An independent think-tank

Media glorification is empowering the radicals

The way Pakistani media has glorified the radicals and militants has not only emboldened the radical groups and organizations but has also caused an increase in the trend and level of radicalization in Pakistani society. The media must not lose sight from the fact that if the radical forces win in the country, their first target can be the media itself. These views were expressed by well-known and experienced journalists, media persons and intellectuals at “Media Workshop on Radicalization in Pakistan” organized by Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) at Islamabad on October 9, 2008.

The PIPS director, Muhammad Amir Rana, described the current intensity and level of radicalization in Pakistan besides mapping the historical background of the phenomenon. He elaborated two baselines in the spread and increase of the phenomenon of radicalization in the country, the Afghan War and the incident of 9/11 in the historical perspective. He opined that the evils of terrorism and extremism have deep linkages with each other. While categorizing the baselines of radicalization, he noted that Soviet-Afghan War was the first phase, which had caused emergence of extremism in Pakistan. He said that foreign players had successfully exploited the situation and created state of anarchy in our country.

He regretted that the level of tolerance had been decreasing consequently in the following years, which had also damaged our society to a great extent. He noted that the role of religious institutions and scholars had also been manipulated in different ways.  He said that after 1979, the number of fake seminaries increased manifold.

The emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan had become the source of encouragement for the non-state actors, like, Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

He described that the legitimate struggle going on for the independence of Azad Jammu and Kashmir has also been radicalized owing to the activism of these non-state actors. He said that during this period 104 jihadi groups had been formed mostly based in Pakistan.

During 1987 to 2007, 1,352 incidents of violence occurred in which 964 persons, including doctors, engineers, diplomats, civil servants and religious scholars were killed and 2,963 others injured. Owing to political destabilization in the county, foreign investment has also been decreased significantly.

Wusatullah Khan, BBC Correspondent in Islamabad, Zafrulla Khan, Director Centre for Civic Education, Mazhar Abbas, Secretary General Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Zafar Abbas, Resident Editor Dawn, Islamabad, Muhammad Amir Rana, director PIPS

The tragic incident of 9/11 in USA and then poorly-planned “War against Terrorism” had become the second baseline of radicalization in the country. During these seven years in post 9/11 scenario, new wave of extremism emerged as death toll reached to 1,511 leaving the society in a more vulnerable condition. In addition, he also touched upon the various forms of radicalization and its fallout.

While elaborating the growth of religious radicalization, he revealed that in 1979 there were only 30 religious organizations in Pakistan, of which only 7 were active, and there were 563 religious seminaries. Furthermore, at that time, the role of religious organizations was relatively more political, in contrast with their militant behaviour being demonstrated presently, and accommodative. Until 2001, the number of religious organizations had reached 237 and the religious-political parties 24. The jihadi and sectarian outfits saw tremendous growth and their number touched the figures of 104 and 82 respectively whereas the religious groups, which did not believe in the Constitution or democratic process in Pakistan, were 12. The religious seminaries had touched a number of about 10,000 till 2004; the unofficial sources put them above 15,000.

Talking on the sectarian violence in the country, Mr. Rana furnished facts and figures in detail. In fifteen years, from 1987 to 2001, 1353 incidents of sectarian violence were reported, which took 964 lives and caused injuries to 2963 others.

“Our media is glorifying the militants,” commented Zafar Abbas, Resident Editor Dawn, Islamabad, in his presidential address at the end the first session. He said, “Our media, in general, has not played a responsible role regarding the phenomenon of radicalization.” He urged the media community to realize the sensitivity of the problem and should not exaggerate the militant and terrorist activities.

Our media has a role in promoting the culture of peace and tolerance in the society, said Zafrulla Khan, a well-known intellectual and media expert, and, Director Centre for Civic Education. He also emphasized the need to promote democratic values of pluralism in order to bring harmony and tranquility. A paradigm shift is needed to overcome the prevailing unrest, uncertainty and violence in the society, said Zafarullah Khan.

He was of the view that radicalization is a cancer for society, as it had been causing violent conflicts, militancy and terrorism in the country since long. He regretted that responses of the state are yet to be delivered to counter this evil. “The elite of society are backing the conflicts for their vested interests,” he maintained.

