Social media censorship
The government continues its efforts to stifle dissent, this time with an overarching attempt to control social media. The new rules approved by the federal cabinet would require social media platform operators to register and open offices in Pakistan. The government claims that the rules would only target offensive content and anything violating Pakistani laws. The problem here is that the ruling party regularly acts extremely offended when criticised for its bad governance. Add to that the already vague Pakistani laws under which dissenting voices are silenced, and it becomes clear what direction these rules, if enforced, will take the country in.
The intent of the government is also made clear by the fact that it does not even have a public debate on the changes. The reason for this was summarised by an unnamed government official quoted in a news report as saying that the public would have raised a hue and cry if they knew this was on the cards. Free speech advocates have unsurprisingly pounced at the vagaries of the new rules, which have been plugged into the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. Media reports suggest the new rules will also not require parliamentary approval.
Social media companies apparently have just three months to set up offices in the country to deal with local authorities. More controversially, the new rules force social media companies to set up servers in Pakistan within one year and to turn over data of accounts on a broad range of vague charges.
Successive Pakistani governments have been among the top requesters of data from Twitter and Facebook. Most of these were based on flimsy legal grounds and were turned down for infringing on privacy laws in various jurisdictions. Such content is often not even intended for Pakistani audiences. We have heard of US university students being reported for ‘violating’ the laws of India and Pakistan for making bad jokes. Pakistan now essentially wants access to the online lives of such kids, which could ruin their futures. We can only wonder if the people who came up with these rules would appreciate all their youthful indiscretions being made public.
International sports events are now happening in Pakistan, in what comes as a proof of the improved security situation in the country. Of late, there has been a flurry of sporting activities in the country involving foreign teams and players. While international cricket is coming back to Pakistan, famed international footballers, wrestlers, skiers as well as squash and kabaddi players are also participating in events being organised here.
Over the last two months alone, Pakistan has hosted key international events viz, CNS International Squash Championship, Malam Jabba International Alpine Ski Cup, CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup, Kabaddi World Cup as well as international cricket matches with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club of England is the latest to arrive in Pakistan under the captaincy of Kumar Sangakkara for a weeklong tour. Moreover, the entire fifth edition of Pakistan Super League has been scheduled to be held in Pakistan for the first time, from February 20 to March 22. A lot of foreign cricketers are confirmed to grace the premier league.
Thanks to the armed forces of Pakistan in particular, we have been able to see foreign sportsmen in action on our soil which, for years, suffered from a severe drought of international sporting events in the wake of the 2009 terrorist attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore. That players from almost every continent are now coming to Pakistan stresses on the country being safe for foreign travellers. These players include skiers from Canada, Greece, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkey; squash stars from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Egypt; and kabaddi players from countries like India, Iran, Germany, England, Canada, Australia, Azerbaijan and Sierra Leone.
The revival of international sports in the country can be used as an example to quote for the purpose of promoting tourism in the country and attracting foreign investors, thereby earning the much-needed foreign exchange.