While the government has announced plans to take action against the dissemination of hate literature as prescribed by the National Action Plan (NAP), this is proving a herculean task in the absence of any mechanism to monitor and counter the outreach of such media. The publication of hate literature is managed by sectarian groups, religious seminaries, militant organisations and banned outfits. An official in the interior ministry told The Express Tribune that these publications directly or indirectly glorify militancy and fuel support for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and al Qaeda.
Due to the writings of a number of ‘influential contributors’, these publications are deemed to be ‘worth reading’, the official said. Such contributors include former army chief General Aslam Baig, former DG ISI General Hamid Gul, an advisor to the prime minister Irfan Siddiqi, and columnist Aurya Maqbool Jan. An investigation revealed that one writer, ‘Abu Shams’, is actually Jamatudawa’s (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed while Jaish-e-Muhammad’s chief Maulana Masood Azhar goes by the pseudonym ‘Saadi’.
According to research conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), the government took measures to curtail such publications and imposed a ban on 22 magazines in the wake of September 11, 2001. However, many of these magazines reappeared at newsstands a few weeks later under the same name or different names.
“Security personnel are not able to carry out content analysis,” explained researcher Sajjad Azhar. “In many cases police raiding bookshops have also removed research books dealing with militancy and jihad, authored by foreign scholars.” He added, “How can the government take action against influential contributors as per the Press and Publications Ordinance?”
The JuD currently publishes seven periodicals including Tayyibaat in Urdu for women, Rozatul Atfal for children, Zarb-e-Taiba in Urdu for younger readers and Babul Islam in Sindh. The JuD’s chief claimed in a seminar in Karachi recently that the group can capture the mainstream media market overnight if allowed free competition. Editorials in these publications are usually authored by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, writing under the pen name Abu Shams.
The Al-Amin Trust, formerly known as the Al-Rasheed Trust banned by the government, is ostensibly a charity organisation, but it advocates a hardline narrative through its daily publication Islam and weekly Zarb-e-Momin. Content is usually in support of the TTP, the banned militant group Jamatul Furqan, the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba group.
Jaish-e-Muhammad, a banned Deobandi militant group publishes the weekly Al-Qalam in Urdu and English. Upon his release in 2003, leader Masood launched Al-Qalam and a new monthly publication for children, Musalman Bachay, while continuing a monthly publication for women under the same name.
Though a wanted man and spending most of his time in hiding, Masood manages to run all his publications and writes using the pseudonym, Saadi. In August 2009, he launched another monthly, Al-Marabatoon, for younger readers. Jaish publications are in favor of ‘jihad’, critical of government policies and provide extensive coverage to organisational activities. According to a PIPS research study, there are 82 sectarian organisations operating in Pakistan, of which 22 are involved in violent sectarian activities and five have close working relations with militant groups.
Sectarian publications cover a diverse range of issues, including politics, religious teachings and social issues. Among sectarian organisations, the Sipah-e-Sahaba has the highest number of publications. Other publications include the Al-Rasheed Trust publications monthly Laulak and monthly Naqeeb-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat. The monthly Al-Arif is the official publication of the Shia group Imamia Students Organisation and has been in print since 1998.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2015.