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Pakistan army turns to war movies to counter jihad

The goal is to rally Pakistanis against Islamist extremists and counter their propaganda videos.
/ Source: The Associated Press

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 Islamist extremists 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 northwest Pakistan, 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 tribal region, some critics say the army is still not doing enough. However, that campaign and others has been praised by the United States, which is fighting a related insurgency just across the frontier in Afghanistan.

The 20-minute film begins with an insurgent 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 militants' 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 insurgents fire rockets, then slowly advance. Blood from a slain insurgent splatters the camera lens.

"We are extremely outnumbered," a Pakistani 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 insurgent 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 insurgents and repelling the rest.

Another film reinforces the mercenary element and suggests the insurgency is a foreign import. It features a militant speaking to someone apparently outside Pakistan who is paying him to produce suicide bombers.

Officers and politicians often hint at an "Indian hand" in the insurgency, though no evidence has ever been produced that Hindu-majority India, Pakistan's arch-foe, is funding violence. Most independent analysts think it unlikely, especially given the Islamist militants' history of attacks on Indian targets.

Opinion polls by the U.S.-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 militants in the northwest.

It is harder for the Pakistani government to sell a war on insurgents who, while extreme, are still fellow Muslim Pakistanis. Islamist politicians who share much of the anti-American rhetoric and conservative beliefs rarely criticize 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.

The army has ruled Pakistan directly or indirectly for much of the country's existence, and the media rarely criticize it or expose alleged corruption or brutality. A civilian-led government is now in power, but the generals still control defense and foreign policy.

The army's image is in competition with the militants' 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 Pakistani army uniforms gunning down unarmed prisoners in Swat, a northwest region where the army staged a widely praised offensive against the Taliban. 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 Pakistan Television, said earlier army productions, which included films on its peacekeeping role with the U.N. 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. "On the one hand, it is a good PR exercise, and on the other it is an attempt to tell people how religious extremism is badly affecting their lives and future."