Social media is the latest target of the performance anxiety-prone Imran Khan government. With a new set of rules, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government plans to curb the power of social media in Pakistan. Unable to govern the country, control inflation or provide jobs to Pakistanis, Imran Khan has decided to take control of the situation by cracking down on the virtual world. If no one is allowed to talk, the problems might vanish.
According to the new rules, social media companies and platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tik Tok, Dailymotion and others are required to register and open offices in Islamabad within three months. The PTI government also expects these platforms to remove any “unlawful content’’ within hours of authorities lodging a complaint. Social media companies must have data servers in Pakistan, provide data of accounts found guilty of “targeting state institutions” or issuing statements that harm “national security” to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Now, who defines what is causing harm to national security, what is national interest and when does criticism of state institutions become unlawful targeting is not answered. Why would social media giants oblige the fascist demands of Pakistan, which takes away the fundamental freedom to express, along with privacy and digital rights that are the foundation of these platforms. Already international media rights organisations have come down harshly on Pakistan, calling the measures draconian and asking the Imran Khan government to rescind the rules.
Always at the U-turn
It would be interesting to see how far the Imran Khan government will go in making Pakistan the Naya North Korea. It is no secret that in opposition, Imran Khan was the biggest beneficiary of the freedom provided on mainstream and social media. But the tables have turned and how. Like on everything else, a U-turn has inevitably been taken.
During the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, Imran Khan was one of the most vocal critics of the government’s actions to curb social media. No one can control the social media, only a fool will try to do that, he used to think. He was of the view that the government was “threatening him with the cybercrime law”. He had warned Nawaz Sharif of protests if any measures were taken to ban social media. Then, he had called it a dictatorship of Sharif and not a democracy. He has clearly forgotten to look at the mirror now.
At best, Imran Khan is a democrat when in opposition and a dictator when in power. He wants the freedoms and ideals of the United Kingdom when in opposition, and wants to curb liberties and see Pakistan censored on the China model when in power. The duplicity is rather magical.
See no evil, hear no evil
Khan once owed his and PTI’s success to mainstream electronic media. But not anymore, media is the new ‘mafia’. Mafia is a new term coined by Imran Khan when he wants to blame others for his own failures.
For the last 18 months, Khan has been angry with the media and calling out their ‘propaganda’. He complains that a reporter with a mic goes to a poor man on the street and asks him, “Is there inflation in the country?” and then the next question always is, “Where is your Naya Pakistan?”. He’s hurt that the poor man will then say bad things about his government. All of this is planned he believes. We suggest that the Prime Minister send his own men out with mics and ask them to share with him two bites of the things being said off the camera about his government and Naya Pakistan.
The emperor has no ability to take criticism from the media, who by definition are adversaries to any government, not only his. At the World Economic Forum last month, Imran Khan said he doesn’t watch news shows and advises his cabinet ministers to do the same. The PM’s mantra is ‘see no evil, hear no evil in government and say all evil when out of government’.
A government that used to hail its own Digital Pakistan plans, now stands exposed with arbitrary curbs. If this continues then there will be a Digital Pakistan without the internet soon. If this regime is serious about the rules, then it will be a matter of months before a shutdown of social media (if things don’t go their way). But given its history of U-turns, it won’t surprise us if a U-turn is taken on this U-turn. We won’t complain.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.