Imran Khan
File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan | Photo: @ImranKhanOfficial | Facebook
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The answer to “what would you like to ban in Pakistan today?” has come. Tinder. By banning a few dating apps, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government would like us to believe that all other prevalent political and social problems in Pakistan have been solved. Dating was the only menace left.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has banned five online dating applications — Tinder, Tagged, Skout, Grindr and SayHi. It seems someone in the regulatory authority is angry at being ‘swiped left’, constantly. It is heartening to see the PTA regulate the online dating scene when online harassment, abuse and threats of violence against women are flourishing in Pakistan. Not to forget the actual predators roaming free. But dealing with dating is top priority.


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The ‘brain’ behind the ban

The reasons for the ban on these dating apps are the same as those applied to all other apps that the regulator has cracked down on in the past, be it gaming or entertainment. That they are immoral, indecent and vulgar. One size fits all — that’s the regulatory approach of the PTA. Tinder is interested in having a ‘meaningful conversation’ with the PTA over the ban.

PTA’s banning spree is guided by an arbitrary code of morality. In July, it banned PUBG for spreading anti-Islamic content and destroying youth. This led to protests online that resulted in overturning of the ban. Something similar happened with Bigo Live. The “immoral, obscene and vulgar content” streaming app was banned and later unbanned. TikToK and YouTube, too, have been warned time and again to block the “vulgar, indecent and immoral content for viewership in Pakistan.”

After having its say in deciding which apps Pakistanis should use in their leisure time, now the Imran Khan government is acting like a strict parent of the adults who refuse to listen to them. This is the digital version of grounding your ‘ill-mannered children’. Ironically, the regulatory bodies such as the PTA hardly have any young people involved in its decision-making that impacts youth. The idea of banning apps is counterproductive for a government that aims for a Digital Pakistan.

On government’s moral thermometer, television serials that show: first cousins being in love as toddlers and getting married, girl that hits on her brother-in-law for she’s jealous of her own sister, romanticising workplace harassment or even a psychiatrist-patient relationship, are all ‘moral, decent and righteous’. That’s the kind of matchmaking content that the officials root for.


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Online dating in Pakistan

What threatened the owners of morality in Pakistan was a peaking trend of online dating. According to market intelligence provider Sensor Tower, in Pakistan, Tinder saw more than 440,000 downloads in 2019 alone. While SayHi, Grindr and Tagged saw over 300,000 downloads each, Skout was downloaded 100,000 times in the 12 month period.

In a culture where dating remains a taboo, any platform that gives young women and men space for open expression will be considered a threat. Even today, women are killed for ‘honour’ if they choose to marry out of their own choice. Instead of normalising the conversation around the free will to love, the State believes in banning and not being a facilitator. The hypocrisy is astounding — the consensual relationships are haram but women forced into marriages and minor girls abducted and married to their abductors is kosher.

How the online apps are different from the old times rishta (matrimonial) websites? With these apps, the match-making auntys go out of business. So, the rishta auntys won’t frown upon such regulatory decrees. Nothing threatens the morality of thekedars more than people practicing freewill.

We can always critique the viability of the dating apps or what purpose it serves, but the choice should be left with the people and not the State. It is not that Tinder in Pakistan was an epitome of finding true love. Yet, in a close-knit society, an online service that gave them a choice, was still better than having none.

Now if the PTA thinks that banning these dating apps will stop Pakistanis from dating, then it couldn’t be more wrong. In Pakistan, nothing is off limits for men who send “hello want to fraandship” and “nice dp dear, lets get married dear” messages on other social media apps — LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — most definitely not meant for dating. Here, every social media app is a ‘dating app’. Forget social media apps, people want to hook up on Ludo Star as well. PTA, good luck banning them.

The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.

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19 Comments Share Your Views

19 COMMENTS

  1. What garbage!
    This is the ISLAMIC Republic of Pakistan. The leader of this nation has a duty to uphold and promote what is right and discourage and remove what is wrong, according to the teachings of Islam. The right thing has been done, even if the individuals doing it had the wrong intention.
    Also, just because many other ills remain is no excuse to not address this problem – that of apps allowing and encouraging people to commit sinful acts such as romantic relationships outside of marriage. And, yes, Islam makes it clear that these relationships are prohibited. There’s no ambiguity or debate about that.

  2. Delimma of PAKISTANI Nation is they have stopped looking at everything positively especially when it’s related to any move by any institution of PAKISTAN while at them same time they would appreciate any move by any country in the world with great enthusiasm like they have done anything that has saved their own lives.

    Please stop criticizing if any institution is doing what they have in their authority. Don’t link everything together let them do their jobs at least individually

  3. Delimma of PAKISTANI Nation is they have stopped looking at everything positively especially when it’s related to any move by any institution of PAKISTAN while at them same time they would appreciate any move by any country in the world with great enthusiasm like they have done anything that has saved their own lives.

