Reclaiming the airwaves

This war could be lost, not because territory was seceded but because the Taliban would have taken over Pakistan’s air waves. A country of 180 million, many of whom are in the rural and under-served areas are accessing unregulated illegal radio stations run by the TTP which broadcast routinely the “sharia or else” narrative. The methods they employ are crude but they work by forcing people into deifying them. A gullible populous, conservative for generations get enamoured by the Arabic, the references to hell fire and by the sheer force of the gun, get conquered by the thousands.

No one has chronicled these systematic methods of inducing wrath more aptly than Malala Yousufzai in her book, I am Malala. The takeover of Swat was done with the control over radio waves, yet the state has put no lessons learned into action. The fact that radio was used to openly flout the absent writ of the state has disastrous connotations – for one that if this was done once it can be done again.

The propaganda that gave them wings was architected by Mullah Fazlullah also known as Mullah Radio. It is therefore a cause of serious concern that he now heads the TTP. The same man whose forte is to communicate audacity. Not only does he know to perfection the strategy of indiscriminate terror and ultimate destruction he also knows how to take those incidents and vastly broadcasting them, appearing larger than life. Historically, this was done well by Nazis, we all know how that turned out for the Jews. The minorities in Pakistan may as well pack up and leave: the threats against the Ismailis in Gilgit and the Kelash tribes have been articulated on these very unregulated airwaves.

With the recent Pakistan attack that killed 35 TTP terrorists in North Waziristan, the government needs to get PAF to target their communication hubs with equal vengeance. There is so little of it, vengeance that is, for the TTP. We disproportionally harbour it for the Americans, blocking NATO supplies for months when our soldiers were shot at yet holding still any response for months when the Taliban beheads our forces.

We are mellowing in a culture of looking away in the face of aggression against our weakest.

In such trying times only agents of change can shift the axis from an overtly moralizing hegemony to that of plurality and inclusiveness.

It can be argued that the stage that Bilawal Bhutto had set for the Sindh Festival was one that covered the very floor it was meant to protect, or even that it was limited, but it was still nothing short of pivotal. In a fiery speech, this young twenty-something man went ahead to drive a few essential points home.

First, that this, our home is a place that has been the seed of civilization some 5000 years ago, and it was a civilization that was plural above all else. To an extent the values and culture, the advancement that Mohonjodaro’s architecture depicts is still years ahead of where we are even today. Second, that by honouring art through music and lyrics, we can reclaim as ours, those very symbols that are beaten down by the opposition. At the very least we can be less boring. Third, that we must reclaim those glorious heroes that have been cut down. Brining up Pakistan’s first and the Muslim world’s first Nobel laureate, Abdus Salam, Bilawal squarely put him where he belonged regardless of the faith he professed. As an Ahmedi, all attempts have been made to make Abdus Salam forgotten.

But more than anything else Bilawal’s speech altered the axis because it dared the Taliban. Consider this, in all likelihood, Bilawal’s mother, the first woman Prime Minster of Pakistan was assassinated by the Taliban, and for her son to tell her killers that the message he sends and the promise he holds is grander, is of tremendous value. Consider also that he has used his words defiantly in a time where leaders are choosing their words cautiously, walking on egg shells trying to ensure they don’t become the target of Taliban’s venom. Bilawal’s speech was momentous, especially for the youth who need to hear alternate voices to the rhetoric of surrender.

A push back needs to happen with mainstream media taking the lead. We need more control over the airwaves.

Taliban’s propaganda war needs to be crushed. To find the justifying philosophy, we must return to our civilization, our roots.

This article was published on Feb 23 2014

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