Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ghazal: Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai

China: Fighting terrorism not ‘mission impossible’

Terrorism is a common threat faced by the entire international community. With rising cases of terrorist attacks, the fight against terrorism seems to be a "mission impossible."
China is a victim of terrorism, as evidenced by the recent terrorist attacks in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Yunnan Province and Beijing. They demonstrated the urgent need to counter terrorism.
A top priority for the Chinese government is to take decisive measures against all forms of terrorism.
The Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement should be the top target in the fight. It is a UN-listed terrorist group and has been behind many of the terrorist attacks in China. It has close links with Al Qaeda and other evil forces.
China has joined hands with the UN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia and other international and regional organizations to crack down on terrorism.
The UN Security Council should play an important role in counter-terrorism. During the past few years, the UN Security Council has adopted a series of counter-terrorism resolutions, and the UN General Assembly has adopted the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. These have provided the necessary guidance for international cooperation.
China can step up its cooperation with the UN and other international and regional organizations in striking terrorist activities.
Counter-terrorism efforts should reject double standards. The international community should decisively combat terrorist activities, wherever or whenever they occur.
International cooperation in fighting terrorism should adhere to one standard. The condemnation by the Kremlin and the White House of the recent terrorist attack in Xinjiang is a welcome sign of international solidarity. Counter-terrorism efforts should be based on international cooperation and coordination.
China should strengthen domestic counter-terrorism legislation. So far China lacks a comprehensive law against terrorism, which should cover the definition of terrorism, legal penalties, terrorism financing, Internet terrorism and so on. Many legal experts have already called for a comprehensive law to govern counter-terrorism efforts in China.
Efforts must be made to step up law enforcement. Before a comprehensive law can be enacted, law enforcement can be enhanced.
At the same time, China should enhance cooperation with other countries in the areas of early warning mechanisms, surrender of terrorist suspects, full mutual judicial assistance, measures against terrorism financing, travel restriction, border control and intelligence exchanges among others.
More efforts are called for to build up counter-terrorism capacity. The recent incidents also demonstrated a lack of adequate counter-terrorism measures and capacity. China should not just build up its own counter-terrorism capacity, but also provide more counter-terrorism assistance to other developing countries.
Counter-terrorism efforts should aim to address both the phenomenon and its root causes in an integrated manner. Counter-terrorism efforts also need to advocate dialogue and exchange among civilizations, religions and ethnic groups to enhance mutual understanding and tolerance. One should not link terrorism with a particular race or religion.
Terrorism is a hard nut to crack, but we should unite in the fight against this evil. With courage and will, we can accomplish this "mission impossible."

Poroshenko has tough road ahead after winning Ukrainian election

Obama Makes Unannounced Memorial Day Trip to Afghanistan
President Obama arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday for an unannounced visit with U.S. Troops, officials said. The President landed at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan at about 8:15 p.m. local time (11:45 a.m. ET). Air Force One secretly left Washington from Andrew Air Force Base under cover of darkness at about about 10:30 p.m. Saturday night.
This is the fourth trip of his presidency and the first since a May 2012 visit where he visited the Presidential Palace and made an address to the nation.
Also traveling with the president are NSA Susan Rice, advisers John Podesta -- whose son is currently serving in Afghanistan, Dan Pfeiffer, Ben Rhodes — and country music star Brad Paisley, who will perform for troops during the visit. A pool of White House reporters and photographers accompanied the president under the strict condition that they not report on the trip until authorized, due to security considerations.

Pakistan: Rangeela remembered
The ninth death anniversary of legendary comedian, producer and director Muhammad Saeed Khan, commonly known as Rangeela was observed today.
Born in 1937 in Afghanistan, Rangeela started his professional career in 1957 with an Urdu film Daata. He also showed his talent as a musician, singer, lyricist, writer and distributor. Rangeela died in 2005 at the age of 68.

Pakistan needs ban on forced conversion: group

Pakistan needs to overhaul laws to ban forced conversions which are leading to rape or other abuse against hundreds of non-Muslim girls each year.
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace, which campaigns against religious violence in Pakistan, said that forced conversions generally involve the abductions of girls or young women who are then converted to Islam and married.
The girls are often raped or beaten and, when the family complains to police, the abductor responds that the girl has willingly converted, the group said in a report.
While exact figures are unverifiable, an estimated 100 to 700 Christian girls and at least 300 Hindu girls undergo such conversions in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation each year, the group said.
“These trends threaten religious freedom and public safety for all people in Pakistan,” the group´s director of advocacy, Amber Jamil, told a briefing at the US Congress.
The group called for Pakistan´s judiciary to provide a legal definition for forced conversions in the penal code. While abductors would violate multiple laws, Pakistan generally considers non-Muslim marriages invalid if one spouse later converts to Islam, the study said.
The group also called for more funding for the government to enforce laws and for a study to look more closely at the frequency of forced conversions across Pakistan.

