Who is giving Pakistan a bad name?

Posted on September 30, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Education, Science and Technology
31 Comments
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Adil Najam

They seem to be at it again (here). Is this another case of super-patriots and our unintelligent intelligence types trying to control and direct free speech and use of the internet?

This morning my email box contains four different messages saying that ‘pkblogs‘ — the technology being used by bloggers in Pakistan to circumvent the stupid ban that Pakistan has on blogspot.com blogs — is itself blocked. This means that Pakistanis cannot, for now, view or visit any blogs on this service (this is the largest blogging platform, especially for Pakistani blogs).

[For those who do not know, Pakistan has – ever since the Danish cartoon controversy – blocked/banned all blogspot.com blogs and some other website. Ingenious Pakistanis had devised ways to get around this and had also helped Indian bloggers in doing the same after the Indian government clamped down its own ban after the Mumbai bombings. The Indian ban has now been removed, the Pakistan ban continues, thrives, and is now set to be expanded. (More here)]

Most sad for me was to read my friend S.A.J. Shirazi on his blog:

End of Blogging Era in Pakistan
While blogs on Blogspot are banned here, bloggers have been using pkblogs.com or inblogs.net to access the blogs but this morning both these sites seem to be down. Is this the end of blogging era in Pakistan? I am wondering while contemplating my options and future of blogging in this part of the world?

Shirazi is a mild, reasoned and reasonable soul and not prone to hyperbole. For him to contemplate the ‘end of blogging’ in Pakistan suggests to me that this is now really getting beyond a silly agency prank.

Of course, it could just be a technical glitch (UPDATE: It is! But, read on, the point of this post is still valid!). Over the last many weeks there seems to be an on-again off-again pattern to the ban. For the paranoid – and you have to be paranoid if you live through this – it seems that someone is testing and trying out new technologies to clamp down a ‘real’ ban; one that Pakistanis cannot circumvent.

This, however, is not about conspiracy theory. It is about government policy.

According to Dawn (3 September, 2006):

The government on Saturday set up a committee to streamline mechanism for screening and blocking websites offering objectionable contents. “This is the first-ever focused attempt by the government to block offensive websites, warranted because of growing concern among people about indecent content,� a senior government official said.

 Constituted by the Ministry of Information Technology, its Secretary Farrukh Qayyum would preside over the body to examine contents of websites reported or found to be offensive or containing anti-state material.

 Representatives of ministries of interior, cabinet, information and broadcasting and security agencies would be part of the body that would operate within the parameters set out in the Amended Telecom Act 2006.

 It would evaluate and examine web material besides entertaining public requests for blocking websites and decide cases on merit and advise the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to take appropriate action.

A scathing and pertinent commentary was written on this by blogger KO (which I recommend reading in full) which argues:

Enlightened moderation means the government will only block those websites not enlightened enough to follow their religious, political, ethical and moral values. Websites promoting fast food and fake medicines are OK, as are spam websites. Sheikh_Chilli wrote over at wiredpakistan that while the IT ministry has failed in all of it’s basic tasks, “they sprint like crazy to curb our freedom of speech at the drop of a hat. One individual, some egg-head bureaucrat sitting in a ministry, is now going to decide what info the 160 million Pakistanis can, or cannot see”…

…this will be the busiest Ministry by far, as they go through the 14 billion or so porn pages on the internet, making sure each one is “safeâ€Â? to visit. A few months ago, there was a great hue and cry about Pakistan leading the world in online searches for sex on Google. The real reason has finally come out – it was the legions of govt. employees and ministers scouting out the internet to make it safer for the “common manâ€Â?! So, any one of the 1 million employees of these 5 agencies can block any website they don’t like. What fun!

Another veteran Pakistani blogger, Teeth Maestro, offers sane advice:

I feel that censorship will not stop the problem, its like beating a child and hope he behaves, which we never will. My opinion is to keep an open Internet policy and let the people of Pakistan decide what content they would like to see, leave it as a non-issue and no one will notice anything, make it an issue and the entire world watches closely with a microscope. Would some please tell these goofs how to run a country!

