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 responses to “Who is giving Pakistan a bad name?”

  1. Laeeq says:

    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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