Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province is always hard to control, but it now poses a new challenge, with scores of illegal radio stations transmitting a message of jihad and sectarian hatred.
This has so alarmed the central government in Islamabad that it is has closed 40 stations in the mountainous region along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Charsadda is a town bristling with the antennae of pirate radios. Mullah Mohammed Hashim, 45, keeps his “radio station” – a car battery, radiator-shaped transmitter and amplifier – in a cupboard. “We are not aggressors, but if we are attacked, then we tell our listeners to be ready for jihad,” he declares.
His radio station condemns the actions of Pakistan and US armed forces continuing antial-Qa’eda and Taliban operations in the tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are believed to be hiding, describing the operations as “part of a wider conspiracy to shed the blood of innocent Muslims”. Mullah Hashim uses basic equipment and setting up a radio station costs less than £100.
The radicalising effect of unlicensed stations has been keenly felt in Bara village in the Khyber tribal agency. There, two “FM mullahs”, as they were dubbed by the local press, one who followed a Sufic tradition and another, a newcomer who is a disciple of a more austere form of Islam, waged a turf war via their private channels.
After inciting their followers to bloody riots, a jirga (tribal council) ruled last week that both should be expelled from the area. Now the government is under pressure from secular-minded local leaders who doubt the commitment of President Pervez Musharraf’s government to crack down on the stations.
“We have closed over 40 stations during the last four months as they are creating differences and sectarian issues,” said the information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. “There are still a few preaching jihad but we are closing them down.”
The government has launched several of its own radio stations, broadcasting music and more secular programmes.
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