But elsewhere Teeth Maestro also voices the desperation and helplessness of many who can see all to well that no one cares:

We can argue all day about this issue but who is going to listen, does our voice actually matter or are we beating our head against a stone wall… I suspect that the problem is bound to get worse, it already has, started off with a list of 12 websites went on to blacklist the entire blogspot domain and now we just sit by and watch them tapping our fingers awaiting what will come next.

And, that is the point. No one cares. Our media is mostly silent. Opinion-mongers and columnists are too busy writing about such ‘practical’ matters as solving the masala-e-falasteen and pontificating about WOT and what not. And as the reaction to my last post on this demonstrated, Pakistani abroad whose quami ghairat is otherwise so easily aroused also do not think this is worthy of their outrage.

And, maybe it is not. Blogging is not a big deal. Very few read blogs (or anything else) in Pakistan, and even fewer write. So what if another censorship agency is formed? So what if the effect is curtailing free speech? So what if to silence a few irresponsible sites all blogs on this platform are blocked? Why should we care?

We should. This is not about blogs. This about some self-styled super-Pakistanis deciding for us what we should think. This is about another state agency treating us like retards; as if we cannot decide what is or is not good for us and only they can.

More than that this is really bad public policy. Even if one were to assume that some sites need to be banned (and, I don’t).

  • First, they are punishing every blogger for the assumed sins of a few.
  • Second, there is no way they or anyone can actually censor the Internet (here) they can build whatever mousetraps they build, but the mice are smarter than them.
  • Third, if anyone thinks that Pakistan’s image is being damaged by the content of these supposedly ‘anti-Pakistan’ sites; think again. The only thing sullying Pakistan’s image, are government regulations like this one. You want a better image for Pakistan, General Sahib? Let the bloggers be and give a shout-down to whoever came up with this goofy idea.

The whole thing is like trying to squat flies with a cannon. You end up making a lot of noise, raising a lot of dust, and doing no harm to the flies… and getting a lot of dirt on yourself.

31 Comments on “Who is giving Pakistan a bad name?”

  1. September 30th, 2006 1:58 pm

    Worry not – I have investigated the issue and it appears that this temporary outage is more like a small server issue and I have been assured that the guys (Yasir Memon and Naveed Memon) are working hard to solve this and inshallah we shall be up rocking very soon.

    Take this as just another wake-upper for everyone how censorship hurts. we take so much for granted so its an indicator that we have learned to live with it by creating our very own bypassing technology rather then addressing the actual issue at hand.

    SAY NO TO CENSORSHIP

  2. September 30th, 2006 2:05 pm

    Teeth Maestro, thank you for that news. I am very glad it is only a technical glitch.

    But as I had mentioned, and as you and others quoted here have been saying, the real point is the larger ongoing censorship and even more this new ccommittee they are forming. This stuff just does not make sense. It not only does not solve the problem it is supposed to solve, it only creates more. If we just take it for granted we will eventually ‘get used’ to it. We must relentlessly make a noise about that.

  3. September 30th, 2006 2:24 pm

    Sorry for the inconvenience folks, we have had some massive server problems all day today (Sep 30, 2006), but we’re working hard to resolve this…

    We have moved pkblogs.com and inblogs.net to a dedicated server, that means it will be much more faster than before! The switching of DNS is taking time, so both of the sites will be down for few more hours…. Inshallah everything will be normally by tomorrow morning!!

    But we just wanted to inform you that, this outage of pkblogs doesn’t have anything to do with the Government banning pkblogs.com… Lets all hope they don’t!!!

    Keep Blogging :)

  4. September 30th, 2006 2:48 pm

    I agree with you Adil that its not about blogs anymore. There are 101 ways to get around this blocking issue. The problem is that nobody is there to listen and learn about the problem of curtailing people’s right to speak freely however everybody is ready to badger and tease. As a result serious bloggers are switching to typepad or wordpress.

    I wonder what would happen if PTA decides to block wikipedia. They have done it once for few days. I am almost sure that sanity will not prevail.

    wassalam

  5. Franz says:
    September 30th, 2006 2:55 pm

    I feel as if I’ve been missing out on some propitious moments.. As Max Beeerbohm writes in his essay ‘Laughter’, “Laughter rejoices in bonds … I will wager that nine tenths of the world’s best laughter is laughter at, not with. And it is the people set in authority over us that touch most surely our sense of the ridiculous. Freedom is a good thing, but we lose through it golden moments. The schoolmaster to his pupils, the monarch to his courtiers, the editor to his staff–how priceless they are!”

