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PEMRA vows immediate action
By Hasan Khan
SWABI-- Driving on the six-lane motorway between Peshawar and Islamabad, every commuter can listen to the illegal FM radio broadcasts of a local molvi (mullah) -- known for his close affiliation with militants of Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies.
Last week, driving from Islamabad toward Swabi on the M-1 and listening to FM 93 -- a frequency belonging to the National Broadcasting Service (NBS) -- a reporter heard a professional female broadcaster's voice fade out, to be replaced by a rough-hewn molvi using the same frequency to deride women.
The jarring yet routine change from state-run NBS to a pirate radio station is a fact of life for motorists crossing the main Indus River bridge separating Punjab from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“This is Punjpir Molvi Sahib (Molvi Tayyeb),” said Shahabullah, a fellow journalist sitting next to the motorist. Zero tolerance toward illegal radio broadcasts is the rule, said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Education Sardar Hussain Babak, attributing the attitude to the experience of Swat, where Molvi Fazllullah used FM radio for incitement and threats.
“We will definitely take action (against the illegal FM of Molvi Tayyeb),” Babak told Central Asia Online.
Illegal FM stations prevalent
Swabi District alone has seven illegal FM stations, a senior government official in the district who requested anonymity said.
"Religious sermons are a sensitive matter, and Molvi Tayyeb is very influential in the area. ... We are taking extra care in dealing with him,” he said.
However, the Swabi district government lacks a law under the Pakistani penal code to apply against illegal broadcasters, the anonymous district official said. "The draft law is in parliament."
Abdul Jabbar, director general operations of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), has no patience for illegal radio.
“You pointed it out, and I am now ordering the concerned officials to close it forthwith,” he said by phone. PEMRA supervises all private TV and radio nationwide.
He rejected Babak's statement about Koranic translations over illegal radio, saying PEMRA doesn't tolerate any illegal FM broadcasting.
Molvi Tayyeb has many followers
Molvi Tayyeb is known to broadcast from Madrassa Taleem-ul-Qura’an Punjpir, founded by his father, the late Molvi Tahir. He also leads a low-profile but powerful religious party, Jamaat-ul-Isha’at Wal-Tauhid Wal-Sunna’h.
Swat Taliban fugitive leader Mullah Fazllullah studied in this madrassa under Molvi Tayyeb, some observers have asserted.
Molvi Tayyeb, commonly known as Punjpir Molvi, has a large number of followers in Swat and Malakand. They're known as “Punjpiryaan” or “Punjpiris.”
Some attribute Molvi Tayyeb's influence to his brother Maj Aamir -- a former ISI officer famed for planning an unsuccessful operation to topple the first government of Benazir Bhutto in 1989.
The military had planned a search of the madrassa after reports that many Taliban leaders fled there after military operations in Swat and Buner against the Taliban, the journalist said.
The broadcasts are strong stuff. On August 26, Molvi Tayyeb used a Koranic narrative about biblical prophets' daughters to excoriate women, contrary to Pashtun culture.
Molvi Tayyeb's pirate broadcasts can be heard in parts of Mardan, Swabi and Buner. The radio station transmits his madrassa lectures to a wider audience.