest issue to talk about in Afghanistan is the ethnic composition of the population. It's a fractured society, divided on ethnic, religious, linguistic, ideological and regional lines.

It is estimated that the Pashtoons are the largest group, followed by the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks and then others. Put a figure on any of these and you have a perfect recipe for a huge row even among the most educated.

The UN is thinking about a census to ensure a representative body is elected to draft a constitution. But it is a thorny issue. The census may prove that in reality some groups are much smaller than they have been perceived.

Projecting groups and their traditions

It does not however stop the groups from trying to be in the news and project themselves in the media. Therefore each word broadcast is taken very seriously by ordinary people, government officials, and young people alike.

I visited Herat in 2002 and produced a number of programmes about the city where the majority are Persian speakers.

They showed the resilience of local culture that the Taleban failed to suppress. Soon the programmes were available on tape for sale in the local market - like music albums.

We do not shy away from talking about controversial issues but we try to look at them in their own context.

We have local reporters in major population centres including Mazar, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad. We try to let all ethnic groups have their say.

We invite ethnic representatives, both men and women, to our studio. If they cannot come to us, our reporters go to them by traveling through mountains with their microphones and mini-discs to gather comments about different issues of their daily lives.

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