    Here in the states, Republicans are of some assistance in this regard, though your IT ministry seems to have refined to a more advanced degree Czeslaw Milosz’s ‘suction of the absurd’.

    Here are a couple more…from google:

    A free press can be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom a press will never be anything but bad. ~Albert Camus

    Grow your tree of falsehood from a small grain of truth. Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality. Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself, so the weary travelers may find repose. ~Czeslaw Milosz

    What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books. ~Sigmund Freud, 1933

    Did you ever hear anyone say, “That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me?” ~Joseph Henry Jackson

    To choose a good book, look in an inquisitor’s prohibited list. ~John Aikin

  6. Aziz Akhmad says:
    September 30th, 2006 3:09 pm

    “Sehra pay lagay taalay aur qufl parray ban par
    Ab shehr badar ho kar, deewanah kidhar jaaye?”
    Faiz

  7. September 30th, 2006 3:17 pm

    Thanks naveed to inform all of us. your volunteer efforts are highlt appreciated.

  8. Samdani says:
    September 30th, 2006 3:23 pm

    You are exactly right. This is about more than blogs. Specially like the last part about why this is bad policy. Your anology is spot on: “The whole thing is like trying to squat flies with a cannon. You end up making a lot of noise, raising a lot of dust, and doing no harm to the flies… and getting a lot of dirt on yourself.”

  9. Shabir Alam says:
    September 30th, 2006 9:10 pm

    Ok, first of all everything on the Internet is “un-censorable” and it doesn’t take a genius to understand that. Using some proxy servers and/or spoofing your originating IP will let you bypass the filters – Bunch of software tools and utlities are available out there that even a novice can install and bring to use – Done.

    Second, the slant in this article is as if Musharraf has personally ordered this ban. I highly doubt it. I just checked on the Ministry of Information Technology website [http://www.pakistan.gov.pk/ministries/index.jsp?MinID=7&cPath=78] and PEMRA, both the ministers happen to be civilians – but actually do not appear to have qualifications for this field. So instead of bashing Musharraf, why don’t you just call or email them and discuss this with ministers directly? If you love democracy then why not excersize it? No one is stopping you right? Has anyone of you actually done that?

    I can volunteer to demo them how to technically “break” their ban and whatever they are doing is useless. They will get the point and act accordingly I am sure.

    Second it doesn’t benefit Musharraf to have a ban on blogspot, as there are many pro-Musharraf blogs out there. He rather have people read them – and I am saying this in terms of your “General Sahib” mindset, since I do not believe nor have seen or heard of a convincing argument that our president has ordered this. It could purely be because of those in-competent civilian ministers doing a piss poor job.

    Also I will mention that if Govt. of Pakistan can successfully create a process or system where they can block all the “objectionable” sites including porn, they can earn billions by licensing it to 1000′s of corporations within US only. There is a huge demand for such a thing but none of the commercially available products like Net Nanny can even come close to achieving the objectives.

  10. Hammad says:
    October 1st, 2006 1:08 am

    So, the general comes and spends 2 weeks spending the country’s money talking all the time in ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’ and taking personal credit for everything that is good in the country. But if it is anything bad, then it is there ‘in-competent civilian ministers’. Who, by the way, HE appointed.

    By the way, sir, are you sure you are commenting on the right post. This one does not even mention Musharraf till the very last sentence, and that in the passing!

  11. Shabir Alam says:
    October 1st, 2006 1:41 am

    Yes I am in the right post and if you haven’t noticed the crux of the problem was boiled down to “General Sahib”; ‘in the passing’… So yes I get it and am able to read between the lines.

