The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is initiating five functional FM radio stations in the recently merged districts to counter anti-state propaganda that foreign radio broadcasts have been alleged to disseminate. The provincial government is estimated to be spending Rs100 million to make operational five FM radio stations in Bajaur, Mohmand, Kurram, North and South Waziristan tribal districts.
“Several foreign radio channels including some international broadcasters having local setups and some others based in border areas inside Afghanistan are beaming their transmission into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general and the merged areas in particular,” officials in provincial information department have confirmed
Historically, any attempts by the government to shape its narrative largely remained ineffective as local people continued to rely on external foreign radio channels for their information, considering their reports more detailed and effective in comparison to local information sources which only aired for two to three hours a day. The radio station in Wana for instance, was blown up by militants in 2006 whereas the remaining three were closed down in May 2013 owing to shortage of funds.
Terrorist organizations, most prominent the Islamic State for example, put far greater effort into its media activities than would normally be expected from a nascent group of its size.
In 2016 in Afghanistan, ISIS propaganda radio stopped transmitting from the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan after being obliterated by a US-led Afghan air raid. The disappearance of “Da Khilaf Ghag” – “The voice of the caliphate” – based in the Afghan province of Nangarhar had reassured Pakistani authorities, but within the span of a few months in 2017, ISIS began to upload a web-series of videos in local languages meant for the neighboring Waziristan and FATA populations in Pakistan, showing heavily armed masked fighters promising a deadly campaign in Pakistan.
In the videos, the extremist organization praises what it describes as the “Wilayat Khorasan,” the Afghan province of ISIS, which has become a sanctuary for jihadist fighters along the Pakistan border.
The ensuing deadly twin attacks led by IS in Pakistan in 2017 that claimed more than 130 lives brutally shattered the feeling of security that had begun to emerge in the national consciousness.
The newly revamped national radio stations are said to act as a counter-extremism measure employed by the Pakistani state that has come to increasingly acknowledge the significance of air and social media as part of its national counter-terrorism campaigns. The radio stations are said to become functional in the next two months and are said to feature radio programmes in various local dialects to embody the region in all its diversity.
In the past, anti-state elements and terrorist organizations operating from within Afghanistan have employed illegal radio broadcasts to hijack the national narrative and propagate their own ideologies against the Pakistan military’s counter-terrorism operations in the region. By doing so, terrorist outfits directly challenged the writ of the state and projected Jihadist sermons, called for donation appeals eliciting great social, political and psychological stronghold over the locals.
As it currently stands, the incumbent PTI-led government is making accelerated efforts to bring back a semblance of normalcy in the war-weary regions. It is expected that locals will be allotted air-time to share their opinions and grievances as Pakistani citizens in a bid to create a more consensus-based future for the population of the newly-merged region. In March, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan iterated his government’s resolve on focusing on reconstruction and rehabilitation of militancy-hit areas across the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“We will put in place a complete structure of public sector institutions, governance and delivery,” the chief minister said while presiding over a high-level meeting at the CM Secretariat here on Sunday.