Pakistani FM radio programme emboldens Taliban's foes

By Javed Mahmood


Pakistanis December 31 in Peshawar participate in the 'Sabawoon' radio talk show. Topics include tolerance, harmony and opposition to the militancy. The programme has been on the air since 2009 and reaches listeners in KP and FATA. [Javed Mahmood]

ISLAMABAD -- A Peshawar-based FM radio programme is leading the on-air fight against militancy.

Since 2009, "Sabawoon" (Dawn) has played a vital role in promoting religious tolerance, social harmony and human rights, Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), told Pakistan Forward.

Justice, rule of law and peaceful co-existence are among its watchwords, Shams Mohmand, project manager of the programme, told Pakistan Forward from Peshawar.

The CRSS runs the Pashtun-language programme, which reaches all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Gul said.

It has been designed to inculcate respect for human rights values, underscore the need for good governance, create greater awareness for democratic reforms, and to create avenues for the public to participate in policymaking either through formal institutions or informal consultations, he said.

It is broadcast from FM 101 Peshawar, AM 1260 Peshawar and FM 93 Dera Ismail Khan.

Growing public confidence

The history of the radio programme tracks closely with security forces' progress in crushing the militancy.

The programme has given its listeners the courage to speak out against militants, Gul said.

In the early years, listeners who called in were afraid to say the word "Taliban" out loud, he said. However, that began changing in 2012, and callers now voice their disgust with militants freely, he said.

"The Taliban used to threaten us about this programme," he said. "But ... we continued broadcasting to achieve the objectives of 'Sabawoon'."

Civil society and local communities in KP and FATA, encouraged by the programme, have gained experience in expressing their positions on significant issues.

"We broadcast four times a week and each programme runs 50 minutes long," Mohmand said.

"We invite two or three important guests on each programme," he said. "The guests give their expert opinions and take questions live from the callers."

The programme receives impressive feedback and is one of the best-known FM radio shows in KP and FATA, he said.

"We use the network for Radio Pakistan," Gul said, adding that doing so "maximises [the show's] outreach in KP and FATA".

FM radio shows in Pakistan are best known for an exclusive emphasis on "infotainment", Gul said. However, Sabawoon seeks to provide serious content and has attracted many listeners by doing so.

Seeking listeners' views

Since 2009, the CRSS has aired about 3,000 awareness raising radio programmes, Gul said.

"The endeavor is to counter the skewed extremist narrative propagated by radical militants and to promote moderate views based on ideals of peace, tolerance, and co-existence", Gul said.

Sabawoon employees evaluate their progress in promoting democratic discourse and triggering critical thinking by reaching out to listeners and asking for their feedback and understanding of each programme, Gul said.

Feedback has been positive, he said. In addition, residents of KP and FATA, law enforcement, and media have expressed appreciation for the CRSS's use of radio to fight militancy and to promote peace and democracy.

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