    And why is everybody so worried about him spending Pakistan’s money while visiting the US? Whose money should the government officials use when they travel abroad? If he didn’t meet the US President, Afghan President Karzai and didn’t mention a word about Pakistan, and didn’t try to answer tough questions regarding Pakistan’s policies, and didn’t go infront of US media to defend Pakistan’s actions, and didn’t discuss other misconceptions about Pakistan, and didn’t appear in the UN for a speech and Q&A – yes then I will say why did he use Pakistan’s money? But as we all know he did all that and more and governments are suppose to pay for it. If leaders are not suppose to talk about ‘I did this and that’ and ofcourse for the country then I suppose who is? One thing he has proved that he is a statesman without even trying…

    While here, he also promoted his book which by the way is about Pakistan and not some fiction – Tops the chart as one of the best sellers and basically marketed Pakistan which is his country also just like other Pakistanis. Name one Pakistani book that was recognized at this level? Name one Pakistani leader who can so eloquently present Pakistan’s views to the West and its biased media engine? Revisiting the past and scanning through images of Nawaz and Benazir nothing sticks to my mind atleast…

    And the ministers that ‘HE’ appointed in your words are still accessible. Do not drop the ball and just assume its a dictatorship – get up and smell the English Pakistani Tea and revive the English Parliamentarian deMockeracy – its all good ;)

  12. October 1st, 2006 4:04 am

    Brother Shabbir,

    you have read a lot in this post which is not actually there. Its not about being anti or pro Musharraf, as the ban on blogspot actually came during the Danish cartoon controversy. Pakistani bloggers are just wishing that people in the government start reading about the dynamics of controlling information flow.

    Even if they had to ban the viewership of cartoons, they should have been diligent enough to find and restrict the blogs that were involved in publishing the cartoons. Why just the blogger? Why not other hosts, websites and european newspapers? Why not google.com itself because people dying to see the cartoons can google them easily. It is obvious that there is no end to it and does not require a lot of grey matter to realise and accept that.

    Yes, many of us have e-mailed and informed the agencies about the ban on blogspot including me. Go visit the blogger google group and you will know. Even people from google have tried to approach the govt but nobody cares.

    I fail to understand how you read an anti Musharraf slant in this post.

  13. Shabir Alam says:
    October 1st, 2006 5:19 am

    I may have Abu, especially here:

    Third, if anyone thinks that Pakistan’s image is being damaged by the content of these supposedly ‘anti-Pakistan’ sites; think again. The only thing sullying Pakistan’s image, are government regulations like this one. You want a better image for Pakistan, General Sahib? Let the bloggers be and give a shout-down to whoever came up with this goofy idea..

    I suppose General Sahib has nothing better to do but to lift this ban that he may care less about, plus it comes across as if its him who wants a better image for Pakistan and rest of us are the victims of his dictatorship… Well, I suppose he may be able to influence lifting the ban, lets give him a shout too then!

  14. Shabir Alam says:
    October 1st, 2006 5:26 am

    Off-Topic: About the pictures on this site… Whoever is posting them please note that you are stretching/cropping some of them beyond maximum resolution capacity and they turn out to be pixelated and low-rez. Very annoying! I know you have a poll going on about pictures and how many, the only thing I will say is if you want to use pics, please keep them clean and good rez. No matter how great the site is, the low-rez pixelated images quickly bring the image down and no pun intended here ;)

  15. Mast Qalandar says:
    October 1st, 2006 8:34 am

    To Shabir Alam’s highly eloquent and patriotic response I would only say:

    “Woh baat saaray fasaanay maiN jis ka zikr na tha
    Woh baat un ko bohut naagwar guzri hai” (Faiz)

  16. Shabir Alam says:
    October 1st, 2006 7:59 pm

    Mast? Are we trying to be funny?

  17. October 2nd, 2006 12:07 am

    Naveed the sites are still down. I am just wondering why a ‘DNS propagation’ issue is taking so long? I still see ‘bad httpd conf’ error.

    Also, why are you hosting site in Pakistan region. Awab’s bloggers.pk can successfully grab xml feeds from blogspot websites because the site is hosted outside of Pakistan. Kindly let us know.

  18. eteraz says:
    October 3rd, 2006 9:05 pm

    Adil,

    Thanks for this. Listen, do me a favor, when you get some time. Draw up a letter. Short and powerful that expresses your disagreement with blog curtailment in Pakistan and create a blog-letter-writing campaign where people can use your form letter to write to President Musharraf and other personalities. I will get the word out wide and far via my blog and some of my contacts. You try and focus on getting in touch with Pakistanis within Pakistan themselves. Our goal shuld be for a million letters.

    When and if you have the form letter, let me know. You have my contact.

