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Pakistan Clamps Down On Jihadist Propaganda

Pakistani police and and paramilitary forces raid a shop selling pro-Taliban literature in Quetta, Balochistan.
Pakistani police and and paramilitary forces raid a shop selling pro-Taliban literature in Quetta, Balochistan.

After ignoring radicalization for decades, Pakistan appears to be moving against the spread of jihadist propaganda materials, which aim to propagate extremist views and attract recruits to the Taliban's violent cause.

Security forces have launched a campaign against shops selling Taliban propaganda materials, particularly DVDs replete with battlefield videos, sermons and morale-boosting chants, and ringtones for cell phones.

The crackdown in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's restive southwestern province of Balochistan, is unprecedented because the region is considered a key sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistani authorities, however, are still tight-lipped about the crackdown against Taliban leaders and foot soldiers who are widely thought to be running their decade-old insurgency from the vast and sparsely populated desert region.

Attaullah, a shopkeeper selling jihadist DVDs in Quetta, has seen his profits fall dramatically after local authorities moved to implement new government measures that ban the "glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations" through media and the Internet.

"I was doing a brisk business of selling the DVDs and uploading video clips to smartphones, which were replete with scenes from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," he told RFE/RL's Gandhara website. "Now I can only sell DVDs containing recitations of the Koran or religious sermons. I have lost all my young customers."

Attaullah, who goes by one name only, says his Al-Mujahed Mobile Center shop is among a handful of similar shops in a Quetta market located on a crowded ally near the center of the teeming, dusty city.

"There is a lot of customer demand for violent videos, but most shopkeepers are afraid to sell such materials," he said. "Some have even closed their shops because jihadist DVDs and videos were the only thing they really sold."

However, another shop owner, who requested anonymity, says that despite the week-old government crackdown in which they have arrested some shopkeepers and confiscated more than 60 computers and thousands of DVDs, jihadist DVDs are still secretly available.

"[A couple weeks back,] DVDs of Taliban attacks were easily available, but now they have disappeared. Even then, they were not sold to just anyone," he said. "The materials were only sold to the Taliban. They even had their own shops and computers where they put together and sold such videos."

Muhammad Azam is a regular consumer of jihadist propaganda and a regular customer of the Al-Mujahed Mobile Center. The 20-year-old laborer is disappointed by the government's crackdown. He says watching Taliban attacks on DVDs and mobile videos is his favorite pastime.

"I used to watch videos about Taliban ambushes and suicide attacks in Afghanistan. It often motivated me to join the Taliban war," he told RFE/RL Gandhara. "My friends have been addicted to these videos for more than two years. We have often thought about disappearing into the mountains to participate in the war. Sometimes it is the only thing we talk about."

Balochistan's government has raided several bookstores and magazine stalls to prevent them from selling jihadist literature in addition to audiovisual propaganda.

"The government is responsible for controlling the shops that sell materials to encourage violence," Balochistan's information minister, Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, said. "We do not want anyone selling anything that could encourage our children to engage in terrorism and violence."

The Pakistani authorities, however, have said nothing about future steps to bring an end to the Afghan Taliban's sanctuaries in Balochistan. During the past decade, Kabul and its Western allies have repeatedly called on Islamabad to stop Taliban safe havens in the region, which borders the restive southwestern provinces of Afghanistan where the Taliban first emerged during the 1990s.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Barakwal Miakhel's reporting from Quetta, Pakistan.