ISLAMABAD – The military has launched a new project ‘FM 96 International Radio Network’ in the violence-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Balochistan, a move described as ‘community service’ but being criticised by many, reported BBC on Tuesday.

According to the broadcast, the basic objection raised is that the army is trying to establish an institution parallel to the Radio Pakistan and prominent analyst Ayesha Siddiqa says it is a dangerous commercial venture of Pakistan Army.

The BBC says after the army’s investment in banking, cement, sugar mills, transport, fertilizer, land, construction and other sectors through its related organisations, the company, named as FM 96 International Radio Network, has been made subsidiary of Shalimar Recording and Broadcasting Company being run by the Pakistan Television.

The transmission of the radio network managed by the army can be heard in Malakand Division, Fata except Orakzai Agency and various parts of Balochistan - Quetta, Panjgur, Khuzdar and others – in Urdu, Pashtu, Balochi and Barahvi languages.

Major chunk of the programmes are related to music, culture and national songs, while news and current affair has so far received a limited slot. Interestingly, Indian songs are not relayed by the Radio Pakistan, but they get ample space in the army-run FM network.

The head of the project is an in-service colonel of the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). According to Colonel Aqeel Malik, the initiative is not a commercial venture, but a community service project. He added that no advertisements could be obtained from the insurgency-hit areas.

Aqeel told BBC that the army had shut down the illegal FM radio stations operated in Malakand Division by militant chief Fazlullah, because they had been used to attract locals towards jihad. During the military operation in Swat, it had been observed that there was need to start FM radio service to provide entertainment and information to the people, badly affected by violence.

The army colonel further said the radio network had been set up after an approval given by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, adding that the reports about any foreign funding were totally wrong.

When asked why the army did launched the project in the presence of the state-run Radio Pakistan which has necessary experience and technical expertise, his reply was that media was mushrooming in Pakistan and it was necessary establish more organisations to convey the state’s message to people.

“21st century is an information century, during which more organisations will be set up to promote the state interests.” Although, Aqeel said that the network would be expanded, but he did not give any details. On the other hand, the BBC has a document which reveals that the plan envisages establishing 44 radio stations under the army-sponsored network. 

Some analysts are saying that the army is attempting an institution parallel to Radio Pakistan, which will face drastic effects because of the venture, a view rejected by Colonel Aqeel.

According to the BBC, Ayesha Siddiqa, who has written a comprehensive book on the business interests of army, said same argument was given at the time of establishing the National Logistic Cell (NLC), describing it as a temporary institution and saying it would only cater the transport-related affairs of military. But the same NLC proved to be the basic reason behind the ruining of Pakistan Railways, as it took control of a huge share of cargo.

Aqeel was also asked about the military’s bid to venture into media industry, he advised to contact the army spokesman, who, when contacted, asked to wait for some days and finally expressed his inability to comment on the subject after.