When a resident of Matani, a Peshawar suburb, found that meat and sugar were being sold at high prices in the area, he decided something needed to be done about it.
“The next morning, we found pamphlets pasted on walls in the marketplace with prices that were fixed by the area’s militants and no one dared disobey it,” a tribal elder from Matani told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.
The aggrieved person had taken his complaint to the militants. That was his solution, and one that apparently works every time.
“When the number of music shops increased in Matani, the Taliban started sending a brief pamphlet with 500 rupees to the owner of every music centre,” the elder continued. The pamphlet told owners to either close his shop or use the money to buy a funeral shroud as they will kill him if he continued to sell music.
“All music centres disappeared within a week.”
The crackdown on militancy has meant that they now have less money to spread their propaganda. Consequently, their preferred medium of mass communication has become pamphlets, which are cheap to produce and easy to distribute.
From Frontier Region Kohat to Darra Adam Khel and Matani, Adezai, Sherkera, Michni and Shagai, residents are now familiar with such pamphlets that are pasted in crowded market places and convey the Taliban’s points of view on various matters and threats too.
“At one point, they had the opportunity to meet people and explain their point of view. They had an FM radio station in Darra Adam Khel for the purpose. Now, they have no such thing and have been deprived of all such luxuries. So they have discovered a cheap and very effective way of advertising their viewpoint,” said the tribal elder.
One such instance was the Islamabad Marriott Hotel attack, which was believed to have been carried out by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. But, in a widely circulated pamphlet in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, Taliban militants not only disowned the attack, they also hypothesised that US agencies had carried out the attack to pressurise the Pakistani government.
The pamphlets have often had the effect of winning support for Taliban, or at least backing people off from overt opposition.
In 2008, the Taliban used threatening pamphlets to diplomatically navigate their way out of a potentially deadly situation.
That year, residents of Adezai village, headed by battle-hardened Dilawar Khan, raised an anti-Taliban militia. They took oaths on the Holy Quran in mosques and were soon joined by another local Nazim Haji Abdul Malik who took over as the militia’s head. The Taliban militants found themselves in great trouble as the lashkar managed to repulse their repeated attacks in bloody gun battles.
The Taliban released pamphlets saying that residents of all villages other than Adezai were their friends and will not be harmed. They successfully isolated Adezai and ensured that they could not coalesce or seek support from neighbouring villages. No amount of coercion from the police could convince neighbouring villagers to support the Adezai militia.
Similarly, when Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly’s Deputy Speaker Khusdil Khan first initiated the program to raise an anti-Taliban militia in every village in the face of increasing infiltration and kidnappings for ransom by the Mangal Bagh-led Lashkar-e-Islam, Darra-based militants showed strong opposition.
In a pamphlet, they advised the people to distance themselves from the lashkars or face being targeted everywhere, including mosques. The threats proved more than effective, as people who had initially joined the militias in droves began to abandon them.