Radio waves once used by militants now fight extremism, coronavirus in Swat

By Zahir Shah Sherazi


Broadcasters and specialists in Swat discuss health issues during a radio programme on April 6. [Zahir Shah Sherazi]

PESHAWAR -- Radio, which terrorists once used to propagandise and intimidate the public in the Swat Valley, is now educating the public there about the coronavirus pandemic.

Pakhtunkhwa Radio FM 98 Swat held its first radio clinic on March 16 to provide on-air health consultations for residents and raise awareness of the novel coronavirus.

"The only way to reach masses in the scattered hilly valley of Swat is FM radio, as newspapers and TV networks cannot cover the entire valley during the awareness drive to fight COVID-19 or provide health coverage to the people during the lockdown," said Regional Director of Information Ibne Ameen, who also heads the station.

"We started the radio clinic on March 16 and have been going on air since then... besides awareness messages about coronavirus, specialist doctors are giving live consultations about health ailments because listeners are advised to stay home in the country's fight against the virus," he said.


A broadcaster in Swat discusses religious issues with scholars during a radio programme on April 7. [Zahir Shah Sherazi]

The radio station in the past has promoted peace and anti-radicalism, replacing the pirate radio station of Mullah Fazlullah, the former chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Fazlullah ran an illegal radio channel in Swat from 2006 to 2009, promoting forced virtue and at night declaring the names of violators of TTP restrictions for assassination.

He was killed in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in June 2018.

The army launched an FM radio station by the name of Aman Radio soon after Operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat in 2009, and it continued operating until 2017.

Pakhtunkhwa Radio FM 98 Swat took over the mission of peace and harmony since then, and today the radio clinic has launched its operation to defeat COVID-19 by all means, Ameen added.

Promoting peace

The radio station has played a regular role in neutralising the extremist ideology of Mullah Fazlullah, as the voices of enlightened and young journalists are spreading a message of peace and harmony, Ameen said.

Radio FM 98 is "representative of the true peace-loving face of the Swati people, who are hospitable and peaceful," said Shehzad Alam, president of the Swat Press Club, who met Mullah Fazllulah in the past.

"The radio clinic is a wonderful idea and has served the masses not only by raising awareness about COVID-19 but also by providing clinical advice and telemedicine for Swatis during the lockdown," Alam said.

"We have woman callers seeking help for their ailing children, besides elderly and young listeners who seek medical assistance on the phone, and as the transmission is heard from Malakand to Shangla, we are achieving mass awareness on COVID-19 as well," said Shaista, one of the hosts of the radio clinic.

"Radio FM is not only an effective source of social mobilisation and for fighting the coronavirus, but it makes the masses aware of the militants' ideology that destroyed the peace of the valley and forced more than 2 million residents to flee their home," said RJ Asmat, another host.

This clinic has proved to be multi-dimensional in spreading awareness, giving health coverage, and helping enforce the government's directive of staying at home and practicing social distancing, he said.

While Mullah Radio's propaganda broadcast deceived listeners in Swat in the name of religion and lured them into war and militancy, FM 98, run by the state, is a change for the better, said Niaz Muhammad, a senior journalist with Mashriq News and Radio Mashaal.

"In a region like Swat where the population is scattered, radio has vast reach, and it's the only source of information for ordinary villagers who cannot read or write... so if it is a fight against coronavirus or militancy, it is bound to win," Muhammad said.

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