    Please stop criticizing if any institution is doing what they have in their authority. Don’t link everything together let them do their jobs at least individually

  4. Part 1: Hi, thanks for writing this article, however I would like to break down some points you make. Firstly, One arguement you have against PTA’s overall authority to ban apps is ‘The idea of banning apps is counterproductive for a government that aims for a Digital Pakistan’. I would disagree with this statement. Because banning a few apps among the tens of thousands will have little effect on Pakistan’s Digital/technological advancments. The fact is the digital position of a country doesn’t rely on a couple apps being banned, but rather how the government provides resources for the citizens to use apps, e.g. internet towers, telecommunications hubs, etc. Investing in these resources will actually make Pakistan more digitally and technologically advanced as a larger number of Pakistan’s population will be able to digitalise (to an extent).

  5. Part 1: Hi, thanks for writing this article, however I would like to break down some points you make. Firstly, One arguement you have against PTA’s overall authority to ban apps is ‘The idea of banning apps is counterproductive for a government that aims for a Digital Pakistan’. I would disagree with this statement. Because banning a few apps among the tens of thousands will have little effect on Pakistan’s Digital/technological advancments. The fact is the digital position of a country doesn’t rely on a couple apps being banned, but rather how the government provides resources for the citizens to use apps, e.g. internet towers, telecommunications hubs, etc. Investing in these resources will actually make Pakistan more digitally and technologically advanced as a larger number of Pakistan’s population will be able to digitalise (to an extent).

  6. Hi, thanks for writing this article, however I would like to break down some points you make. Firstly, One arguement you have against PTA’s overall authority to ban apps is ‘The idea of banning apps is counterproductive for a government that aims for a Digital Pakistan’. I would disagree with this statement. Because banning a few apps among the tens of thousands will have little effect on Pakistan’s Digital/technological advancments. The fact is the digital position of a country doesn’t rely on a couple apps being banned, but rather how the government provides resources for the citizens to use apps, e.g. internet towers, telecommunications hubs, etc. Investing in these resources will actually make Pakistan more digitally and technologically advanced as a larger number of Pakistan’s population will be able to digitalise (to an extent). Moreover, you talk about how Pakistani TV shows are hypocritical and that they should be on the government’s list rather than dating apps. Now I’m not saying Pakistan is perfect, so stating that, Pakistani ‘dramas’ have been around for a long time and have become sort of engrained in the culture, especially in the older generation. This industry is Massive and attracts loads of jobs and opportunities. Saying that, because the industry is so large, all types of people have a crack at it, thus there are bound to be some so called ‘weird’ people coming in. Other film industries are no exception. Look at Hollywood for example, all types of immorality and vulgerness has taken place there, portrayed on the films and sometimes in real life. The fact is I could write a whole essay on how Hollywood movies are immoral and insensitive, which are ultimately encouraged by the arguably vulgar movie makers of that industry. The point I’m making is that every film industry will have ‘those’ producers/directors/storytellers, but because they are all in top positions no one dares to speak against them. Furthermore, these TV shows are, if compared to normal shows, much less frequent and definitely not the norm. Therefore, pointing out that the government should focus on Pakistani TV shows rather than apps does not add up; firstly, because the government’s ban or other forceful actions on Pakistani TV shows would give the government more than they warrant from their citizens (due to cultural uproar), which would be counterproductive (however government intervention on apps makes more sense as these apps are a gross disrespect to Pakistani culture/tradition, hence actually take the support of most Pakistanis); secondly, and more importantly one cannot diminsh one’s good/moral work by pointing out their immoral actions. Yes, the government’s neglect of Pakistani TV shows may be bad or possibly immoral, however this in no way deconstructs the good that the Pakistani government is doing in banning apps that are immoral. This tactic of exposing one’s faults just to devalue one’s worth of goodness is an old and vile method of combating someone’s actions/perspective without any proper and logical arguments. Moving on, another point you raise is that women do not have the free will to love whomever they want and that they cannot choose whom they marry in pakistan. This is totally against Islamic rules. It is against Islam to force your daughter or son into marriage. Please do not push views that are not true. Yes, what you say about dating being a ‘taboo’ is true in pakistan. However, this is not a bad thing. Islam and Christianity both agree that one should not commit adultery before marriage. Moreover, you ask ‘How the online apps are different from the old times rishta (matrimonial) websites?’. Since you asked I shall answer. The key difference between online dating apps and rishta websites is that one promotes adultery before marriage and the latter promotes sex after getting married. The second agrees with both Islamic and Christian views, thus perceived as acceptable in pakistan. These are my views on this subject. I respect your opinions and in no way seek to offend you. It would be great to hear back from you and possibly engage on a more humanly conversation. Thanks for reading. Best regards. Aadam Khan

