Finally Coming After Your Social Media

Source: Dawn

Well, recruiting an army of trolls just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because it didn’t work. It wasn’t enough because dissident journalists and bloggers such as Gul Bukhari and Ahmed Waqas Goraya were simply not shutting up.

After a humiliating exit of DG ISPR General Asif Ghafoor from his position, and rightly so because perhaps such erratic tweeting didn’t suit a DG ISPR, it seemed for a while that the troll army had retreated for a moment. This occurred after hundreds of fake accounts run by nationalist trolls were deleted by twitter. However, the new DG ISPR Babar Iftikhar does not sound like much of a fan of a free media either, as has been the case with the Bajwa-Imran regime.

Ever since the Bajwa-Imran regime has established itself in its full glory since the elections in July 2019, they have been hell-bent to curb media freedom. There has been a crackdown on bloggers and political dissidents and several

While people were wondering if it was about time that the government thought about pulling the cord on the social media, the government finally delivered a kind of low that has no parallel in history. The draconian Cybercrime Act under the PML-N had set the stage for this government overreach, which ironically resulted in the detention of the members of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s own social media team following the Dawn Leaks controversy. On top of that, the PTI government has proposed the Citizens Protection Against Online Harm Rules 2020, which the cabinet has already passed and which will not be up for voting in the parliament. Unfortunately, no opposition party is expected to deliver a reasonable response to this, let alone oppose this measure heavily criticized by many commentators. Obviously, these directives are coming from the military establishment.

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Not just that, the federal authorities in Pakistan went a step ahead by issuing journalist Gul Bukhari a notice on terrorism charges. They accused her of using incendiary language against the security institutions in Pakistan.

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It is probably the biggest joke considering how Ehsanullah Ehsan, the controversial spokesperson of the Taliban has been kept as almost a state guest by Pakistan authorities. What was worse Ehsansullah Ehsan had claimed to escape the custody of the military and was later found to be in Turkey. The Interior Minister Ijaz Shah later acknowledged that he is missing as well, sparking fury among APS parents.

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Supposedly liberal ministers in the PTI cabinet such as Fawad Chaudhary made an excuse for the policy, citing taxation on social networks. Diverting attention by insisting that the proposed draconian measures by the government are for economic reasons cannot fool either the skeptical dissenters and the suspecting foreign commentators who are well aware of the nefarious intentions of the state. It also does not require an expert to conclude that these directives are coming not from the PTI but a higher and deeper state authority. What is disappointing though is the silence of PTI, a party that rose to power thanks to the social media, and the shamelessness with which it is defending the unprecedented curbs on the media and freedom of speech.

If Pakistan indeed suspends social media citing a lack of control over content critical to it, then it must face repercussions from the international community. The greatest responsibility will be on the United States to see beyond its strategic relationship with the country and impose sanctions on the country. The European Union and Great Britain must also take similar action to press Pakistan over possibly denying its citizens the fundamental access to the internet. There could not have been a worse state of media and citizen freedom in Pakistan.

Giving Democracy the Boot

Source: Dawn

Faisal Vawda, the PTI Minister of Water Resources, and known for his signature outrageous antics, made a new history along with provocative ARY News anchor Kashif Abbasi. In a talk show, which also featured opposition leaders Senator Javed Abbasi of the PML-N and Qamar Zaman Kaira of the PPP on the panel.

In the middle of the talk show, Faisal Vawda took out a military boot, symbolic of the Pakistani military, and put it on the panel desk. Both the opposition leaders walked out in protest. This was meant to insult the reversal of PML-N on their anti-military stance as well as the corruption of their leaders, who have supposedly made another deal with the military establishment to flee the country. All this while, the PTI ministers have been criticizing the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif for fleeing the country under the false pretense of medical reasons.

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As insulting, idiotic, and completely reckless Vawda’s “boot ko izzat do” action is, being our last Pakistani Idiot of the Year, his comments in the show remind the opposition of a harsh reality. The PML-N leadership has forsaken its anti-establishment workers and left them hanging while conveniently abandoning their criticism of the military leadership in exchange for Nawaz Sharif’s departure to London for medical treatment. It was on social media, that their anti-establishment supporters had started the criticism of “boot ko izzat do” (Give respect to the boot (military establishment)) as a spinoff of “vote ko izzat do” (Give respect to the vote) which was the slogan of PML-N in the 2018 elections. It is not as if the phrase was coined by Vawda.

Kashif Abbasi, the ARY News anchor, the look on whose face was worth watching, probably did the right thing to let Vawda make his point from a broadcaster’s viewpoint. It certainly created broadcast history no matter how terrible it was for political discourse in the country. However, PEMRA had slapped Abbasi with a 60-day ban, which will be reviewed. On the other side, Imran Khan, the Prime Minister, has expressed his displeasure over Vawda’s behavior in the talk show and imposed a ban on him on appearing on talk shows.

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The Vawda boot episode only goes to show the dismal state of democracy and civilian supremacy in Pakistan in which the deep state and its representatives have dropped all pretense about their interference in politics. It is symptomatic of this disregard of the constitutional roles of institutions which has enabled a loudmouth such as Vawda to indulge in this shameless behavior. However, you could argue that there was a lot of truth in Vawda’s rant.

Which makes you wonder if Vawda is the only political leader brave enough to even mention the involvement of the “boot” in politics on mainstream media so openly.

Perhaps he is a free-speech hero and not an idiot after all.