Showing posts with label Mullah Radio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mullah Radio. 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)

Why Fighting Mullah Radio Is Not Easy

Published in Pakistan Express Tribune:                                        
Picture of the Radio Khyber Studio.

It was May 7, 2006 that, as a team, we started transmission of Radio Khyber. It was located within Khyber Agency, one among seven districts of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the Northwestern part of the country. I started transmitting with a passion to empower local people and give them voices. Voices which had been kept silent since 1901, the day the colonial empire of India promulgated the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) in FATA. The FCR was designed by British, who used the region’s own tribal traditions and social psyche to rule ruthlessly over the territory. All of the sections of this law, which to this day are still intact in tribal areas, are authoritarian. One among them was a ban on freedom of expression.

It was ironic for me that even though the ban has never been repealed, the Pakistani government decided to establish four radio stations in FATA. And we journalists were hired -- after years reporting for newspapers.

As the days passed I came to know that the Khyber radio was established to give voice to the government’s activities and developments – not to its people. There was no element of local empowerment. The government was more interested in using the airwaves to fight back against three Mullah Radios, which were at that time broadcasting in the Khyber Agency.

Although we tried to explain that without the buy-in of the local community, there wouldn’t be an audience for Radio Khyber, far less change a whole region’s mind. We argued that what was needed was a way to ensure the station’s credibility for the public – and that was not possible without news and opinion programming. The government was leery - news and views could bring about unrest - disturb law and order - and no local radio stations had been allowed to broadcast local news.

Nafees Afridi is interviewing local tribal on community issue.
Once, a political agent of the Khyber Agency in FATA Secretariat (FATA Secretariat is a body which runs the affairs of tribal areas and appoint political agents to each district of FATA) criticized radio and questioned the outcome of this radio and proposed to shut it down. If a top executive of the tribal district, who has the power of policing and prosecution was not supporting legitimate airwaves and at the same time couldn’t stop illegal firebrand mullah radios, what one could expect other than that to shut it down.

When the person responsible for the radio station tells you there’s no room for local news, how are you supposed to meet your mission of promoting a positive government image? It’s not enough to play music. Also, the hate radio stations banned music, labeling music as Saytan (Devil) work. So if music, in their opinion, is Saytan work and those radio stations still have a large audience, then it doesn’t make sense to fight back by playing music. This is a very basic issue that needs to be addressed.

When those mullah radio stations reported for their followers that the government wanted to modernize tribal women and men on the tip fingers of west by playing music? What happened, they started campaign against gov’t radio. For example, the chief of Lashkar-e-Islam Mangal Bagh twice warned people not to call for radio station because they are promoting vulgarity. But when we started local bulletins—brief news updates -- with the approval of high ranking officer, it went well enough that we had covered the whole military operation in Swat. And the hate radios didn’t have to offer news bulletin and opinion programing to community and therefore, the public turned on to the government station because it was giving fresh news bulletin and news programing. No one threatened us because we were seen as non-biased reporters. Impartiality is the only security guarantee for a journalist in Pakistan. But news bulletins were closed down in March 2010, for security reasons.

The people in FATA are very used to radio broadcasting and they prefer Pashto news bulletins from VOA Pashtu Service, BBC Pashtu, Radio Azadi Afghanistan Pashtu Service, and Radio Mashaal Pashtu. The literate people of FATA also listens BBC Urdu Service, VOA Urdu Service, Voice of Germany Urdu Service, Radio Veritas Asia Urdu Service, Radio China Urdu Service, Radio Tehran Urdu Service and Delhi Radio Pashtu Service.
How could Radio Pakistan compete with that much news broadcasting? If you have a news service that only provides information about the government -- what the President said, what the Prime Minister said and what the Information Minister said – then you are just ignoring community problems. You can’t compete in the tribal areas when there’s so much other, reputable, news broadcasting. The government has lost an important potential audience to Radio Deewa and Radio Mashaal. Those are funded by the US State Department. When I asked Shandi Gul, an office boy who works at Radio Razmak, North Waziristan why he listened Radio Mashaal, his reply was simple: he just wanted to know what was going on in his surroundings. This proves that days of centralized information dissemination has been gone and people are now more concerned about local news.

The total estimated area of FATA is 27,220 km2 (10,509 sq mi). It has been almost covered by foreign radio broadcasters providing news and other programming in the Pashtu and Urdu languages. The expert staffs are drawn from Pakhtun areas, which were earlier neglected in mainstream media of Pakistan, has been putting their head into tribal affairs and also they enjoy respect in their respective communities.