Reporters Without Borders says, Geo TV closure illegal

International organisation Reporters Without Borders has expressed grave concern over the illegal closure of Geo TV in different cities of Pakistan, warning that if the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) did not stop unilateral action against Jang and Geo, they would raise the issue at the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU).
The Reporters Without Borders Asia Desk in-charge has said that a remedy must be found to counter the dangers faced by the staff of Jang and Geo.
“In our view, the prime minister and the government must take some solid steps to provide protection to journalists. We have already reacted to the notice issued by Pemra to Geo,” he said.
In an interview with this correspondent in Paris, he said, “In Pakistan there are laws and an authority to regulate the media and they should work in accordance with the prescribed rules, and the rules should be implemented in accordance with democratic principles. It is totally against principles if five members of Pemra recommend the closure of Jang and Geo. Moreover, it is never commendable to threaten the media on one pretext or the other. We are reviewing the situation in the wake of pressure on Geo and the Jang Group from different angles.”
He said: “It is more than one month but no progress seems to have been made in the assassination bid on senior anchorperson Hamid Mir. People should be kept on board in this connection. We are waiting for the report of the commission in this regard.”
He said that he was confident that the Supreme Court would provide justice to Jang and Geo. He said that they were much concerned with the situation.

Pakistan: ''Austerity Drive''----- Nawaz BMWs

BMWs, in multiples, exempt from tax. The FBR in one pocket and the national treasury in the other. Who wouldn’t want to be the PM of Pakistan? Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has to be given credit for this one. In a move of financial genius, he has used the austerity policy to exempt the two BMWs purchased for the PM from customs and sales tax. And we can thank him for this, the tax exemption saved the taxpayer a large chunk of the Rs 224 million that the cars cost, but there’s still millions that will go out of our pockets. Of the BMW’s in question, only 15 exist. Not only are they rare but they guzzle diesel like thirsty elephants. Even President Obama’s limousine cost less than these cars.
Not only is the government irresponsible with its own spending, the existing austerity measure may not even be a long-term solution. Under the pressure of the IMF, and its own fiscal mismanagement, Pakistan has been on an austerity drive for many years. In the beginning of May, the IMF conducted its third review of the $6.6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF), a bailout approved in September 2013, mostly to be invested in the energy sector. Pakistan had met two of three structural benchmarks. These were the increases in Taxation and the audit of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA). Pakistan has an inflation rate of 9.2 per cent and the IMF wants more reductions encouraging contractionary fiscal and monetary policy. The economy has a high fiscal deficit and a low tax-to-GDP ratio of 8.5%. With such numbers, it hardly makes sense for the government to spend so lavishly and gather unrecoverable sunk costs. Local production and its domestic demand is missing targets, there is a huge gap between savings and investment and imports and exports. The economy is relying on foreign inflows to finance the budget and balance of payments deficits. In the long run this increases the debt burden. If foreign borrowing, grants and privatisation proceeds are left out of the equation, the State Bank would hardly have any foreign reserves.
For the PM to have such disconnect with the state of the economy and the sentiment of the masses is inexcusable. The PML(N) made the decrease on reliance on foreign loans a rallying cry in the elections criticising the PPP. We are a nation plagued by more-of-the-same, no matter who’s in charge. In a country that can so easily create laws that allow child marriage and blatant polygamy, how hard can it be to have a law that constricts such spending of government officials?

