Showing posts with label Militancy in Swat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Militancy in Swat. Show all posts

Why Is Critical Media Important For Pakistan's Tribal Region?

The 18th amendment has abolished the “concurrent list,” and gives much more provincial autonomy than is now available to the provinces. If the provinces still have technical problems in having powers to establish local radio, they should demand this from federal government to inform marginalized communities across the country.
Picture source: BLIP.TV

In Peshawar, I met a radio talk show listener Haji Noor Zaman, who is 60 years old and is displaced from Khyber Agency due to operation against militants. I asked: Do you still listen to radio? He said yes, he is listening but only to news bulletins from Radio Deewa.

Radio Deewa is U.S. government-sponsored radio. I asked what’s new. He said America has diverted its cannon facing Baluchistan and has built up its human rights case against Pakistan.

I was surprised to hear this sort of comment from a person, who is illiterate and once had a hashish shop at Khyber Agency. I asked in the same breath, that if they are making human rights case against our country, then why do you listen to it? His answer was that no local radio is providing this sort of critical news and he can’t change the dial as long as they are providing critical local information.

I got his thinking. He wanted to listen to critical media, in the form of radio broadcasting. Readers of newspapers and viewers of the television are luckier than radio listeners in Pakistan because they can read and watch critical media. But the people of FATA don’t have access to critical mainstream media, and using the Internet for information is out of the question as most of the region has no electricity and telephone connections.

One couldn’t do private news business in tribal areas of Pakistan because of laws that prohibit independent local broadcasting. That is the reason the people don’t know much about their surroundings and even they don’t know about most of their rights: rights to good education, rights to good health, rights to freedom of expression, rights to freedom of assembly, rights to legal counseling and so on.

In the absence of local broadcasting, people rely on U.S-run radio services, which offer local and regional information in the Pashtu language. The entire FATA could tell you what happens to Muslims in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan because they have access to global information through radio networks but they couldn’t tell you what is happening to them because a critical local media doesn’t exist.

A local reporter working for an English newspaper got a phone call from a person who was a native of Khyber Agency, telling him that his daughter’s polio case has been confirmed. After taking details, the reporter asked why you want to tell this story to people. The caller’s response was quite interesting. He wanted to tell the public to accept polio drops – otherwise they too would lose their daughters.

But to me, his choice of medium looks inappropriate, because he was about to convey his message to English readers, who already understand its importance. Ideally, this story should be told to people through radio, which is popular in the border region – and would be broadcast in their own language. Unfortunately, that father doesn’t call the local government radio station because it seemed he has no faith in that radio station.

Local government executives, who benefit profitably from border region, have no interest in encouraging the masses to speak in a community voice against injustice. The executives were allowed by the government to control, instead of serve, the people. The principle was left to them by British Raj and they continued with it to serve themselves instead of people. In fact, the Mullah Radio had grabbed people’s attention as they were critical of system injustices and offered solution to these injustices in the form of Islamic Sharia. We have seen how the Mullah has used radio for his political advantage in Swat and FATA.

The local government in FATA and Swat didn’t see radio as important in reaching the public as the Mullah did. Even today, local government officials still don’t prefer radio to newspapers, because it’s easier to show a newspaper to bosses sitting in Islamabad or Peshawar. Such officials often prefer to read newspapers rather than listen to the radio, which is regarded as a cheap medium for the masses. The irony is that local government has yet to establish radio in Swat, which was devastated by Mullah Radio.

The local media can lure back audiences from foreign radio if they were allowed to play that critical role. They would need to realize that they have competition from abroad, and they have to win local people’s hearts and minds through critical media. They would need to incorporate more important topics such as militancy, security, politics and good governance into the agenda. Today our thin Government and Commercial agency-run local radio lacks all these, even in Pakistan.

Good local radio journalism can’t be established in the region until and unless government ensures freedom and protection, with easy procedure and less expensive licenses. The federal government needs to understand that people have right to expression – to criticize policies – if they are not benefiting the citizens.

The 18th amendment has abolished the “concurrent list,” and gives much more provincial autonomy than is now available to the provinces. If the provinces still have technical problems in having powers to establish local radio, they should demand this from federal government to inform marginalized communities across the country.

Theoretically, everyone agrees that radio can play a very important role in governance and in alleviating systematic injustices. But in practice, they don’t want to give voice to impoverished communities. If we couldn’t establish and empower local radios, then listeners like Haji Noor Zaman can’t change the dial to listen local radio.

Short Bio of Radio Mullahs in North Western Pakistan

The Individuals, who rode airwaves in the North Western Pakistan used radio as an effective tool to get people support for their imposition of ''Sharia'' (Islamic Law) in Swat and Khyber Agency.  Here is the short bio of those:

Maulana Fazlullah started an illegal local FM channel in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Swat Valley in 2006. He preaches forcing vice and virtue and has an anti-Western Jihadi stance. He is considered pro-Taliban and a very powerful figure in the area. Though he considers most communication based electronics as "major sources of sin" he transmits broadcasts of his sermons on an illegal local FM radio channel, hence the nickname "Radio Mullah" or "Maulana Radio".
FM signals are relayed from mobile transmitters mounted on motorcycles and trucks. During nightly broadcasts, prohibited activities are routinely declared and violators' names announced for assassination, which often includes beheading.                                                                                                                        Maulana Fazlullah (born 1974) nicknamed the "Radio Mullah" or "Mullah Radio", is the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a banned Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist militant group allied to the Pakistani Taliban, that aims to enforce Sharia in the country. He is sometimes referred to as "chief" of the Swat Taliban and is the son-in-law of the TNSM's founder, Sufi Muhammad. (Source

Mufti Munir Shakir (birthdate unknown) is a religious figure operating in northwestern Pakistan, and the founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam. Shakir worked in Kurram Agency until 2004, when he was ejected by tribal elders following a mosque bombing.
Shakir's fame increased after he moved to Bara tehsil, Khyber Agency, where he established an FM pirate radio station. Using this vehicle, he began to promote his religious beliefs, based in Deobandi theology. Among his more controversial pronouncements was his alleged statement that opium is halal, provided it is produced and used for medical purposes.

Mengal Bagh is said to be a successor of Mufti Munir Shakir, When Shakir was ejected from Khyber Agency, he turned over his radio station to Bagh, a local driver, and Bagh then formed the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam.[3] Nowadays he is somewhere in the Vally of Tera. But members of LeI are still in Bara and areas of Khyber Agency. (Source

                                                                                                       In 2005, Pir Saifur Rahman, a supporter of the more moderate Barelvi school of Islam, established his own FM pirate radio station to compete with Shakir's station. Rivalry between the two clerics increased, causing tribal elders to denounce the two in December 2005 for fomenting sectarian tension. Both clerics then went into hiding, with Shakir handing control of his radio station and Lashkar-e-Islam organization to Mangal Bagh. The hostilities peaked around March 29, 2006, when "hundreds" of Shakir's followers gathered in the Badshahkili neighborhood of Bara tehsil to attack Rahman's followers. (Source

Ansar ul Islam (AI) was founded in June 2006 in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency by Qazi Mehboob-ul Haq who also belongs to Deobandi theology but had difference with Lashkar-e-Islam.  It was founded to counter the expansion of Lashkar-e-Islam who believes in strict implementation of Sharia.  Qazi Mehboob-ul-Haq used his pirate radio to counter the ideology of Lashkar-e- Islam and his radio is very famous in the Tirah Valley bordering Afghanistan. (Local Source)