Karachi, April 14 (Reuters): A photograph of the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, has adorned the front page of a leading Pakistani Urdu-language newspaper everyday since the start of US military action in Afghanistan in October 2001.
A weekly magazine sponsored by an outlawed Kashmiri militant group urges jihad against America as US-led forces make swift gains in the Iraq war.
Radical Islamic newspapers and magazines have introduced a new breed of journalism in Pakistan in recent years — committed to pan-Islamic causes, promoting jihad and targeting the US, Israel and India.
Their supporters say they promote an alternate worldview than that of the mainstream press. Their critics say they are helping radicalise Pakistani society.
“They have little substance, are full of conspiracy theories and contain faulty and inaccurate information,” said Ahmed Rashid, journalist and author of the bestseller, Taliban.
“They are very dangerous as millions of people who read them get a distorted view of politics and international affairs.”
Some of the publications have grabbed a share in the mainstream market, their influence growing on the back of the rising anti-American sentiment since the toppling of the hardline Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The war in Iraq has added fuel to the fire. “The real war has just started,” Zarb-e-Momin, or Strike of a Devout Muslim, said in its latest issue. “After Palestine and Afghanistan, now Iraq will give birth to holy warriors.”
Zarb-e-Momin, backed by the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammed, does not publish pictures of human faces in line with Islamic edicts. Instead, its favourite images depict either weapons or Muslim holy places.
“Who will free me from the clutches of Jews'” the paper asked under a picture of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Zarb-e-Momin, whose circulation is around 1,45,000, but whose readership is many times higher, also quotes Prophet Mohammad as asking followers to expel infidels from the Arab peninsula.
Daily Ummat, or Nation, which prints bin Laden’s picture as well as a message from the Saudi-born militant, has also carried a picture of and message from Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar since Washington branded him a terrorist in February.
“We can’t call them criminals on the basis of allegations,” Rafique Afghan, chief editor of Ummat, said.
“Even American law doesn’t allow this. Once they are convicted by a court, we will stop publishing their pictures,” said Afghan, who fought with mujahideen fighters against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Ummat, considered the first radical Islamic newspaper to make a niche for itself among mainstream newspapers, splashes stories every day about Islamic parties and militant groups.
Khaled Ahmed, a political analyst, said apart from a few government-licensed Islamic papers, there are more than a 100 unlicensed Islamic publications.
“Like their weapons, they don’t need a licence for their publications either,” he said. “Islamic parties, militant groups and seminaries are their main sponsors.”
From comments and news reports on domestic and international issues to how to offer prayers, they cover diverse subjects.
Al-Dawaada, a monthly supervised by Hafiz Saeed, former chief of the banned Lashkar-e-Toiba, carries letters from militants killed fighting the Indian Army in Kashmir.
“I urge all my relatives to send their sons for jihad and in return get a place in heaven,” Abu Jarar Riaz, a Lashkar member killed in Kashmir, wrote in his will.
Saeed now leads Jamaat-ud-Daawa, an offshoot of the Lashkar, which publishes seven magazines including separate publications for students and women.
“Muslim blood is being extracted to serve Jews’ interest,” Zarab-e-Toiba, the group’s magazine for students, said in its cover story on the destruction of Iraq.
Such magazines — with stories about Islamic heroes, promising heavenly rewards for martyrs — inspire readers to fight a jihad.
Maqsood Yousfi, editor of Takbeer, a right-wing weekly, said Islamic publications provide alternative views on politics and international affairs, lacking in the mainstream papers. “They counter propaganda of the Western media. A reader can form an opinion by comparing the two versions.” Many of the radical magazines are not for sale in the open market.
“Our members sell them from person to person, door-to-door,” said Abu Mujahid Nadeem of Jamaat-ud-Daawa, who started selling copies of his party publications when he was 10. Now 19, his greatest desire is to wage jihad in Kashmir.
“I still sell these magazines. I go to the people interested in our publications and discuss issues raised in our writings.”
Militant journalism was boosted in the mid-1990s with the rise of the Taliban, with Pakistan’s support. “Now, even the mainstream Urdu press has been influenced by these papers,” Ahmed Rashid said.
“The entire Urdu press is promoting one world view which is in conflict with the modern world and highly subjective. After Iraq, it has become more radical.”