Chasing bin Laden with TV ads in Pakistan offering cash
This week, for the first time, Pakistan is allowing ads to air that offer rewards for helping find Al Qaeda leaders.
Osama bin Laden may find out just how trustworthy his friends are. The US government has launched a series of advertisements - broadcast for the first time on Pakistani state television and radio stations - promising multimillion dollar awards for information leading to Mr. bin Laden's capture. US officials say the ad campaign could serve two purposes: to break the confidence of the Al Qaeda leader, and to bring in crucial human intelligence from local people who might want a little cash.Skip to next paragraph
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"This kind of thing has worked before, both here in Pakistan, and in Colombia as well," says a senior US official in Islamabad, speaking on condition of anonymity. He adds that $57 million has been given out so far under this program worldwide and some of the people here have been captured as the result of tip-offs. [Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated the extent of compensation handed out by the US for human intelligence.]
Gen. Talat Masood, a retired Army general and defense analyst based in Islamabad, agrees that "It will put psychological pressure on these men. If they are alive they would try to re-constitute the organization and this tactic is aimed to counter Al Qaeda's future strategy to regain strength."
Bin Laden's security has long included a mixture of God and greed. The Al Qaeda leader draws much of his support from his reputation as an Islamic hero, and as a wealthy man able to pay his supporters. The $25 million US reward is not new. But US legislation passed in December finances the advertising campaign and gives the US the option of doubling the reward.
US officials say thebroadcast ad campaign has already yielded some "useful information."
The ads - broadcast in the Pakistani languages of Urdu, Sindhi, Baloch, and Pashto - appeal to many Pakistanis' aversion to the extremist methods of Al Qaeda. In television ads, which have begun appearing this week, images of bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri, and the one-eyed reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar, include a voice over that asks: "Who can stop the terrorists? Only you." The rewards range from $5 million to $25 million for information leading to the capture of bin Laden and his lieutenants.
The US government has publicized its rewards here on posters, matchbox covers, newspaper ads, and the Internet. But this is the first time they've been given access to the Pakistani airwaves. A contact phone number and e-mail address (www.rewardsforjustice.net) is provided, and promises resettlement for informants and their families.
That ad campaign follows a sustained military campaign by Pakistani forces in the tribal district of South Waziristan. This effort - in which more than 200 Pakistani paramilitary troops and 300 tribal and foreign militants were killed - resulted in the agreement by former militant tribal leaders to switch allegiances from Al Qaeda to the Pakistani government. A senior Pakistani official disclosed two weeks ago that this deal included Pakistan's agreement to pay off tribal leaders' debts to Al Qaeda leaders. .