  19. October 7th, 2006 10:46 am

    Blogger beta has gone forever in Pakistan. I couldn’t log in to my blog since last week now. I guess its time to retire.

  20. October 9th, 2006 4:04 pm

    [...] ***Non Skeptical Essays has moved*** From: Non Skeptical Essays TAG IT! assalamu alaykumI have been asked by my friend Abu Muhammad to inform readers of this blog he has moved. He will now be blogging at:http://hangingodes.wordpress.com/So please update your links, blogrolls, feeds etc.Abu Muhammad explains more here at his new blog:The real reason I have shifted my old blog to WordPress is because I am unable to manage the pain and mental agony any longer. My frustration is multiplied as access to blogger is not only blocked (in Pakistan) but users (Pakistani) who have switched to blogger beta cannot even log in to their [...]

  21. Pakistani Blogger says:
    October 12th, 2006 11:52 am

    It is still difficult to get to blogs in Pakistan. Those who said no one listens were right. They don’t listen and they don’t care. I just heard that they are getting ready to begin ‘content review’ … blog by blog!

  22. Pakistani Blogger says:
    October 18th, 2006 7:13 pm

    More and more bloggers in Pakistan are just giving up…..

  23. PakiNetizen says:
    October 15th, 2006 8:26 pm

    I do not think a blog by blog check is feasible. But, yes, they are going ahead with the making of lists of things to block. Any suggestions. He he. B-)

  24. Sharj says:
    November 3rd, 2006 3:25 pm

    I think Blogger is no more for us, Now Blogger Beta is not working in Pakistan. Many Users have lost their blogspot addresses as Blogger beta users can’t login.

  25. Hira says:
    November 5th, 2006 6:21 am

    I come after a two month gap and find Beta Blogger blocked now. Can’t even access it through an anonymizer. Feel like banging my head in the wall. Is there any way I could bypass it?

  26. Asad says:
    January 28th, 2007 8:42 am

    Perhaps the approach used should be that of making more blogging sites. Or perhaps existing bloggers who want to move can blog on other Pakistani blogging sites? Such censorship is definitely damaging to our image.

    For all I can do on an individual level, if some Pakistani blogger wants to blog on my site, he/she can contact me and I can add them to my sites blogging team.

    Let us step ahead ourselves to counter such acts by the government. Perhaps we can gain media attention (Geo?) so that the issue is highlighted on a national level.

  27. March 7th, 2007 1:40 am

    [...] Adil Najam [...]

  28. Rohail says:
    March 10th, 2007 1:55 pm

    The President practiced his right constitutionally under Article 207.

    He also met the Chief Justice and inquired from him personally about the allegations against him; before dismissing him. Which I think is proper way to do so.The CJP was given chance to clarify. And it was not negotiations as people say.

    Lastly, the Chief Justice will be given chance to present his case also in front of the Supreme Court judiciary Committee that has been formed to evaulate the merits.

    If found guilty he will be permanently removed; otherwise he’ll be back as the CJP. Fair enough!

    So the things are moving in a systematic manner. And, check and balances should be made. CJP is also accountable.

    And, above all NO ONE in the Judiciary/Courts should be politically affliated. The CJP instead of dealing with 100,000 cases faced by ordinary Pakistanis, was getting into Politics favoring the Opppostion parties…..by on-purpose going against the Government!

    How come his son drives a BMW and he himself owns Mercedes Benz??? Which Opposition parties back him?

    Sometimes in order to do 80% Right a 20% Wrong has to be done!!!

  29. March 18th, 2007 12:56 am

    [...] Although framed in the context of the role of the Pakistan’s blogistan (’blogsphere’ for non-Pakistanis), the lively conversation was, in fact, broader and looked also at why people blog, whether it makes a difference, and what the future potential of blogging might be. It also looked at the issue of blog bans in Pakistan, and the follies of such policies. I enjoyed the conversation very much. Not only because I can now match ‘voices’ to names but also because it made me think more clearly about why we spend so much of our time on this, whether it is really worth doing, and what it might mean in a broader context. [...]

  30. Rania says:
    January 19th, 2009 7:42 am

    I first visit in this blog. I find this blog is useful and important.

  31. Laeeq says:
    July 31st, 2010 12:01 am

    Very well said. Even though this is old, the message is true even now. We ourselves give us a bad name.

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