Reporting staff is doing refresher course at University of Peshawar 

The government is fighting a losing battle for the minds of the people in FATA with those four radio stations. One, in Wana, South Waziristan, was closed down in 2009. None of them will ever be successful until and unless local media is allowed to hold accountable the local administration, education, health, agriculture, sericulture, and forestry, public works departments and development projects.

Just talking about patriotism isn’t enough. That doesn’t solve the common man’s problems and if people’s wishes and hopes are not respected now in FATA than they were in the past, then those people will choose to change the dial – and listen to a radio broadcast that does.

Radio Is The Lifeline in Tribal Areas of Pakistan

people listening to rado Miranshah.

In FATA, Radio is the only Voice, Published by Express Tribune.

Twice, I missed cadet college tests during my school period because the only source of news was newspapers and the admission news failed to reach me in time. But even today, students and people of the FATA don’t get news in real time.

An International media development organization in Pakistan has trained Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) broadcasters on public service announcements (PSAs) in a training held in Islamabad Pakistan. Broadcasters from local radio stations have attended this five day hands on training on PSAs. While PSAs are used widely elsewhere in the world, they have never been used by these stations in Pakistan before. “I have done my Master in journalism but I have not learned on how to produce PSA,” said Asadullah who attended that training along with 10 other colleagues at February 2012. The use of PSAs and other Public-oriented media trainings is crucial to help Pakistan Local government in FATA to establish relationship with its militancy affected people located at Pak-Afghan border.

Asadullah and his colleagues wasted no time putting their new training to good use. They immediately returned to their stations and began developing PSAs, the first of which was about the ongoing voter registration process in Pakistan. After broadcasting the voter registration PSA on Radio Miranshah, the station started receiving a number of calls and letters from listeners congratulating them. According to listeners they are providing them guidance on voter registration and other important social issues. Asadullah a young reporter who has risen quickly to the ranks never thought that he would be bridging gap between government and local people.
A media development organization has engaged five partner radio stations from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to train them on professional broadcasting. The partner radio stations have been provided with professional equipment in order to improve working capacity and trainings to strengthen their production skills for the benefit of the local population. These radios are the only government voice in the tribal areas to inform listeners about government development activities. That is why Asadullah and his other colleagues from the same partner radio stations have also been trained in PSA production.

Mr. Fazal Rahman, station manager of the radio Miranshah and who also attended that training, regarded this training very fruitful. He has also produced PSAs about local government and has solicited applications from students to attend a free skill development program. Fazal, who remained my colleague during our four years broadcasting in FATA, told me that as soon as he broadcast that announcement, he received many calls from listeners inquiring about this opportunity. He was surprised to see how fruitful this activity was. He never experienced this kind of broadcasting which is very short and concise, and he was happy to see that he has engaged destitute local people in constructive activity.

The impoverished tribal regions have no other option to learn about any opportunity provided by the government or non-government organizations except these radios. Twice, I missed cadet college tests during my school period because the only source of news was newspapers and the admission news failed to reach me in real time. Cadet Colleges are special colleges established by government with subsidized fee and high standard and they admit those students who cleared their tests. They every year announced admission with limited seats for general students who can make their way into college. But even today, students and people of the FATA don’t get news in real time.

So, the broadcasting of these five radio stations working in Northwestern Pakistan Tribal areas has attracted large audiences, especially students and women who are more interested in education and health programs. This practice has converted lot of opportunities either from government or non-government into public announcements to reach to larger audiences of FATA. These radios also requested local government to give them permission to start commercial broadcasting in tribal region.

Though, the government has started number of projects to provide basic facilities to public such as health, education, but those were going unnoticed because, there was no mechanism in place to disseminate information to large audiences. The local government of FATA usually issued information to newspapers and televisions and both the mediums lack access to large audiences in FATA, mainly because of illiteracy and power shortage. Therefore, the information failed to reach concerned people, most of the time, which have been living far away in the mountains. For instance, I have heard commercials given by local government to Peshawar FM channels despite knowing that it is not being heard fully in the FATA. Today, most of the scholarships are advertised in the newspapers meant for fata students while knowing that newspaper circulation is few hundred in the whole of FATA.

The Fata radios since its inception are totally dependent on donor’s money and local government has not yet design commercial plans to make these radios financially sustainable. But Asadullah is confident that sooner or later his radio would get permission of commercial broadcasting and then he could be able to utilize his skills for making commercial spots. He said he would be happy to become part of that broadcasting too.

Pakistani Province Reaches Out Through Radio

Published in the KUT News----Austin, Texas University.

