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.

Conventional Judicial System: Youth in Fata is divided

Jirga Picture taken by Khyber. org

Jirgas are conventionally defined as a parallel judicial system, constituting of region’s elders that handle disputes and offer justice to parties concerned. The most important thing that this definition fails to cover is the fact that Jirgas also works like executive bodies, implementing their decision and ensuring that the conflicting parties respects the decision. If any party violates decree of Jirga, he is punished with fine and in case of non-compliance the violator is declared as “Kabar Jen” the Pashto term for a person who should be disrespected by all tribes in the region, for not respecting the Jirga. In extreme cases, the jirga can even ask other tribesmen to take up armed fight against the ‘Kabar Jen’.

In tribal areas, people believe Jirga is still famous for cheap delivery of justice as compared courts which are very technical and need more time in resolving issues. Subhat Khan, a local tribesman from Bara Khyber Agency, fully endorses Jirga believes that it is still capable of delivering justice on both domestic and political matter

“Elders who used to constitute Jirgas for common good of people or on general community issues to defend right of their tribesmen, are now busy carrying out the work for Political Administration. Obviously They now have to safeguard administration interests. So how can one expect tribesmen would believe in a system that is not delivering justice” says Fazal Rehman, a journalist from FATA; “Youth in FATA are now looking towards media for justice.” Fazal Rehman also believes that the newly introduced political party act will empower people, especially the youth, who are educated and politically aware how to exercise vote and how to make their elected candidates accountable.

Critics of the jirga system are many, but, Subhat Khan, doesn’t agree with the opinion that this conventional Jirga system has failed. He blames the government for using Jirgas as a tool to serve its own interests in post 9/11 era, thus soiling its image. Subahat Khan also added that ““In social disputes, the authority of decision has been given in soul and spirit to Jirga members and that is why people are satisfied with Jirga but unfortunately the same authority was not given to Jirga members to deliver on political fronts as vested interest of political administration are involved”; says Subahat, adding that Jirga can deliver if Jirga members are allowed to remain impartial.

Rafiullah from Swat highlights the importance of Jirga in resolving domestic issues but agrees that its political role is dubious “Yes, I believe Jirga has been playing its due role in social issues and people used to solve their domestic matters with Jirgas, but it has failed in case of political issues and we have seen that in Swat in 2009. Jirga has not delivered so far in terms of political issues when you look to the militancy issues of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and provincial administered Tribal areas (PATA) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat”.

Rafiullah divides FATA’s youth in two categories. The first one, from 15 to 25 years of age, are termed as aggressive and wanted to see rule of law in action. “When provincial government decided to talk to Swat Taliban, the youth disliked that effort, which they perceived as handing over writ to Taliban.

The other group of youth, from ages 25 to 35 is open to anyone who has power to heel their wounds. They supported Taliban’s move to kill robbers’ dacoits in first place while after witnessing Taliban brutality they then supported security forces who released them from virtual siege of Taliban. They simply want the culprits to be punished either by Taliban or Government.

Unsurprisingly, this view doesn’t go unopposed. Fazal Rehman believes that jirga’s failure in political dispensation is enough for those who wants to ensure conventional means of justice. He says that the time is ripe for complete reform and FATA citizens should now choose the system that can address the modern day problems including terrorism and militancy.

Bakhtawar Jan, 29, from Razmak North Waziristan says that the social fabric of tribal areas is now divided on this point; to upgrade the existing system or to revert to conventional system of governance which incorporates the infamous collective clause of responsibility even in Frontier Crime Regulation imposed by the British Raj.

Fazal Rehman while maintaining his argument says that it is important to have laws for social and political dispensation of Justice. Those who want to resolve their problems through Jirga should be given that choice but having sacrificed lives and livelihood over the last ten years, he believes that FATA citizens should demand the same system the rest of the country is enjoying.

Subhat Khan, questioning the idea of mainstreaming FATA into court judicial system remains skeptical. “Can anyone ensure that the court system will resolve FATA’s problems and will ensure free and fair justice? Frankly speaking, I don’t like criticizing Jirga for failing in the provision of justice because we are expecting too much from Jirga while doing nothing to empower it”.