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News Analysis |

On Tuesday, the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, defending the government’s drive against social media activists, said the government would not give a free hand to social media as Pakistan’s values, constitution, and decency were under threat on the platform. He will be asking the social media platforms to link accounts to individual telephone numbers so that each individuals usage and comments can be tracked.

Pakistan is traveling down the same road as President Erdogan is taking in Turkey, is being criticized worldwide for the government crackdown and harassment of social media activists and journalists on the ostensible pretext of religious and national interests. But which many attribute to government suppression of opposition party supporters prior to upcoming elections next year. Imran Khan has promised that he will take to the streets if his supporters are harassed.

The interior minister is standing firm and stressed upon the need for devising a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for social media.

“I will request the National Assembly speaker to devise a social media code of conduct with different political parties. No curb is being imposed on social media. We are not going to take any illegitimate measure, but freedom without accountability is not acceptable,” Nisar said.

Read more: Pakistani Govt’s War against “Social Media”?

He, as the scion of a decorated military family, also went on to say that “anti-army” content will not be tolerated.

Why is Chaudhary Nisar singling out the social media platform as the only place that content against the army will not be tolerated? Does the fact that opposition activists attack the government using that platform have anything to do with it being singled out. What about the print and electronic media?

“For the last two weeks, posts making a mockery of Pakistan Army have surfaced,” he said in his briefing. “I believe that no Pakistani can have made these remarks against the Army,” he said.

“After the [ISPR] tweet and subsequent clarification, the reaction I saw on social media was a matter of concern for me,” he said. “Such posts are not tolerable.”

The last two days, FIA has arrested and taken computers from dozens of people who have “maligned” state institutions. Taha Siddique, a journalist has been charged for his comments about the Army on Twitter.

As Nisar tells us Pakistan has been too soft on many who have tarnished the image of the soldiers that have sacrificed for the country. Action against them was merited.

Nisar’s cherry-picking of dissenters

However, there are a few things that we must ask of the Interior Minister, who has become a hero in a matter of days for the army community as well as for the PML-N supporters.

While there is no question that the security of the state is paramount and must be protected as is done in all nations. But if this is the reason, then why is Chaudhary Nisar singling out the social media platform as the only place that content against the army will not be tolerated? Does the fact that opposition activists attack the government using that platform have anything to do with it being singled out. What about the print and electronic media? The latter has seen as much if not more criticism of the army. However, due to government advertising patronage, these platforms have not seen as much government criticism.

Read more: Civil-Military relations on social media: Has Pakistan turned into a laughing stock for the world?

Will the accountability of the individuals tweeting against the army start only after the second notification on the revoked tweet or will he also take action against the virulent anti-army comments that took place when the original tweet went out on April 29 and a hashtag #RemoveDGISPR was started. How many of those people have been apprehended and questioned so far? This is an important question since at this time most of the people who wrote against the army were PML-N supporters, who were angry with the army, indeed it is alleged that many were from the now infamous media cell that is run by Maryam Nawaz.

Will the definition of state institutions soon come to encompass any criticism of the government, bureaucracy, Supreme court as well as the army? This is pertinent given the Panama leaks corruption case that the Prime Minister is facing, and the JIT will report to Supreme Court. Are we going down the road to total Orwellian control by the government over speech that it does not like? Who will define malign versus criticism?

Will the interior minister do anything about DAWN and the reporter concerned over the Dawn Leaks story? For, at that time, he had stated that the article was written against ‘national interest’ and the army.

Will he be holding Khawaja Asif and the Prime Minister accountable for talking against the army? Indeed will the PM and Maryam Nawaz be held accountable for calling someone a friend – Sajjan Jindal – who is vitriolic against the Pakistan army? Parth Jindal is Sajjan Jindal’s son.

In this video the Nawaz Sharif condemns the army for taking its helicopters paid by Pakistani people) and using them against the people of Swat during the army action to clear out terrorists in 2009.

Khawaja Asif in this video in Parliament accuses the army of losing wars despite billions of Rupees that have been taken by them. He then went on to accuse the Army of stripping the meat of the bones of the people and having no self respect in asking for even more.

In his enforcement of what is to be sacrilegious where does he intend to stop? Will twitter and facebook sites be banned because they talk against the Pakistan army or Pakistan? Today, there were reports that the India Today site was banned in Pakistan after it published an article claiming that Lt General Amjad Shoaib had confirmed that Jadhav was picked up from Iran.

Read more: PTI protests Govt.’s crackdown on social media activists

The interior minister is curtailing Pakistan’s free speech on the pretext of looking after the Army’s honor has little support from the population or the world. But it seems the people’s will is used only to stuff ballot boxes. The use of the army’s name to weld Orwellian control will only create more hatred for the army and many senior army people are against what the Minister is doing.

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