Pressure on Social Media in Pakistan

A recent BBC report discussed how contractors employed by ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations, the media arm of the Pakistani armed forces) monitor and harass people who are perceived as being disloyal or anti-military. Today I saw an email from a friend who is a very patriotic Pakistani with mainstream (pro-democracy) views, who was just kicked out of an “elite” Whatsapp group because the group admin was under pressure from “sources”. I am excerpting the relevant part of the email here with his identity removed; to me the interesting part is that this is a relatively small group of people, and they are not Left wing activists or ethnic nationalists or starry eyed peaceniks, they are mostly bankers and Westernized members of the elite, deeply committed to Pakistan and the idea of Pakistan.. that someone was looking at them and making specific requests to remove members is a new and rather extreme step in the spread of XiJinping thought in Pakistan..

“Yesterday, this member-moderator along with two others became its victims when we were unceremoniously removed from a so-called “prestigious” WhatsApp group of “who’s who” by its moderator without notice or assigning any reason. Our sin? Arguing against the Miltablishment’s policies in the context of Nawaz Sharif’s interview. One member out of 250 in this WhatsApp group took a principled stand by voluntarily opting out in our support. Some other members I understand are writing in our defense. Surprisingly, those Miltablishment supporters who had initiated the debate on this issue (Nawaz Sharif’s interview) and had used the filthiest and most polarizing of languages against the group’s stated policy were neither touched nor even reprimanded.

The moderator of this WhatsApp group subsequently and reportedly explained to someone that “continuous bashing of military (sic)….was landing the group in trouble” and that “he was under pressure from some quarters” to take action (remove the members) – this could be a reference to outside monitors (intelligence agencies) or inside die-hard supporters of Miltablishment. Either way, the thought-police is out in full force. If a WhatsApp group of 250 is monitored, the power of the Miltablishment is complete and total.

Having come back to the country after X-years, I have been incredibly saddened and depressed at the strident polarization one is a witness to. No one is listening to the other side and temperatures are as high as I clearly remember they were at the time of military action in Bangladesh in 1971, when a brother was pitted against a brother..”

An extract from the BBC report (which is worth reading in its entirety):

By establishing the email address associated with the metadata of the document, Amnesty researchers traced it to an Islamabad-based cyber security expert, Zahid Abbasi.

When confronted by the BBC, Mr Abbasi confirmed he had previously worked for a year for the Pakistani military’s public relations team (ISPR) and that the document was genuine.

He admitted his role included tracing the IP addresses of “people abusing institutions” online and “compromising their accounts” by, for example, sending them fake Facebook login pages.

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

16 thoughts on “Pressure on Social Media in Pakistan”

  1. I had the opportunity to meet and converse with Diep Saeeda in the summer of 2009 in New Jersey, and have followed some of the activities of IPSS over the years with interest. She is a very inspiring woman. They have always been harassed by shadowy establishment figures, but things seem to have take an even darker turn lately. Their work (and that of people of similar persuasion in India) is brave.

    Your reference to Xi Jinping thought is spot on. The attractions of a closed/controlled internet are increasingly obvious to rulers worldwide, not only those in the orbit of Tian Xia, but others as well. There will be escalating pressure on the west as well to curb some of the freewheeling ways of the internet here, with the disproportionate ability of closed adversaries to intervene in a free internet sphere.

  2. I think the future is going to big government and technology is going to help those in power.

    Just a few years ago, technology and the Internet were hailed as providing the common man a voice, just as much as the vote for all.

    The vote has been co-opted by those who can pay the most to lobbyists.

    In the past (pre internet) if you were an activist (with clout) had to be willing to risk career, life etc.

    There was a small window of a decade or two, where one could be an anonymous activist. The no longer true.

    Want to be an activist on the Internet. Be ready to loose your career etc at the very least.

  3. Good comment, sbarkumm. Couldn’t agree more. Privacy is dead, and it is a great loss for common people across the world. The governments, big corporations, and criminals will take full advantage of the complete end of anonymity (everywhere, all the time).