Return us Pakistan of ’60s

Anyone remembers the Pakistan of ’60s and ’70s; any comparison with the lives we are living in the present day Pakistan? Blowing up of girls schools, targeting of polio workers, killing of religious and sectarian opponents, mobs wandering in streets ready to lynch anyone on blasphemy charges, even advocating or acquitting a blasphemy victim warrants death sentence, forcibly converting religion of females belonging to minority groups, places of worship and devotion — be these mosques, shrines, mandirs, churches are a favorite target, even health centers, school assemblies, funeral processions are no exception — these are all a hallmark of today’s Pakistan. Sadly all this is happening in the name of religion; obviously by doing so these extremists are not spreading religion but forcing people to run for their lives.
Why the Pakistan of ’60s and ’70s was not a fearful place — only because religious extremists and their supportive clergy were not that powerful to challenge the writ of the state, only because seminaries were not a closed place for outside world. A peaceful and progressive country was completely turnaround in ’80s when state went ahead to nurture religious extremists to achieve short-term goals. But as said if you dig a hole for others, you are sure to fall in it yourself — now there is no way to put this genie back in the bottle. After fighting so-called jihads in the neighbouring countries, these fanatics have turned their guns on their very creators. But main victim is the general public, being killed and maimed on daily basis in the cross fire between a confused state and extremists.
Looking for help to counter these gun totting gangs killing in the name of religion — yes, talk to Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to show the righteous path to fanatics. Oh, sorry, CII is busy deliberating on girls’ marriage age, first wife’s consent on second marriage — please come back after a decade, that is if you are alive by that time.
Please return us the liberal and progressive Pakistan of ’60s and ’70s.

Pakistan: Lahore Metro Train is another discriminatory project of PMLN
Wattoo said that the metro train project was the manifestation of the same strategy. He said that the discriminatory policy would not yield results because the people living in the rest of the regions would resist. Wattoo added that metro bus project costing 74 billion of rupees was completed with the funds allocated for health, education and providing civic amenities to the people right across the province. He added that dialysis patients were given three months’ time in government hospitals. Mostly patients die before the expiry of three months. He said that it was the constitutional duty of the government to provide education, health and food security to the people and the Punjab government had failed in this regard miserably. He blamed that province was under the control of dacoits and surge in heinous crimes like kidnapping for ransom, daylight robberies and rampant incidents of desecration of women have become common than exception and the people were terrified and suffering from acute sense of insecurity. He said that the metro train and other projects would be of no worth if people’s life and property were not safe. He demanded that the government should provide resources to the law enforcers instead of wasting huge resources on wrong priorities. He said that the government had resorted to heavy borrowings and it had borrowed more in one year what the PPP did in five years. The government has already crossed the threshold of Fiscal Responsibility and Debt limitation Act that allows 60 percent of the GDP, he pointed out.

Silencing the Baloch Malalas

By Mariyam Suleman Baloch
A 16-year old girl standing in the United Nations’ headquarter, addressing hundreds of well known officials form around the world, having pledge in her voice and rationality in her words who was gunshot for only a desire which in fact is one of her fundamental rights.
Today in this 21st century, every young girl has the same desire, “a desire to be an educated and empowered woman”. Malala Yousafzai supported female education in a society where empowering girls is considered “Haram”(religiously restricted), where as in the point of fact education for both men and women is equally supported in religion Islam. Today again thousands of Malalas are being vulnerable to circumvallate themselves at homes instead of sitting in their classrooms of schools. This time the victims are the Malalas from Balochistan. A province that had never been threatened by any religious extremist groups in the history before however today is a victim of an unknown religious extremist group that had been threatening female education.
Despite the fact that the Baloch had always remained wholly bound with its culture, this particular race had conferred no interest towards religious extremism. The Baloch society is structured on some of its meticulous mechanisms and women empowerment stands out of all other mechanisms. Primarily Baloch populace is a very secular race by the means of religious beliefs and it effusively encourages female education.
The biggest example of this fact is the recent protest against the previously unknown religious extremist group that had been threatening female education in the Pakistan-Iran bordering district Panjgur. Thousands of people including teachers, students, their parents and other residents protested against the threats to female education through a protesting rally this Monday. Pangjur as one the very first hub of educational spring in Makran has always remained the nucleus of the driving educational air. Recently the schools and English language learning centers are confronted by threats to female education through threatening letters and various attacks by a hidden religious extremist group that has been stimulating edginess amongst the female students, their parents, private schools and English language centers from the beginning of this month.
An English Language center’s teachers in Washnood, Panjgur were threatened and tormented by unidentified gunmen early this month. On the other hand pamphlets were sent to all the private schools threatening them to stop educating girls. A school van was burnt whilst it was about to leave for school early in the morning on 14th May. The schools and language centers remain closed days after the threats and attacks where as a shattering blackout by the government as well as the main stream media in terms of addressing the issue has increased the restiveness of the Baloch populace again.
Lack of educational institutions and negligence of government toward education in the geographically largest province had already tackled the habitants. Balochistan stands on the lowest step of illiteracy not only among the country’s other provinces but among the provinces or states of all the neighboring countries as well. Though, Balochistan is challenged by political and economic crisis, and poverty has dominated vast areas of Balochistan, but it’s not true that this province is ranked last for everything, definitely it stands alone on the top regarding natural resources and mega projects for instance the Deep Seaport Project in Gwadar, the Reko-Diq project in Chaghi which is believed to be the world’s 5th largest gold mine, the Saindak project in Chaghi again, the Natural gas project in Sui, the new road and railway projects from Gwadar to China.
The government has been interested in exploiting Baloch resources but has even failed to establish a single girls’ college in the so-called mega port city where thousands of Malalas have been craving for right to an education. Besides failing to protect the female students of Quetta when fourteen Malalas were assassinated after a suicide bomb attack by religious extremists in June 2013, the government also disregarded to assure the security of the female Baloch professors of Balochistan University when they were continuously threatened. And now the threats to female education in Panjgur, has increased another bullet to comfort Baloch Malalas. Yet, the government continues to remain silent on the whole situation.
The sustenance of Balochistan’s social, economic and civil development tremendously relies on education equally for both genders. If only the thorns in the itinerary of education for our Baloch Malalas are picked up, our women will be empowered and will be able to play imperative roles in each aspect of life, just like the women of the developed nations of today’s world.

