Illegal FM radio stations, illiteracy, religion and the governance system introduced in 2001 have aided the growth of Islamic militancy in the Swat Valley, according to the 2010 research report “A Survey of Perceptions about the Drivers of Conflict in Swat” by a Peshawar based Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training (RIPORT).
Khalid Aziz, heads the institute that is looking into certain grave areas of concern that arose after a decades old privatization of media and the “communication boom.” Suddenly number of new media outlets started to grow on a rapid scale across the country, in particular I will talk today about the FM radio stations that have been a strong tool used by the Taliban and militant groups in their anti State agendas. Please see this graph 1.
Television and Radio Popularity in Pakistan
Over all, radio is the most popular medium in both urban and rural based Pakistan, since its birth in 1947 with state-run Radio Pakistan announcement of the independence of Pakistan on Aug 13, 1947 at 11:59 pm in Urdu, followed by a similar announcement in English. It is considered a running school for media and journalism industry and the love of radio listenership continues till date.
Other crucial reasons include:
- Millions of illiterate Pakistanis in rural, impoverished or hard-to-access areas – continue to have very limited news media options therefore radio is a huge source for information dissemination and keeping village based people updated with the current happenings.
- Pakistan suffers from acute shortage of power, with 10 – 12 hours power shut down, therefore despite its economic progress, television and print media are still not doable options due to their dependency on electric power. Also in many areas, there are no or very few television cable operators.
- The north-west regions and its tribal agencies continue to stay under military conflict, including proxy warfare under Pakistan-US-Afghanistan NATO led agreements, with the TTP, LeT etc groups.
- Severe damage of infrastructure, displacement and instability in daily lives have created vulnerable, isolated and challenging odds for populations.
- There aren’t many sources of entertainment and information in this region. FM radio is an easy and in some cases the only – option people have.
This is where the Taliban stepped in, to cater this niche of population with their creative imagination bordering on the evil. In Taliban and other militant groups strong presence regions, its is easy to cater to the information starved people by putting a mic in the hands of a radical mullah broadcasting the message of hate and Taliban’s version of entertainment. See graph II for the locations deemed to have been under/ continued strong presence of the Taliban groups.
A poor person just needs a small radio set to reduce his boredom by listening on.
The research report’s in-depth analysis of the Swat Valley’s case with its FM radio stations run by TTP groups, were a timely warning to the government to improve security and provide reforms to deal with the situation in Swat but due to lack of political will, external interference and pro-Taliban sentiment the cycle of death and destruction continues till date.
Taliban Run Radio Stations Propaganda’s
Things continued to go downhill in Swat Valley and soon this menace of illegal radio stations spread across other tribal location including Buner, Waziristan, Charsaddah, Mingora, and so on.
The militants use air waves to broadcast propaganda against their opponents and Western governments. These clerics popularly known as “FM mullahs” condemn everyone and everything that goes against their interpretation of religion.
Illiterate women and men sitting inside their homes in far-flung villages listen on a daily level to conservative sermons on women-related issues and other day-to-day affairs on air. The sermons also promote that discussing women issues like rape and domestic violence etc are not to be discussed because it goes against their imaginations of cultural and Islamic values. Other shows advise men on following a strict code of conduct with their women and to prohibit women from stepping outside homes. These suppressing of women messages are well received by patriarchal and male oriented Pushtun men hailing from village backgrounds.
Another damaging effect of these transmissions is the indoctrination against the anti-polio campaign that led to the failure of national polio campaign. Taliban’s offensive against the polio immunization program highlights the success of TTP and other sectarian militant groups against the involved health workers and security personnel working on giving health care to children. The Taliban run radio stations have time and again issued fatwa against female health workers in Swat and Malakand.
I will highlight two fatwas in particular: 1…. One called the presence of women in public spaces a form of indecency, and instructed that it “was a Muslim man’s duty to kidnap the woman’s health workers when they paid home visits, to marry them forcibly even if they were already married women, or to use them as sexual slaves.” Another similar Taliban decree declared that it was morally illegal for Muslim women to work for wages.
Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority
It is not possible that illegal stations can continue to run unchecked without any governing bodies. Established in 2002, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority is independent federal institution responsible for regulating and issuing channel licenses for establishment of the mass-media culture, print and electronic media.
PEMRA’s monitoring reports on illegal radio stations have shed light on extremely grave concerns for human rights issues within the country. Its says that further growing trend of extremism in parts of the NWFP is negating the government’s efforts to portray a soft image of Pakistan abroad. The governing body noted that some 62 illegal FM stations in settled areas while 49 others are being operated from the Federally- Administered Tribal Areas and Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata and Pata). Almost all are under the control of radical clergymen from Madressahs and mosques.
An under staffed Pemra, has been taking actions against illegal FM operators with the help of the provincial governments. But there are many challenges.. It is impossible to close down illegal FM radio stations because local technicians re-manufacture the equipment for only Rs10,000 or Rs15,000. ($150 – $200)
Last year, the regulatory body’s counter measures include : stopping the illegal up-linking by three channels. PEMRA raided more than 21,000 cable TV operators and 2,803 systems were seized. It also issued penalties worth millions were imposed on TV, radio and cable operators. Nearly 10 illegal FM radio stations preaching hate and extremism were shut down.
To know about the nefarious personalities behind these illegal radio stations and the content analysis of their Broadcasting Content, please keep a lookout for The Human Lens’s part II of the series “Taliban Insurgency|Fiascoes of the FM Mullahs.”