Mazhar Abbas, another experienced journalist, and, Secretary General Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), furnished many incidents and judicial cases while elaborating his point that how injustice in our society has bred disharmony and intolerance. He cited a number of TV channels and newspapers and their reporting of certain issues at certain times, in explaining that how our media has mishandled the events and statements related to radicalization, extremism and terrorism.

Wusatullah Khan, BBC Correspondent in Islamabad, said that the ancient administrative and judicial system in the tribal areas was targeted. It provided an opportunity for radical groups to flourish in the area. He observed that radicalization is hampering the media, too. While sharing his experiences, he claimed that journalism was much dangerous sector in the world.

Presentations were made on the themes like definition and characteristics of radicalization and the related concepts, political domain of radicalization, radicalization in the tribal areas, the governments’ response to the phenomenon, and impact of radicalization on the media.

Giving an overview of radicalization in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Safdar Sial, Research Analyst at PIPS, elaborated the factors involved in the phenomenon. He mentioned the Afghan war, socio-cultural and political façade, “War on Terror,” State policies, actions and inaction, and religious factors as being the most important in this regard. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is infested with diversified radical groups operating at different levels e.g. religious, ethnic and sectarian, he said. It has impacted the tribal society one way or the other. Radicalization has surfaced up in different forms at various societal levels, he added. Afghan War created a Jihad culture. Sermons, propaganda and indoctrination were used as different tools to create this culture. As a consequence, the concept of Jihad became extremely distorted. He also elaborated how financial drivers and politicization of religious and ethnic ethos played their part in creating this Jihad culture. Madrasa took a new face in this process. The Afghan jihad caused a heavy influx of lethal weapons and drugs in our society which led to an out of proportion increase in violence and power of radical groups.

From right to left PIPS Staff members, Shagufta, Abdul Mateen,
Mansoor Ali Mahsud, Muhammad Azam Saba Noor, Safdar Sial

Presenting an account of sociocultural & political factors behind radicalization in our society, Mr. Safdar explained the gaps in social, political, administrative and judicial systems. He, particularly, described the gaps in judicial and security systems, which provide room to radical movements and groups. Poor development and deteriorated economic situation is also a factor. Traditional conservatism about religion, illiteracy and lack of education were also enumerated among the factors.

“War on Terror” is a major factor. It has caused an in crease in anti-US and anti-western sentiments in our society. It has stirred, ethnic and religious sentiments. State policies and strategies, for example, Islamization, co-option of religious groups and parties during the Soviet War and alliance with the US in “War on Terror,” can not be understated in this context. They have caused much damage. But, on sociopolitical and administrative front state responses have been lax. The state’s short-term myopic responses have been adding to instability.

Mr. Safdar also explained levels of Radicalization and its demand-side determinants. It has many forms and faces, for example, Ideological and Sectarian. Concluding his presentation, he said, the radicalization in FATA is a mess of diversified aspects where we see many players active for their own interests. The tribal people need to be educated, developed and mainstreamed. It will not only reduce radicalization but also isolate radicalized groups.
The governments’ responses, to the phenomenon of terrorism in the country, at different times were also talked about. Saba Noor, a researcher at the Institute, presented his findings on the topic. She first explained three phases of Terrorism, namely, political clashes (1949-1956), ethnic and sectarian clashes (1960-1980s) and terrorism (1990s-till now). The Governmental Counter Terrorism Strategy comprises of enactment of laws, establishment of agencies, operations, and peace agreements, she said.

She noted that to counter terrorism first time in 1995, government formed an Anti Terrorist Act and consequently every year amendments were witnessed in the said law. She further highlighted the operational strategy being conducted by the government. She said by adopting this strategy, government in the first phase established security organizations. She claimed that during 2001-03, some 13 Jihadi organizations were banned. However, she regretted that society could not be escaped from the influence of their radicalization. “During search operations of 2007, 1,636 terrorists were arrested while during search operations of 2008, this figure has reached to 3,169, which is alarming for our society,” she stated.

While mentioning the cyber Law, Ms. Saba described Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2007, which applies to every one who commits an offense under this Act irrespective of his nationality or citizenship. According to this law, FIA have immense power to access any computer working in any place or organization in Pakistan.

