The U.S. government is using television and radio advertisements to persuade Pakistanis to turn in al-Qaida leaders, but the campaign is meeting resistance from stations broadcasting in remote areas that could be crucial to the effort's success.
Many Pakistani TV networks, but notably not all, began airing a 30-second advertisement on Wednesday that shows pictures of the top 14 al-Qaida suspects still on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists, along with the amount of reward money for their capture. Corresponding advertisements also began running on local radio channels.
But Khyber Television, the only Pashtu-language television channel in the country with its viewership base in the Pakhtun-dominated areas in the border provinces of Pakistan's North-West Frontier and Balochistan, has refused to air the advertisement, embassy officials told MSNBC.com.
A U.S. official said he was convinced fear of retaliation from terrorists was keeping some of the media outlets away from the campaign.
A spokesman for Khyber Television did not confirm or deny the assertion, but said the ad had so far not gone on air and was not on the cue sheet for now.
The U.S. Embassy official said, however, that the trial run of the campaign over the past couple of weeks had drawn an encouraging response.
“We received 20-odd calls and some e-mails from the public in the past two weeks,” the official said.
Ad targets 'infamous criminals'
“Who are the targets of these infamous criminals? It’s our families and friends,” the ad says. It also asks Pakistanis with any information on the suspects to come forward and get their share of the rewards or “head money” being offered.
“We believe that all or some of these terrorists are present in this South Asian region and the public in this area may have some information about them which might be useful for us,” Ambassador Francis Taylor, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security told Pakistani journalists on Tuesday. Taylor addressed the gathered journalists through a video link at the U.N. Information Center to mark the launching of the media campaign.
This is the first time the U.S. government has used national and local television networks and FM radios, in addition to newspapers, in its campaign to hunt down terror suspects.
Taylor explained that Pakistan was not the only country where his bureau was sponsoring this latest media campaign — Afghanistan is also being targeted, but in a different way.
Owing to the lack of infrastructure in mostly rural Afghanistan, the authorities there are dependent on handbills, the traditional means of mass communication.
The U.S. has distributed thousands of leaflets throughout the country in the last couple of months with pictures of 14 alleged terrorists, with the bounty on their heads mentioned in local Pashtu, Persian and Darri languages.
Success with Justice Program in Pakistan
The FBI's Rewards for Justice Program has produced results in the past. The capture of Ramzi Yusuf and Mir Aimal Kansi are among the known cases in which terror suspects were turned in for money by Pakistani citizens.
Yusuf was wanted by the U.S. for his involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, in which six people were killed and over 1,000 injured. He was arrested in Islamabad.
Kansi murdered two people and injured three others in front of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. He was also captured in Pakistan in the Punjab province.
The U.S. government paid the reward money to unknown Pakistanis in both cases.