Festering and forgotten, Pakistan's other war burns on

By Umar Farooq
The separatist insurgency in Balochistan Province is overshadowed by the Pakistan Taliban. Reporters often avoid the region, where the Pakistan Army allegedly targets political opponents.
In Turbat's main square, dozens of troops from the Frontier Corps spend their day nervously scanning traffic. One soldier, his machine gun resting on the bulge in his flak jacket, visits the square's shopkeepers one by one, checking in with them.
More than 55,000 troops are deployed in Balochistan, but this is a war most Pakistanis have no idea is occurring. An eight-year old insurgency – the fifth one in the province since Pakistan’s founding in 1947 ­– shows no signs of diminishing. Indeed, the insurgency appears to be growing as abuse by security forces goes unchecked. But the remote location and threats on journalists that report here mean very little information gets out. In the evening, the soldiers jump into pickup trucks and olive-drab armored personnel carriers to race down the main road in a daily show of force.
The front of nearly every shop they pass is covered in graffiti. One popular motif – “March 28th, 1948: Balochistan's bloody day” – laments the day that federal troops were sent in to curb the first separatist uprising here. Another reads, “We won't accept Pakistan's occupation of Balochistan.”
Last month, bombings by Baloch separatists killed 16 passengers on a train in Quetta, the provincial capital. Since 2006, 406 soldiers have been killed by the insurgents in roadside bombings and brazen daytime ambushes, many in or near Turbat. Last year, attacks by any of six different separatist groups killed 375 people, mostly civilians.
Arrests and dumped bodies
Insurgents are fighting for an independent Balochistan – nearly half of Pakistan by area – that controls its own natural resources. Despite vast fossil fuel and mineral deposits, the province lags behind the country in nearly every measure of development, from education to poverty reduction. To confront the insurgents, Baloch activists say, Pakistani authorities support their own militias that locals refer to as “death squads.” In January, armed men riding motorcycles snatched ten-year-old Chakar Baloch as he was walking through Turbat's bustling bazaar. A week later, his family got a call saying his bullet-riddled body had been found. According to the provincial government, nearly 600 bodies have been dumped in Balochistan in the last three years, almost all are whom were political activists or their relatives. Many were last seen in government custody. In and around Turbat, more than a hundred people picked up by security forces have later turned up dead, according to Ghani Parvaz, a local researcher with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “There is not a single village here that has not lost a member,” he says. Security officials have denied involvement in the killings. Journalists, who have been targeted by insurgents and the government alike, now rarely report from cities like Turbat. In the last three years, four senior reporters have been killed there. Even bookstores that carry Balochi-language history books calling for independence and biographies of Mahatma Ghandi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Che Guevara are liable to be raided by soldiers. The only Pakistani flags here are on the lapels of soldiers, or at the sprawling Frontier Corps base on the edge of town. News of crackdowns in other parts of the province trigger regular strikes, turning the city into a ghost town at least once a week. In a district where dozens of elected officials have been kidnapped in the last year, nearly a hundred elite counterterrorism police, in black uniforms and body armor, guard the home of Balochistan's Chief Minister, Abdul Malik Baloch. A Turbat native, he makes short, unannounced visits from the provincial capital 380 miles away. “Really, our writ doesn’t extend outside the city" of Turbat, his party's spokesman says. Like most elected officials, Mr. Baloch ran unopposed and won with a fraction of the registered votes after insurgents called a boycott that few dared to defy.
Painful memories
In a mud-walled home 15 miles outside Turbat, Khair Bibi adjusts the dark shawl around her shoulders as she rummages through a box of family photos. Reminded of her grief, she begins to tremble and sits on the floor to wipe tears streaming down her face. She says her two teenage sons, husband, and two brother-in-laws were all tortured and killed by Pakistani security forces. In 2001, Ms. Bibi's brother-in-law, Muhammad Bux, left home to look for work and never returned. One afternoon in 2007, Pakistani troops showed up, guns cocked, demanding to know where he was. Mr. Bux had become a commander in a militant group fighting the Pakistani state and the troops wanted to question his three brothers. It was first of many such visits. Then late one night in May, 2011, dozens of trucks carrying troops surrounded Bibi's home. Scrambling over the walls, they made their way towards her sleeping husband and his two brothers. “The kids and I held the officer's feet, begged him not to take them,” says Gul Nissa, Bibi's sister-in-law. “He said 'Don't worry, we are going to ask [your husband] some questions then return him.' Well, they returned him. They returned his body.” Over the next few months, the bodies of the three brothers turned up one by one. They showed signs of torture and were barely recognizable. Bibi's teenage sons, Shehak and Bibakr, were both picked up by security forces, then killed and dumped. Their older brother, Mazoor, says he was held for 11 months and endured daily beatings. Muhamad Bux, the brother who joined the insurgency, remains on the run. “It's not just us,” says Mazoor. “Every home here has someone picked up because their father, or their brother, or some relative became a fighter. Picked up and killed.”

