Exploitation of media by Maulana Fazlullah
By: Madeeha Nasir
“FM Mullah” is a popular term in Swat. FM Mullah was the nickname given to Maulana Fazlullah, who gained international attention through his FM radio broadcasts. Maulana Fazlullah is the leader of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), a group that aims to enforce Shariah in the country. The party made in the name of Islam, used terror to enforce the teachings of Islam. Maulana, after taking the leadership of the party, took all despicable means to impose his extremist thoughts, among which his radio broadcasts became the most popular and effective means of spreading his part of the religion.
Maulana Fazlullah started an illegal local FM channel in the Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2006. He ruled over the Valley from his station in Mamdheri. He was extremely popular amongst the local women, who donated cash and jewelry when he appealed on his broadcast for the establishment of a madrassa in Mamdheri. But Fazlullah’s popularity among women began to change in late October 2007 when militants loyal to him beheaded four policemen, parading their severed heads through Swat. The women started to be less enthusiastic about Fazlullah and his sermons thereafter.
The tide turned when Maulana asked the people and government to consider his FM sermons as the only and final authority on important questions. Fazlullah sent a wave of terror through opposing politicians and government functionaries, and listening to his broadcasts became mandatory for the local public.
In the beginning, the local folk and powerbrokers had not taken Fazlullah’s broadcasts particularly seriously. But after a ban was enacted on women visiting markets and on education for girls — both of which were spearheaded by the radio station — the number of listeners increased substantially. This was as much out of fear as enthusiasm; however, with the population now desperate to stay informed on exactly what the militants were planning, what they would say about the fighting, and at whom they would aim their threats on any given day.
Through their pirated FM transmitters, the Taliban have demanded that local parliamentarians, security forces and other government officials resign from their positions as a mark of protest against the military operations; otherwise, they should be prepared for a jihad directed against them. The Taliban radio broadcasters, the many ‘FM Mullahs’, continuously transmit anti-US and anti-government sermons, calling democracy ‘un-Islamic’ and those practicing it ‘infidels’.
In their fiery radio speeches, the Taliban preachers have demanded that the non-Muslim minorities of Malakand pay jazya (protection tax) or face jihad. In the same tone, they have issued warnings to local NGOs, musicians and anybody else involved in ‘un-Islamic’ activities. Those defying their orders are butchered and daily announcements of the details of their deaths are broadcast on FM channels.
In April 2007, Islamic extremists burned CDs and DVDs in front of the Lal Masjid, Islamabad, as a protest against modernisation. They consider new communication technology un-Islamic. Militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been destroying communication devices and bombing radio stations, but they use those same items to spread their message. For the purpose of conveying their message, they have established good terms with many radio and TV journalists. But at the same time, they threaten journalists with dire consequences if something happens against their wishes.
For example, the radio reporter Mukarram Khan Atif was killed in a Shabqadar mosque on January 17 by gunmen on a motorcycle. The Taliban, upset by his reporting, claimed responsibility for his murder. In April 2011, terrorists bombed the FM-93 radio station, Radio Dilbar in Charsadda. They had demanded it stopped playing music and supporting the government.
Terrorists have tried to take technology out of the public’s hands as well. In December, militants seized 300 cellular phones, along with TV sets and computers from areas in Wana, South Waziristan, and publicly burned them in the main Wana Bazaar. They use cellular phones, they run their FM radios, and they approach different television channels to run their audio and video CDs and cassettes. They should not use these gadgets for their own purpose, if they term them un-Islamic.
Using the electronic medium, Maulana Fazullah ordered the destruction of television sets, CDs and VCRs, which he said were sources of loose morality. He opposed a polio vaccination drive in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, claiming it was a conspiracy of the Jews and Christians to keep Muslims impotent, according to a listener.
In 2001, parliamentary seats reserved for women in northern Pakistan went unfilled due in large part to the actions of the TNSM. In 2005, Fazlullah was quoted as saying: “We have our tradition that bars women from taking part in the elections and violators will be punished.” A January 21, 2009 issue of a Pakistani daily newspaper reports Taliban enforcement of a complete ban on female education in the Swat district. Some 400 private schools enrolling 40,000 girls have been shut down.