  7. Hi, thanks for writing this article, however I would like to break down some points you make. Firstly, One arguement you have against PTA’s overall authority to ban apps is ‘The idea of banning apps is counterproductive for a government that aims for a Digital Pakistan’. I would disagree with this statement. Because banning a few apps among the tens of thousands will have little effect on Pakistan’s Digital/technological advancments. The fact is the digital position of a country doesn’t rely on a couple apps being banned, but rather how the government provides resources for the citizens to use apps, e.g. internet towers, telecommunications hubs, etc. Investing in these resources will actually make Pakistan more digitally and technologically advanced as a larger number of Pakistan’s population will be able to digitalise (to an extent). Moreover, you talk about how Pakistani TV shows are hypocritical and that they should be on the government’s list rather than dating apps. Now I’m not saying Pakistan is perfect, so stating that, Pakistani ‘dramas’ have been around for a long time and have become sort of engrained in the culture, especially in the older generation. This industry is Massive and attracts loads of jobs and opportunities. Saying that, because the industry is so large, all types of people have a crack at it, thus there are bound to be some so called ‘weird’ people coming in. Other film industries are no exception. Look at Hollywood for example, all types of immorality and vulgerness has taken place there, portrayed on the films and sometimes in real life. The fact is I could write a whole essay on how Hollywood movies are immoral and insensitive, which are ultimately encouraged by the arguably vulgar movie makers of that industry. The point I’m making is that every film industry will have ‘those’ producers/directors/storytellers, but because they are all in top positions no one dares to speak against them. Furthermore, these TV shows are, if compared to normal shows, much less frequent and definitely not the norm. Therefore, pointing out that the government should focus on Pakistani TV shows rather than apps does not add up; firstly, because the government’s ban or other forceful actions on Pakistani TV shows would give the government more than they warrant from their citizens (due to cultural uproar), which would be counterproductive (however government intervention on apps makes more sense as these apps are a gross disrespect to Pakistani culture/tradition, hence actually take the support of most Pakistanis); secondly, and more importantly one cannot diminsh one’s good/moral work by pointing out their immoral actions. Yes, the government’s neglect of Pakistani TV shows may be bad or possibly immoral, however this in no way deconstructs the good that the Pakistani government is doing in banning apps that are immoral. This tactic of exposing one’s faults just to devalue one’s worth of goodness is an old and vile method of combating someone’s actions/perspective without any proper and logical arguments. Moving on, another point you raise is that women do not have the free will to love whomever they want and that they cannot choose whom they marry in pakistan. This is totally against Islamic rules. It is against Islam to force your daughter or son into marriage. Please do not push views that are not true. Yes, what you say about dating being a ‘taboo’ is true in pakistan. However, this is not a bad thing. Islam and Christianity both agree that one should not commit adultery before marriage. Moreover, you ask ‘How the online apps are different from the old times rishta (matrimonial) websites?’. Since you asked I shall answer. The key difference between online dating apps and rishta websites is that one promotes adultery before marriage and the latter promotes sex after getting married. The second agrees with both Islamic and Christian views, thus perceived as acceptable in pakistan. These are my views on this subject. I respect your opinions and in no way seek to offend you. It would be great to hear back from you and possibly engage on a more humanly conversation. Thanks for reading. Best regards. Aadam Khan.

  8. ‘The print’ should be worried about the ban on online adult content by the Indian Government, rather than what Pakistan has been doing in their backyard.

  9. So you think by publishing your opinions in an Indian newspaper will make your voice be heard. No Ma’am you will just prove your cowardice and loyalty to Pakistan. If you don’t have guts to criticize in Pakistan them it is best that you either keep your mouth zipped or simply write for Pakistan. What you are doing is not journalism (because it requires bravery), it’s cowardice. Have the guts to say this in a Pakistani newspaper and then criticize as much as you want.

  10. First of all why The print does even care about these small things about Pakistan.
    For those who don’t know why this happened, the reason is that Sharia law doesn’t allow dating. SIMPLE

  11. One should appriciate this act as it is creating a lot of fuss in teenage girls . Is it right to chatt with stranger rather than ur cusion ur collegue or classmate. At least you meat to them on daily basis you know them you know their families and locality where they live. You and ur apps ,s friend are as for as signing out a account permanentmy

  12. ‘When you mess around with virtue and piety and get into the business of not letting the Musalman be as he is, insisting, much against his will, of making a better Musalman of him, then the steps you take in that direction are irreversible. ” Ayaz Amir

  13. There are two faces of Pakistan – one represented by what we profess and proclaim, and the other by what we actually do, and we live happily with this split personality, oblivious to the fact that the resulting hypocrisy has become a national characteristic. Not only in relation to drinking but to so many other things, we say one thing and do something completely different, without this contradiction disturbing us unduly. Ayaz Amir, 30/12/16

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