Pakistan: Islamabad under attack
The heart of Pakistan’s capital has recently
come under attack. Twin bomb explosions have rocked the federal capital of Islamabad, killing one and injuring two others. The first attack occurred at around 2:00 am in the upscale shopping area of Super Market in F-6 sector. Just half an hour later, another explosion ripped through a car dealership in the F-9 market area. The F-6 blast is being reported to have been the work of a suicide bomber whose explosives vest may have detonated prematurely. His actual target seems to have been a mosque in the vicinity, known as a centre of tolerance and multi-sect concern. The second blast in F-9 did not originate due to a suicide mission; explosives had been hidden inside a parked vehicle and the damage was much more extensive. While the number of fatalities and injuries may not have been as many as could have been expected, these attacks mark a new, more sinister chapter in our fight against terror. Militancy is hitting very close to home now, no longer an ominous spectre confined to the tribal areas. The militants are telling us that they can strike anywhere and at any time. The moment we start to feel safe, we are made to realise that the terrorists have the upper hand.
And that is exactly why the government’s negotiations-centred approach has always been a bad idea. There is no talking to the likes of the Taliban. We may have had a month or so of relative calm while the ‘talks’ were in full swing but now, with absolutely no result in sight, the militants are back to their old tricks. The attacks in Islamabad are most probably in reaction to the military’s no nonsense ground offensive in North Waziristan where more than 60 Taliban commanders and fighters were killed. Military helicopter gunships pounded Taliban camps, showing the militants that after rounds of dialogue that were going nowhere, the Pakistan army would take matters into its own hands. The Taliban now are becoming defensive, going on the offensive and taking some very risky and desperate measures. Islamabad is the perfect target if the militants are pulling at strings. And that they are for this attack, while in the heart of the capital, was amateurish and reeked of poor planning. While the Taliban may be clutching at straws, it is the government that has to learn to let go of its straws in the wind that have worn thin. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government must realise that now, after so many losses incurred in the war against terror and after the many rounds of negotiations with the militants, there will be no let up in the murder of innocent civilians and destruction of property. One is glad that General Sharif has taken a firm stand after so much lingering by the government. This attack in Islamabad is a perfect illustration of the fact that as long as the Taliban are not dealt with firmly, there will always be danger to the sovereignty and writ of the state. There may have been relatively little damage as far as human life is concerned this time but there is no need to give the militants the chance to do it again and succeed in upping the numbers, whether in the capital or elsewhere in the country.