Mr. Shuaib-u-din endeavoring to reach out public through radio.

Northwest Pakistan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province, previously called the Northwest Frontier Province, is trying to empower local community by installing community radios in troubled regions.

This is an effort to counter the influence of illegal radio, or Mullah Radio, in Northwest Pakistan’s settled and tribal districts. Settled districts are the responsibility of the provincial government that came into power in February 2008 elections. The provincial government fought the Taliban in Swat, Bunner, Dir valleys.

At a press conference, I got chance to ask few questions of the Director of Information and Public Relations, Mr. Shuaib-u-din, about media policy in Northwest Pakistan Khyber Province. He is implementing government media policy in KPK, Pakistan.

Tayyeb Afridi: What urged the provincial government to install new radio stations in KPK province, despite having regional stations of Radio Pakistan?

Shuaib-u-din: Radio Pakistan is a national radio, and they are broadcasting in national language. And when you are broadcasting in national language Urdu and international language English, you are missing the huge population of the province.

As you know, according to government statistics, 75 percent people don’t understand Urdu and English. When this much population of your province is not getting your message, what would happen? They would fall to propaganda of Mullah Radio, as happened in Swat, Bunner, Dir, the respective districts of Northwest Pakistan.

By establishing local radio stations, the government will be able to reach their message in a local language to the [province's] population of 20 million, and this will give them a sense they are participating in local government.

Tayyeb: What made it possible to establish provincially controlled radio stations, since dealing with information falls under federal jurisdiction?

Shuaib-u-din: You know, the immediate problem of terrorism in Northwest Pakistan settled and tribal areas was widely propagated by Mullah Radio, thus it was a justified demand of the provincial government to establish local radio.

However, this decision to establish provincial radio was according to the constitution of Pakistan. It says the federal government shall not unreasonably refuse to entrust to a provincial government such functions with respect to broadcasting and telecasting.

Tayyeb: How would you handle the issue of credibility when it comes to government media?

Shuaib-u-din: Yes, I understand this concern, and therefore the provincial government has decided to give a feeling of participation to local people, and they should be engaged in dialog for their development.

We are working on semi-autonomous structure of the radio to ensure people are represented. We will go further as time passes, to increasingly empower these radio stations with rules to engage their community.

Tayyeb: What kind of content would be programmed on these radio stations?

Shuaib-u-din: These channels will be predominantly infotainment. It would carry local news, thematic and cultural programming. It will also carry public service announcements and public advertisements that appeared in newspapers in order to reach a large audience.

The provincial government understands that you can’t keep people stupid for a long time, and that is why the content would be community-driven with a slight check so that these radio [stations] shouldn’t lose the aim of development.

Tayyeb: Could this network help to improve cross-border relations with Afghanistan?

Shuaib-u-din: We have kept an element of Afghan presenters in radio stations in order to accommodate their accent, not only for other Pakhtun, but also for Afghan refugees who are living in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It is the government's effort to give voice to Afghans’ problems, and this would certainly play an important role in developing trust between the two countries.

Tayyeb: What is the budget allocated for these radio stations?

Shuaib-u-din: The provincial government has approved [a] 100 million Pakistani Rupees (about $1.2 million US) budget for 24 community radio stations in 24 districts of the province. The budget was passed by provincial assembly on June 20, 2011. Initially, we would establish three community radio stations in the fiscal year 2011-12 in District Bannu, District Lower Dir and District Abbottabad.

With establishment of this, the number of radio stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will reach five, because two FM radio stations have already been established in District Peshawar and District Mardan in 2009, the two comparatively modern cities of the province. The rest of the 19 radio stations will be installed with passage of time and keeping resources in mind. This fund, we have reserved in Annual Development Program.

Tayyeb: Does your staff have expertise in broadcasting to run these channels?

Shuaib-u-din: You know, all the information officers working under Directorate of Information and Public Relations have expertise in print media. Since radio is new for us, we have signed letter of agreement with media development organization. They will help us in programming and management. Once we have established all these radio stations, we will connect them through networking.

Tayyeb: What was the magic that allowed Radio Mullah to hijack the community in less time than government radio channels?

Shuaib-u-din: (Laughing) this question arises, even in bureaucracy, that why can’t we achieve the fruits as quick as done by Mullah Radio. This is a question for research, but I would like to share one point that I have heard my radio stations' presenters who are talking on health, education, governance, and they wrap up each program with one conclusion and that is “our solution of problems is lying in Islam”. Being Muslim, I can’t disagree with that message, but it leaves no room for debate and dialog.