An independent think-tank

Radicalization in Pakistan: Journalists see media’s reconciliatory role as desirable

Participants of the PIPS media workshop

Radicalization has become too a complex phenomenon in Pakistan to be tackled by media alone. Media should, however, play the role of a mediator between government and the people. Becoming a motivational force for peace, Pakistani media can initiate a dialogue and based-on-it reconciliation. But for this, media groups and journalists would have to adopt unbiased approaches, develop internal coordination instead of competition, and focus on people’s miseries.  This was the consensual opinion of more than 40 journalists from main cities of Punjab, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) participating in Pak Institute for Peace Studies’ (PIPS) 4th media workshop held in Islamabad on 12 February 2009.  The aim of the workshop was to explore the phenomenon of radicalization, generate awareness, and enable media persons to deal with the issue by playing their credible role in the society.

Responding to different key points raised after first session of discussion, which focused on factors responsible for radicalization in Pakistan, 88% participants agreed that radicals were those people, or groups, who used violent means to impose their views on others. Seven (6) percent disagreed while remaining 6% were not clear about it. According to 73% participants, there were some external factors involved in fanning radicalization in Pakistan whereas 3% ruled out any such possibility and rest of 24% were indecisive. Sixty-seven (67) percent participants termed radicalization as a reaction to wrong policies of the government, 3% disagreed to it and 30% did not respond.  Meanwhile 66% participants agreed that radicalization emerged as a natural response of victims of terrorist attacks and counter-terrorism operations, 8% did not agree while 26 % chose to be neutral. As many as 70% participants were of the view that radicalization had nothing to do with religion, 13% linked it with religion whereas 17% did not vote.

At the end of second session, which concluded a hot debate on impact of radicalization, 70% participants were of the view that radicalization was making our youth hopeless, 3% disagreed to it and 27% participants were indecisive. Voting for another response showed that 60% participants thought the state of Pakistan was becoming weak due to radicalization, 7% did not think so while rest of 33% took evasion. Meanwhile 60% participants agreed radicalization was increasing violence in our society, 40% were indecisive and no one disagreed to the statement. As many as 50% participants were convinced that radicalization was creating a division in the nation, 13% disagreed and rest of 37% were indecisive about it.

PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana, Tribal Union of Journalists Chairman Sailab Mehsud, and PIPS Joint Director Mubasher Bukhari with participants.

During the first two sessions of open debate there emerged diversified views on causes and impacts of radicalization in Pakistan. Mr. Sailaab Mehsood, chairman Tribal Union of Journalists, said that international world wrongly perceived the Muslims were borne extremists. The main cause of the radicalization is injustice and when justice and basic rights of individuals are not available then radical views find spaces in them.

Mr. Azam Khan seconded the opinion and added deprivation and wrong policies of the state to matrix of causes of radicalization. Radicals are those who want to achieve their ideology with use of force, said Mr. Zahid Hassan. Mr. Amir Sohail opined ‘religious radicalization’ was due to some misguided people who take religion just as an ideology and not a complete code of life.

The participants also observed that radicalization was not only an issue of Muslims and Muslim states but it was visible in every society in different forms. According to some participants, in case of radicalization in Pakistan, some external hands were are also involved. “Once their allies in Soviet War, these ‘radicals’ are now hot target of the US. Who created these radical groups and who is making peaceful civilians radical by killing them by Drone attacks inside Pakistani tribal areas?” enquired Mr. Asghar Sial. Many participants mentioned that radicalization was outcome of people’s ignorance in religious affairs, which is exploited and further misguided by our religious clerics. Inappropriate efforts by the governments to curb militancy and radical groups was also termed a major cause of spread of the menace of radicalization. The participants also expressed their concern that radicalization was damaging our culture and disintegrating our society.

Professor Shabana Fayyaz , Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad commenting at the launching ceremony of PIPS research journal Conflict and Peace Studies, held at end of the workshop.

Impact of radicalization on media was a hot area of debate. The journalists from the NWFP and FATA shared their multiple experiences of threats from militants and even state institutions.  Some were of the view that media also liked to sensationalize the conflicts and militancy as peace-days stories lacked public interest for them.

Third session included group discussions and all the participants were divided into three separate groups to discuss and conclude their debate, and come out with some suggestions on role of Pakistani media in countering radicalization. Some suggestion were agreed upon by all the three groups as under:

  • To control the radicalization a single editorial policy is essential that should be followed by all.
  • Media should play the role of a mediator between government and people in the real sense and should represent people’s requirements more efficiently.
  • Media should discourage violence and don’t show radicals as the heroes during the coverage
  • Media should enhance internal coordination but not useless competition.
  • Government, media organizations and media support groups should come forward to ensure safety and protection of the journalists in conflict zones.
  • Media should resist all kind of pressures while reporting any issue regarding the radicalization.