Pakistan: More than 200 Sikhs booked

Over 200 Sikhs were booked for attacking, assaulting and rioting at the Parliament House, police said on Saturday. The case was registered in response to a complaint lodged by the SHO of the secretariat police station, stating that over 225 Sikhs staged a protest and put up resistance at Radio Pakistan Chowk, when the police tried to intercept them. Later, they entered the Parliament House after breaking its gates. Fifteen Sikhs were nominated in the FIR, along with 225 unknown protesters. However, no arrests were made and the 12 Sikhs arrested from the spot at the time of the incident were released on the directions of a legislator, the police said. The police officials said the incident took place as there was no clear policy. The officers deployed at the spot sent wireless messages, seeking instructions, but got no response. As a result, the protesters first thrashed the police at Dhokri Chowk and later at Radio Pakistan Chowk and moved towards the Parliament House, the police said, adding that they tried to baton charge the protesters and fired tear gas shells but failed to intercept them. Later, the policemen deployed at the Parliament House surrendered their posts to save themselves from being manhandled by the protesters.

Analysis: Censoring tweets in Pakistan

“Twitter Institutes Country Withheld Content Tool in Pakistan for the First Time,” read the headline of a post published on the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse website on May 18, 2014. In it were details of five requests made to Twitter by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), seeking to restrict `blasphemous’ and`unethical’ tweets and user accounts, which Twitter complied with.
The requests made by the PTA named specific accounts and links to tweets that it wanted ‘withheld’ from Pakistan. The first request was made on May 5, 2014, and the most recent on May 14, 2014. The ‘law’ cited in all the requests, was the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). However, which PPC provision/clause was applicable in each case, was not specified. While it’s not difficult to guess what provision was used to justify blasphemous content, what acceptable legal definition PTA used for ‘unethical’ content that was accepted by Twitter is quite unclear.
The first reported use of Twitter’s Country Withheld Content tool was back in 2012, when Twitter blocked content posted by a “neo-Nazi group”, in compliance with local authorities in Germany. This tool, according to Twitter, serves the company’s goal “to respect users’ expression, while also taking into consideration applicable local laws”. Explaining the functionality of the tool, information on Twitter’s website suggests content is not removed but restricted from viewing for users in the country where the request originates. This, says Twitter, is determined by the IP address of its users. After receiving what it says is “a valid and properly scoped request from an authorised entity” i.e. a representative of government or law-enforcement agency, through an online form on its website, these are the steps that follow: Twitter notifies the user via email unless “legally prohibited from doing so”; the content in question is marked in grey through a “visual indicator”; the user can challenge the request or alternately remove the material at will.
Twitter is not the only platform to have rolled out a country-specific tool. Google and YouTube offer localised versions of their platforms that enable them to comply with local laws without violating free expression standards at home.
In the past, platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google have been blocked in countries for not complying with government requests to censor content. In Pakistan, Facebook was blocked for a month in 2010; Twitter for half a day in 2012 and the ban on YouTube continues, nearing two years now.
It appears that in an attempt to keep their services accessible and functioning, companies are inventing ways of finding a way to work with governments while trying to keep users happy at the same time. But the question is, is this middle-ground good enough for end-users? While anti-Islamic, blasphemous and pornographic content are cited as reasons for blocking of content on the Internet in Pakistan, it is no secret that much more has been blocked due to personal and political interests by those who have the least bit of clout and ability to exert themselves. On paper, this is what is known of the blocking ‘process’ vis-à-vis the Internet in Pakistan. The IMCEW (Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites), established in 2006 through an executive order, meets to deliberate on what blasphemous and pornographic content should be blocked on the Internet. The secretariat of the IMCEW is the Ministry for Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT), and the federal IT secretary its convener. The IMCEW issues directives to the PTA, with a list of what needs to be blocked. In 2012, through a policy directive, the MOITT instructed the PTA to establish a complaints cell to receive complaint from users regarding blasphemous content, and take action accordingly. The IMCEW comprises representatives of various ministries and a nominee of the Inter-Services Intelligence. But that is about all that is known of it. Who are the members, what are its terms of reference, how decisions are reached is not public knowledge, just like content removal and restriction requests never made public knowledge. The only instances Internet users in the country find out are through leaks by ISPs or, when a hue and cry is raised on social media when a website is found blocked. Neither the IMCEW nor the PTA derives any authority through law — and by law the reference is not to the PPC but legislation that vests powers in them to decide and route content requests. Yet, companies seem to be willing to work with what is in place — legal or not — in the interim. Ready compliance by companies without any legal verification at the very least is dangerously steering this in a direction where governments and companies decide the standards of what is acceptable and what isn’t, what users can view and what they can’t — more so in countries where citizens are disempowered due to missing safeguards for expression and right to information.