The government also established Security Organizations, including Special Investigation Group. It has been raised to combat terrorism in Pakistan at the Federal level. It came into being in 2003. It has been assigned the duties to identify, investigate, interdict and eliminate terrorism. Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) was also established. It provides Immigration officials and law enforcement agencies with a tracking system to capture vital information of travelers and allows them to identify and, if necessary detain individuals. PISCES system has been installed at sixteen locations with the U.S. cooperation. Data and records of more than 26 million travelers have been stored with about 3445 hits in different categories of the watch list.

National Response Center for Cyber Crimes has been assigned the job to prevent growing cyber crimes; to provide necessary technical support to all sensitive government organizations to make their critical information resources secure; to provide timely information to critical infrastructure owners and government departments about threats, actual attacks and recovery techniques; and to enforce existing laws to combat computer crimes and to protect consumers and Internet users.

Miss Saba presented facts and figures on Banned jihadi and sectarian organizations, numbers of arrested terrorists and search operations launched. According to her, thirteen (13) groups and organizations were banned during 2002-03. But, all of them are still active. Some of them, however, have changed their names.

She divided the governments’ Reponses into two categories, legislative and operational. On the legislative front, the parliaments passed a number of acts to counter the problem, she said. 1636 terrorists were arrested during 2007. These terrorists belonged to different groups including al-Qaeda, Taliban and Lashker-e-Jhangvi. In 2008, 3169 terrorists were arrested, almost double than that of 2007.

Miss Saba concluded that a lot of initiatives were taken by the successive governments along with the use of multiple tactics to maintain peace but weak implementation of the mentioned laws and improper use of the strategic tactics put the whole of counter-terrorism strategy into question.

Definition and characteristics of radicalization and its linkage to extremism and terrorism were also discussed. Mr. Azam, Research Analyst at PIPS, cited a definition of radicalization made by David Prince, “the process by which an individual becomes open to the prospect of committing … terrorist acts.” A second definition presented by him, was, it is “the process by which [people] adopt extreme views….” Then, he went on to discuss the characteristics of radicalization. Dr. Sohail Mahmood, a political scientist, has enumerated three characteristics of the radicals in context of the Muslim world, i.e., a deep feeling of anti-Westernism, a state-of-mind that is of despair and strident urgency, and, a justification for force in the name of Islam. To Flahrty, radical movements are characterized by the attitudes and traits like, a sense of futility that anything other than extreme measures will work; beliefs that the destruction of the existing world order is necessary; compromise and power sharing are rejected; a new world order is envisioned; the end justifies the means; impatience and a sense of urgency; and, the prospect of violent change has its own appeal.

Participants of the Workshop.

Mr. Azam explained that extremism is generally contrasted with moderation, and extremists with moderates. He also discussed the traits and behaviors of the extremists written by Wilcox, like, character assassination rather than dealing with the facts or issues; Name-calling and labeling; Irresponsible sweeping generalizations; a tendency to confuse similarity with sameness; Inadequate proof for assertions; advocacy of double standards; tendency to view their opponents and critics as essentially evil; Manichaean worldview; and advocacy of some degree of censorship or repression of their opponents and critics. Extremism is a broader category. Radicalization involves only political extremism, he said. Terrorism may be taken as an end product of the process of radicalization.

At the workshop, it was concluded that the media has to realize and take a serious note of the issue at hand. Most of the participants expressed their views on the need that the media must review its attitude towards the problem.

Mansoor Ali Mahsood and Abdul Mateen, researchers at PIPS, helped Safdar Sial and Muhammad Azam, respectively, in preparing their presentations. The presentations were followed by very lively question and answer sessions. The participants showed their enthusiasm and most of them took a warm participation in the debate. The participants and the special guests appreciated the step taken by the Institute to bring the extremely important subject under discussion by inviting the senior journalists, mainly from Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Mazhar Abbas, Zafar Abbas, and Wusatullah Khan chaired different sessions of the workshop and shared their experiences with the participants. Several other leading journalists also attended the event. The Workshop was second of the series. The first was held at Peshawar at August 21 this year.