Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) organized a full-day media workshop on Radicalization in Pakistan at Peshawar on August 21, 2008. A large number of senior journalists and media-persons were present at the occasion. Editors, resident-editors, Chief reporters, columnists, from a wide range of print media and anchors, hosts and producers from a number of television channels participated in the workshop. The audiences represented both local and national print and electronic media. All of them, however, were from North-Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
In the beginning of the first session, Director PIPS, Amir Rana, briefly introduced PIPS to the participants. Then, he gave an orientation to the audiences on the subject, i.e. Radicalization in Pakistan. He highlighted the role of the jihadist, Taliban and religious groups, religio-political parties, madrassahs in the process of radicalization in the country. He ornamented his orientational presentation with interesting figures on terrorism-and-sectarian-violence-related casualties.
The orientation was followed by a theoretical presentation “Linkage between radicalization, extremism and terrorism” by Muhammad Azam (research analyst at PIPS). He drew lines of distinction along with discussing commonalities between the three concepts. He focused on the point how these concepts are interlinked. He discussed characteristics, traits, behaviors and beliefs of the radicals and extremists given by the thinkers and philosophers.
The third presentation was made by Saba Noor (a researcher at PIPS). Her topic was “Counter-Terrorism Legislation in Pakistan since 1972.” She began with talking on what is counter-terrorism? Her presentation revolved around the topics like, terrorism’s definition according to Pakistani law and its evolution, the civil commotion, objective of counter-terrorism legislation during the successive regimes, context and scope of various acts passed by the legislature at different occasions, amendments made therein, cyber-terrorism and legislation to counter it.
The audiences showed a deep interest in the presentations. The presentations were followed by a very lively Question and Answer Session. A wide range of questions and comments from the audiences was addressed by the panelists. Many of the related subjects, topics and issues came under discussion during the session. The audiences also shared their experiences and views. Journalists from the FATA were very active regarding clarifying misperceptions about the area. They highlighted the facts that traditions and norms are very important in tribal areas. Ignorance and lack of education are serious problems but tribal people are peace loving that is why the tribals voted for peaceful parties. They also observed that coercion and imposition lead to radicalism, hence, the government should prefer to use peaceful means to resolve the issue.
The second session was reserved for expert opinions of the experts and reflections of the participants. Safdar Sial, research analyst at PIPS, hosted the session. Chief reporter Dawn, Peshawar section, Mr. Waseem highlighted the roots and factors behind the phenomenon of radicalization in the area. Responding to a question, he commented, “There’s a very thin line between impartiality and glorifying terrorists. Inadvertently, our media is glorifying the terrorists.” He said that journalists working in NWFP and FATA are, actually, working in hostile zones. Hence, they should be provided with bulletproof jackets and other required measures should also be taken to ensure their safety and security.
Mr. Saifi, who represented al-Jazeera TV, explained the historical factors. He, later on, also discussed the media’s role in the process and their mutual interaction. Many of the discussants agreed on the point that Pakistan’s role in the Afghan War against the erstwhile Soviet Union and again in War on Terror is mainly responsible for the radicalization problem in the country. He proposed that various dimensions of radicalization must be included in the debate, particularly, radical actions committed by the states. Mr. Saifi was of the view that media’s responsibility is to show both sides of the picture – radicals’ views and activities as well as state’s responses and actions. He also observed that the media faces huge pressure and hurdles in this conflictual situation.
Sailab Khan Mehsud, who hails from SWA and is a senior and experienced journalist, commented on “state and the citizens.” He said radicalization is impacting on Pakistani society and economics negatively. He strongly criticized the role played by the ulema and leaders of the religio-political parties in promoting radicalization in the country. He added that the radicals’ attempt and resolve to establish a state within state is extremely dangerous. By doing so, they are directly challenging the writ of the state. He warned that if the issue is not addressed effectively and in time, then, Pakistan’s future is bleak. He was of the view that Musharraf’s resignation is a good omen for addressing and resolving the problem of radicalization and bringing peace in the country. It will help reduce terrorism. But, unfortunately, the present political government is acting under a foreign agenda, which may further aggravate the problem, he added. Mr. Sailab Khan also drew the audiences’ attention toward the dangers of Shia-Sunni sectarianism. He said that it is more dangerous than the problem of talibanization.
One of the participants commented that the media community has become a sandwich between the government and the militants. Linkage between religion and radicalization in Pakistan also came under discussion during the question and answer session. It was urged by a participant that it should be examined that whether the so-called Taliban actually practice Islam, and, if yes, to what extent?After an in-depth discussion on the subject and its related issues, participants shared their reflections. The participants also made suggestions to address the problem and to minimize the threats to the journalists’ safety and security working in the conflict zones. It was suggested, for example, that the journalists working in the hostile zones should have bulletproof jackets. They should also have insurance policies.
At the end of the session, Amir Rana gave his concluding remarks. Sharing his observations, he said, Pakistani state, in fact, has failed to institutionalize effectively. Due to lack of institution building and strengthenment, democracy could not take roots in the country. Mr. Rana also highlighted media’s role in opinion-making and urged the journalist and media community to play their role more efficiently in spreading awareness in the society on radicalization and its negative effects. He also urged the writers to realize their responsibility in promoting peace and discouraging extremism in the country. “They must not report each and everything always, as hundred percent impartiality may lead to disorder in society,” he warned.
Amir Rana thanked all the participants.