A television and radio campaign publicizing the $25 million U.S. reward for information leading to the capture of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden hit the airwaves in Pakistan this week in a U.S.-funded drive to find fresh leads to his whereabouts.
The 30-second television spot flashes photographs of bin Laden and 13 other top terrorist suspects, including his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, with an emotional appeal for help in bringing them to justice.
“Who are the people who are suffering from terrorism? Our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters! Who are those terrorists? And who can stop them? Only you!” a voice appeals in the Urdu language.
The spot makes no direct reference to the U.S. government, a reflection of continued resentment of the United States by many in this Islamic nation of 150 million people, despite close official ties between Islamabad and Washington in what the Bush administration calls a war on terrorism.
The campaign is a reflection of counterterrorist rewards legislation sponsored by Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. The measure also gave President Bush the option to double the reward for bin Laden to $50 million.
“This program could improve our chances of capturing the world’s most wanted man,” Kirk said in a statement issued in Washington.
No progress in three-year hunt
Three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, bin Laden’s trail has gone cold.
Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops and 17,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan have drawn a blank, although officials still presume bin Laden is probably hiding in the rugged mountains between the two countries.
The U.S. government has publicized rewards for al-Qaida and Taliban suspects before — on posters and matchbox covers, in newspaper ads, on the Internet and even with leaflets scattered from the air in Pakistan’s tribal regions.
This is the first time they have used TV.
Greggory Crouch, spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said the TV messages in Urdu, Sindhi, Baluchi and Pashtu languages were part of a nationwide campaign under the State Department-administered Rewards for Justice program. They will run on state and private television and state radio for an initial period of six weeks.
A contact telephone number and e-mail address [mailrewardsforjustice.net] are provided, and the ads promise confidentiality and resettlement for informants and their families.
Some scorn for TV ads
An embassy official said on condition of anonymity that ads that began appearing in Pakistani newspapers in early January had yielded about 25 calls, which he declined to characterize, other than to say that some had been useful.
The initial response to the television messages, however, was cool among the viewers who spoke to The Associated Press in three cities.
“It’s useless!” said Mohammed Arshad, a bearded shopkeeper who saw the TV spot with friends at home in Peshawar. He said that the ad was too brief for people to take in and that it was unnecessary.
“Everyone knows what Osama looks like, anyway. People even name their babies after him. ... The reward isn’t new. It’s been around for years.”
Shahid Ali, 50, a business manager in Karachi — a hotbed of Islamic militancy where top al-Qaida operatives have been caught in the past — declared the campaign “rubbish.”
“America is the biggest terrorist, so how can they brand anybody else a terrorist?” he said.
Gul Shah, 29, a shopkeeper in the southwestern city of Quetta, said he was interested to learn that 11 terrorist suspects he had not seen before had $5 million rewards on their heads.
“I don’t know whether this advertisement would lead toward the arrest of these guys, but it is clear that it would create awareness,” he said.
But Arshad, the Peshawar shopkeeper, was not convinced.
“Americans claim they have such wonderful technology and nothing is hidden from their eyes, even if it’s in space or underwater. But they haven’t found Osama yet. Who knows if they ever will?”