Pakistan army propaganda drama set for TV
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Taliban-fighting soldiers are set for celebrity status with the launch of a multi-million-dollar glossy television drama hailing army victories over militants.
Emotive tales of 11 “brave Pakistanis” battling an Islamist insurgency that is plaguing Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, will air on the small screen in an army-funded drama that casts the anti-terror fight in a positive light.
Focused on the heroism of soldiers fighting a key air and ground offensive in the northwestern Swat valley in 2009, one tale looks at the deeds of soldier Hawaldar Naeem Asghar who died fighting an insurgent checkpoint.
Asghar, portrayed as a hardworking soldier from peasant roots, sacrifices his life to overcome Taliban dug in to a hilltop, during operations in the town of Mingora to flush militants from the picturesque valley.
Throwing grenades from his bunker without success, Asghar is depicted abandoning cover and climbing the hill, tossing more explosives on his way as bullets rain down from the rebels’ post.
The checkpoint is destroyed, but Asghar is killed.
“Hawaldar Asghar’s story is a common man’s story. It’s a message to the public that everybody can play a role in the fight against extremism,” says Sajjad Saji, one of the drama serial’s writers.
“It is filmed to encourage the common people in this war,” he adds.
Urged by its key but critical ally the United States to launch further operations in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the army wants to show the sacrifices it has already endured in the war on terror.
“The basic purpose is to reveal the deeds of bravery of our soldiers, officers and civilians who are at the front of this war…. This drama shows the human face of the war,” says Major General Athar Abbas, head of the army’s publicity wing.
“The nation should own these stories of bravery and sacrifice, they should be proud of our sons and daughters of the land who created these true stories with their blood and defended the motherland.”
One of the filmmakers, who would not be named, said the high-end production was a “multi-million-dollar” effort, but refused to put a precise figure on costs.
The production, peppered with special effects, was filmed amid rugged verdant hills and forests close to the Swat valley — scene of major operations by Pakistan’s military in 2009 to rid the area of rampant militancy.
“We travelled extensively to film this serial. A crew of more than 35 people with trucks of luggage roamed in the forests and hills for months to show the reality,” said Khawar Azhar, the show’s executive producer.
The former tourism hotspot of Swat slipped out of government control after a radical cleric led an uprising in July 2007, beheading opponents, burning schools and fighting to enforce a harsh brand of Islamic law.
Pakistan launched a blistering air and ground offensive in the valley after militants marched out of Swat and advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital Islamabad in April 2009.
After heavy fighting that displaced an estimated two million people, the military declared the region back under army control last summer and efforts have begun to revive the local economy amid sporadic outbreaks of violence.
Television productions are one of the tools adopted by the military’s publicity wing to polish its image and boost recruitment and morale at a key juncture in anti-Taliban efforts and with religious conservatism on the rise.
Accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of carrying out collective punishments on relatives of militants since it re-established control over the Swat valley, the army knows the importance of securing local hearts and minds.
More than 4,000 people have been killed in Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked attacks since government forces launched an attack against militants in a mosque in Islamabad in 2007.
The television drama depicts the bitter divide between Pakistan’s opposing cultures as the moderate middle class fights religious extremism in a country fractured by deep regional political divided.
In other episodes the film makers show the victims of Taliban power — one girl is subject to brutal gang rape by militants, while in another a young boy is brain-washed into becoming a suicide bomber.