    Omar: Can you please send me the “author invite” again? Some issues withe prior email Thanks.

  4. I don’t have his email. Thought Omar and other blog owners have access to commenter’s emails?

  5. Nawaz Sharif’s interview has everyone in a furor. Although he didn’t say anything that we didn’t already know was the truth (that 26/11 was planned by elements in Pakistan). Still, this has been said by other people before so I don’t really get what the big deal is. The Army made the PM (who is Nawaz’s man) call a meeting to condemn NS.

    It is interesting though that NS chose to say this only when the Supreme Court had made it perfectly clear that he has no chance of ever again becoming PM of Pakistan. What does he have to lose now?

    Anyway, now that Ramazan has started, all Pakistani Muslims are too busy focusing on how hungry they are to think about NS. Basically, nothing gets done during this month so politics will also probably slow down somewhat.

  6. I have known Diep Saeeda since 2011 when we first met after Salman Taaseer’s assassination. She has been threatened and followed and snooped on since forever because she comitted the cardinal sin of talking about friendly relations with our neighbours and exposing the hypocrisy of our Mil-establishment. She has also been threatened by Khadim Rizvi’s goons and JI thugs.

      1. Hey I take offense at that 🙂
        It’s not that bad. We just had Madeeha Gauhar’s death reference at Alhamra Arts Council in Lahore two days ago. Her nieces (Faryal Gauhar’s daughters) wore saris. People came from India to talk about her efforts for Indo-Pak peace. Her portrait was garlanded with flowers. Basically, a Hindu funeral was held on the stage of Lahore’s most prestigious arts institution and Ajoka got away with it.

        There are progressive people in Pakistan too you know.

        1. Was she Hindu?

          The problem with Pakistan is that progressives have to “get away with stuff” while in India progressives are the elite.

          That of course is changing with Karnataka, the BJP and the Hinduisication of the Dalits.

          1. Obituary for Indian progressives is too premature . BJP I think will get a chance for another 10 years. Their main challenge will be Indian economy and meeting the rising expectations of the younger generation , who by and large don’t have animosity to any minorities . They will rise or fall on those considerations. Among Hindus , there is a substantial percentage who don’t buy Hindutva , and regional parties and leaders are thriving who will make political centralization by BJP well nigh impossible. Karnataka results just prove that . India will take a political evolutionary route different , if not opposite, of China.

            Basically Indian nationalism is not muscular like Russia or centralizing like China.

          2. No, she was Muslim. I think they said her father was in the Pakistan Army (but don’t quote me on that).

            Of course as everyone said at the gathering, Madeeha was fiercely secular and believed that religion must be kept out of politics or both politics and religion suffer. Her work as an activist goes back to General Zia’s dictatorship, during which she was even jailed for a period. One of Ajoka’s plays “Burqavaganza” made fun of the Burqa and was banned by the state for being “anti-Islam”. You really need to read my blog posts more carefully 🙂

            “Like Bulha, Burqavaganza concerns the increasing Islamization of society. Written in 2007, in the context of the Laal Masjid episode and the moral policing of the female students of Jamia Hafsa, the play is a farce that uses songs and humorous situations to highlight contradictions in society. Because the play treats the issue of the burqa in a comedic manner, it was banned by Pakistan’s National Assembly for being “disrespectful” to Islam. In the play, everyone, both men and women, wears a burqa and carries out all normal activities. For example, people are shown exercising in burqas. It also satirizes religious talk shows where mullahs give rulings on important issues such as whether women can wear nets with their burqas. There is also a character based on Osama bin Laden called Burqa bin Batin. Finally, the play is interspersed with parodies of well-known Bollywood songs. For instance, “choli ke peechay kya hai” becomes “parde ke peeche kya hai.” Through showing characters engaging in all activities while wearing the burqa, the play makes the point that wearing or not wearing the garment has no impact on people’s behavior.”

            I think the Indian delegation (which brought messages of condolences from Amritsar, Delhi, Hyderabad Deccan etc) was more upset about her death than the Pakistani public was. Madeeha Gauhar was a big deal and she needs to be celebrated more.

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