Pakistan Army turns to war movies to counter jihad

After a night of fighting off a Taliban attack on his remote outpost, the Pakistani soldier lies wounded, with one of the attackers crawling on top of him. He grabs the assailant by the neck, but cannot prevent him from firing seven shots into his chest. The death of the soldier is the climax of “Glorious Resolve,” one of several slickly produced, action-packed films produced by the army to rally Pakistanis against terrorists and counter their propaganda videos. Aired on private and public TV stations, the films are described as re-enactments of real clashes in the military campaign in the northwest of country, which began in earnest in 2009. “The basic purpose is to highlight the true stories of those valiant heroes of Pakistan,” said Brigadier Azmat Ali, executive producer of the series. “And also to let the people know what kind of atrocities they had come across and ultimately how we are guarding against further extremism that is coming on to us.”

Although more than 2,000 soldiers have been killed in the fighting in the South Waziristan, some critics say the army is still not doing enough. However, that campaign and others has been praised by the US, which is fighting a related insurgency just across the frontier in Afghanistan. The 20-minute film begins with a terrorist giving a pep talk to his men around a campfire as they prepare to attack the outpost. He speaks in Urdu, using phrases similar to those on the terrorists’ videos: “This unholy army has taken over our land, has made checkpoints on our roads and is frisking our women. It fights for the white man, it fights for dollars. We don’t want peace, we need the blessing of Allah.” The attack is then shown in blistering close-up.

The terrorists fire rockets, then slowly advance. Blood from a slain terrorist splatters the camera lens. “We are extremely outnumbered,” an officer shouts into a radio. “God willing we will not let anybody get away. We will make you proud, sir.” The film attempts to subtly undercut the appeal to religion by suggesting the terrorist chief is in it for money. As his men die under a hail of army bullets, he is shown on the phone demanding “more dollars” from his paymaster. The battle ends with the army killing some terrorists and repelling the rest. Another film reinforces the mercenary element and suggests that terrorism is a foreign import. It features a terrorist speaking to someone apparently outside the country who is paying him to produce suicide bombers. Officers and politicians often hint at an “Indian hand” in the terrorism. Most independent analysts think it unlikely, especially given the militants’ history of attacks on Indian targets.

Opinion polls by the US-based Pew Research Center suggest about two-thirds of the populace disapproves of the Taliban and other extremist groups, but only about half support the army action against terrorists in the northwest. It is harder for the government to sell a war on terrorists who, while extreme, are still fellow countrymen. Religious parties who share much of the anti-American rhetoric and conservative beliefs rarely criticise the Taliban and other extremists, saying peace deals are the answer, not military offensives. They insist the militancy roiling the country would end if the American army would leave Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the army’s image is in competition with the terrorists’ own propaganda on the Internet and DVDs sold in markets in the northwest. These feature real footage of attacks on army patrols, destruction inflicted by military operations and exhortations to jihad.

Last year, footage emerged of men in army uniforms gunning down unarmed prisoners in Swat. The footage was largely ignored by local media but is viewable on the Internet. The army has said it is investigating the incident. Ratings for “Glorious Resolve” and the other re-enactments shown so far have not been tallied yet. Amjad Bukhari, director of programming for state TV, said earlier army productions, which included films on its peacekeeping role with the UN in Bosnia, were highly popular. “It is a good attempt by the army,” said Tauseef Ahmed, professor of journalism at the Federal Urdu University Karachi. ap – Daily Times