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Anti-radicalism apps piggyback on utility bills to raise awareness

By Muhammad Shakil

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A man in Peshawar reads a gas bill printed with an advertisement for an Android app to raise awareness about extremism in February. [Muhammad Shakil]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistani authorities are using gas utility bills as a means to raise awareness against extremism.

The back of recent bills has borne advertisements for CHAUKAS, an Android phone app developed by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), and the Surfsafe web portal.

Both are designed to enable Pakistanis to report both physical and online extremist content and hate speech.

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A photo taken in February shows a bill printed with advertisements for Android apps raising awareness about extremism. [Muhammad Shakil]

Urging recipients to "Say No to Extremism," the ads are aimed at including citizens in the government's efforts against radicalism.

"The aim of the CHAUKAS app is the mobilisation of each and every person against extremism and to give him [or her] an easy conduit to inform authorities," said an anonymous official of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd. (SNGPL), one of the companies using the new bills.

"Diverting the attention of the general public and facilitating it to channel information to the authorities safely are the core objective of this mass awareness campaign," he said.

If even half of SNGPL's 6.5 million consumers learned how to properly report extremism to the authorities, "the situation would change definitively," he added.

"The mass awareness campaign meets the requirement of the government that wants to alert the public on a large scale and seek its help against any extremist propaganda attempt," said the official.

The danger of the problem has led authorities to continue the awareness campaign indefinitely, he said.

"Media sponsors of the campaign include the National Highways and Motorways Police, Pakistan Post, Sui Southern Gas Pipelines Ltd. and Pakistan Telecommunication Corp. Ltd.," he said. "The involvement of all these partners for the noble cause is bound to produce results as people at the grass-roots level are the main focus."

Better results

"The success of any [communications] campaign is totally dependent on the impact it creates on the mind of readers and viewers," said Muhammad Shahzad, a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government spokesman.

"A campaign capable of making long-lasting imprints in the minds of readers will produce better results as compared to short-term events," he said.

"The life span of a utility bill is very long compared to events like seminars, in which participants often forget the topic after the closing session," Shahzad said.

"Persistence and consistency are among the factors that must be prioritised in mass awareness campaigns and in formulation of strategies to change the mindset of a human being about social menaces like extremism, militancy, drug usage and corruption," he added.

"Utility bills are ... always kept in a accessible place," he said. "It is likely it will be read by at least one member of a family, and the probability of another member reading it increases each time another bill arrives."

"Employing a different mode to disseminate information is a wise effort as utility bills are distributed among almost each and every household," said Umar Khattak, a bank manager in Peshawar.

"I myself read every section of a utility bill, and customers standing in queue to submit their bills can be seen reading their bills again and again," he said.

"Authorities will be able to ... expect better results than they do for awareness drives that revolve around a certain segment of society," Khattak said. "Moreover, utility bills provide authorities easy and direct access to the public."

"My two college-going children have developed a clearer perspective about the perils of extremism through the mass awareness campaign," said Muhammad Iqbal, who works at the KP Assembly.

"The future of any nation is dependent upon the younger generation," he said.

"The campaign has erased my children's doubts about extremism and gave them clarity on the issue, which is a looming threat to the very existence of our society," said Iqbal.

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