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Policy dialogue on “militants’ media and its trends in Pakistan”

The Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) organized a policy dialogue on “Militant Media and its Trends in Pakistan” on 17 December 2009 in Islamabad. In his introductory remarks, PIPS director Mr. Amir Rana said the dialogue was the third and final event of a series of seminars to seek expert opinion on a PIPS research report titled “Understanding Militants’ Print Media in Pakistan and its Impact”.  The report mapped the militants’ media, its genesis and evolution, and impact on Pakistani state and society. The report also profiled publications of militants’ media, colloquially known as “Jihad Media” along with publications of madrassas, sectarian groups and/or their associated individuals, and mainstream media groups which support the narrative of militants’ media. Besides content analysis of these aforementioned four types of publications the report also discusses in length the parallel propaganda campaign by militants in form of leaflets and Shabnamas (Night Letters). The report discovers that militants’ media is gradually expanding its influence and outreach.  Although government has tried several times to ban outlets and publications of militants’ media but they resurface with new names.

Findings of the report were shared in the policy dialogue with academics, media experts, politicians, religious scholars, civil society activists, journalists from mainstream media, and representatives of militants’ media and Islamic journalism. The event was chaired by Mr. Tariq Parvez, Chairman National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA).  He opined that the terrorists believed that half of their battle was being fought in media. Therefore mainstream media needs to play its role to create popular support for government’s counter-terrorism strategy. He was of the view that media can be the best tool to defeat terrorist ideologies.

The speakers examined the PIPS report in a larger context by relating it to the mainstream media and militant landscape of Pakistan.  It was generally agreed that militants’ media should not be confused with religious or Islamic journalism.

Abdul Majeed Mughal, a prominent religious scholar and editor monthly Nawa-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat, said that militants’ media is a propaganda campaign that needs not to be included in serious discourse on journalism. He also held the government responsible for the mushroom growth of such publications in Pakistan which promote hatred and violence in the name of religion and ‘Jihad’. He observed that militant forces in Pakistan intended to push Pakistan towards “tribalization” in the name of Islam.

(From left to right) Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Mr. Amir Rana, Mr. Tariq Pervez
Lt. Gen. (R) Talat Massod and Ms. Ayesha Siddiqa

Wajahat Ali, a senior journalist, said the youth is prime target of militants’ media. It tries to defame the political and democratic process in Pakistan and presents the religious extremists before the people as an alternative to ‘corrupt state elements’. He was of the view that the conservative segment of mainstream media also reflects the opinion of militants.

Abdul Latif Bhat of Kashmir Media Watch mentioned that militants’ media in Pakistan has been instrumental in advocating global ‘Jihad’.

Arif Bahar, a renowned expert on Kashmir affairs, said the gap between the religious and liberal journalism is widening, which is being exploited by the militants’ media. In order to counter the narrative being disseminated by the militants’ media, it is imperative to bridge this gap, he argued.

Abdullah Muntazir, editor Weekly Jarrar of banned Jamat-ud-Daawa was of the view that the ban on legally published ‘Jihadi’ publications during Musharraf regime paved the way for secret ‘radical’ media, which is disseminating hatred and preaching violence in Pakistan. He said that ‘Jihadi’ forces have been a useful tool to protect Pakistan’s strategic interests. However, any sort of violence in Pakistan targeting security forces, government officials and civilians is condemnable.

Editor of Monthly Baidar-e-Millat Sajawal Khan Ranjha said that Pakistani media has still to go a long way to reach its destination. It relies mainly on information and has not yet touched the education and training purposes. The reformation and transformation of media will come after that.

Mrs. Shabana Fayyaz, Assistant Professor at Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, stated that myopic policies of the successive governments have contributed towards growth of militants’ media. She appreciated the PIPS study and said it would be a milestone for future research on this topic.

Member National Assembly (MNA) and head of Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Pakistan of his own faction, Sahibzada Fazl-i-Karim focused on how militants were misusing Islam in their actions and propaganda. He quoted the Quranic verses that condemned those who spilt the blood of innocent human beings.

Renowned religious scholar and editor monthly Al-Shariah, Ammar Khan Nasir said that Pakistan needed to re-evaluate the discourse of ‘Jihad’ at state level. He was of the view that it is also debatable if waging ‘Jihad’ in Kashmir and India is according to Shariah Law.

TV anchor and political analyst Salim Safi asserted that the mainstream media only may not be blamed for supporting radicalism or militancy in Pakistan. He said that ‘Jihad’ ideology had influenced a large number of journalists during ‘Afghan Jihad’ that was endorsed by international community.

Journalist and Secretary National Press Club Afzal Butt emphasized on real democratic behaviors. He said that double standards must be avoided while talking about those who are terrorizing the people of Pakistan. The terrorism on the name of religion must be condemned.

Pakistan Muslim League (Q) Senator Neelofar Bakhtiar opined that the mainstream media need not to create confusions among masses but to create consensus on such issues.  She said it is the moral and social responsibility of mainstream media to counter the narrative being developed by militants’ media.

(From top left to right) Mrs. Nilofer Bakhtiar, Mr. Afzal Butt, Mrs. Shabana Fayyaz, Mr. Sahabzada Fazl-e-Karim, Mr. Sajawal Ranjha, Mr. Abdul Majeed Mughal Mr. Ammar Khan Nasir, Mr Abdullah Muntazir, Mr. Farhat Muhammad Khan, Mr. Arif Bahar, Mr. Salim Safi, Mr. Zahid Khan, Mr. Wajahat Ali, Mr. Abdul Latif Bhat

Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Zahid Khan said that role of the media has become very important in the face of organized propaganda by “Jihadi” elements. The mainstream media can educate the general public on the issue of terrorism in much effective way.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Member of National Assembly Farhat Muhammad Khan emphasized that killing of innocent people in the name of religion is not any service to Islam.
Peace activist and analyst Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy found it disturbing that even those religious leaders and supporters of jihad who are against targeting the Pakistani state and society were silent in the present situation.

Defense and political analyst Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa disputed the notion that media enjoyed freedom in the country. She said many writers with alternative points of view still find it difficult to reach out to the masses through media. She said that extremists pave the way for terrorism and there is need to curb extremist ideologies that are promoting terrorism among younger elements of the society.

Lieutenant General (Rtd) Talat Masood lauded the positive role of Pakistani mainstream media to turn public opinion against radical and extremist forces. He said that three major powers including Ottoman Empire, British Empire, and the USSR collapsed in this region that led to present state of militancy in Pakistan. The people engaged with ‘Jihadi’ publications feel that if they would not continue to propagate their own ideology then other forces would dominate them at local and international level. He emphasized that the extremist views being disseminated by the militants’ media must be challenged intellectually and with concrete discussion.