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MEDIA-PAKISTAN: Taliban Wins Hearts and Minds With Gory Videos

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Aug 14 2006 (IPS) - The terror and agony on the faces of the two men, chained to the rear of a moving vehicle and dragged over a rough, unpaved road, are vivid. Relief comes in the shape of a dagger that slits their throats, to shouted cries of Allah-o-Akbar (God is great) in the background.

The camera then pans to an electricity pole from which the twitching bodies of the two men are strung up, as crowds of people watch in shock and awe.

This is not a scene out of a Hollywood thriller but clips of a Taliban-style public execution, captured live and circulated on DVD (Digitial Video Discs) format in the local markets of this frontier town. The victims, according to the sound bytes and script on the discs, had just paid the price for extorting money from the public.

Since the toppling of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, U.S.-led coalition forces have maintained pressure on the remnants of the Islamist regime, driving them into hideouts along the rough country that forms the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But, with support from their ethnic Pashtun kin, that inhabit both sides of the frontier, the Taliban has re-emerged and is now waging a successful guerilla war against the government in Kabul of President Hamid Karzai, that is supported by U.S.-led coalition troops and the Pakistani army.

Taliban resurgence can be seen in the 1,600 soldiers, government officials, international contractors engaged in reconstruction, social workers and ordinary people they murdered in 2005. This year, they have continued with guerilla-style attacks and suicide bombings.

Of late, the Taliban has also intensified a propaganda campaign to win the support of ordinary Muslims against the U.S. and its allies. One manifestation of this campaign is the production of DVDs designed to boost the morale of its fighters and also discourage people from supporting the U.S. in its ‘war on terror’.

“These (DVDS) are designed to counter the U.S. propaganda against the Taliban, win the sympathy of the people and ensure nobody strays from the fold,” said Jabbar Khan, a dealer in Taliban DVDs in Karkhano (Industrial) market near the border.

“Priced nominally, people are buying the DVDs in packs. From here, these 30-minute discs are distributed throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Haji Khudad Khan, another DVD dealer.

Spreading the message of jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq supported by verses from the Quran, between 80 -100 discs are sold everyday in this market, the buyers being mostly impressionable young people.

“Police have confiscated thousands of these DVDs àwe do not allow the business,” said Peshawar city’s police chief Habibur Rehman. But he added that people were buying and watching them anyway.

“The DVDs depict the oppression of the U.S. forces against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq in a way that moves the viewers to tears,” said Maulana Gohar Ali, a local cleric.

Bombardment of mosques and other holy places and shrines by the U.S. forces, and humiliation of Muslims are common themes in these productions. Bodies of men, women and children killed by the U.S. forces in Afghanistan are shown up in a way as to incite anger.

Some of the more lurid DVDs, released by the Kandahar-based ‘Haqiqat ul Maut’ (Real Death) studio, depict calls to Muslims to become suicide bombers – ‘because it is the easiest way to kill the infidels’.

“Be martyred. Go to paradise. Let the victims go to hell,” exhorts an elderly man in one disc. In the background there is a blast and human body parts are shown scattered all over the place. Subsequently, a news bulletin tells the audience that 13 U.S. army men died in the blast.

“Most of the scenes are so horrifying that sometimes, even hardened viewers are unable to watch them. They show how Taliban kills and inflicts injuries on members of the U.S. and allied forces,” said Mohammad Shafi, 20, a college student, who spent time in Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the U.S. forces.

The discs glorify suicide bombers and reveal losses inflicted by them on the U.S. army personnel and their Pakistani and Afghan supporters.

“These DVDs are the handiwork of experts. They contain scenes spliced in from Hollywood movies so as to entice people into watching them,” said a dealer showing samples with labels that that say ‘Ummat Studio’ and ‘Kandahar Jihad Studio’ – though where exactly they are located is a mystery.

Scripted in Urdu, Pashto and Arabic, some DVDs that roll out from the ‘Islamic Media Front Studio’ and ‘Jundullah CD Centre’ show Taliban fighters receiving and imparting training and also raw recruits signing up for the jihad.

“First I used to watch Indian movies, but now I have switched over to watching Jihad DVDs because they are real stories,” said Ishaq Khan, 22. He said that the Taliban is doing well to fight a media war against its enemy, instead of sticking to conventional battles.

In one DVD, U.S. President George W Bush is shown addressing allied forces in Afghanistan – but edited in such a way as to show him repenting U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. Appropriate clips borrowed from Al Jazeera TV footage of Taliban fighters in action are spliced in.

“This is a clear indication (in the DVDs) that the Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives are re-grouping. And that they have the technology as well as expertise, to make things happen,” said Ashraf Ali, a fellow at the University of Peshawar.

Ali, who is doing research work on the Taliban, said it was difficult to eliminate its members because they present everywhere in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Every religious-minded guy can become a Taliban member at any given moment.

“DVDs are a strange but effective tool adopted by the Taliban to justify its war against the U.S. After watching them, even educated and enlightened people end up supporting the Taliban,” said Ali.

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