Thursday, March 16, 2017

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Pakistan - Banning social media

The National Assembly has passed a resolution condemning the blasphemous content on social media. A special parliamentary committee will investigate the matter. Earlier, the Islamabad High Court had ordered the government to check digital spaces for ‘blasphemy’ and the Interior Minister threatened to impose a blanket ban on the social media websites that were hosting the sacrilegious content. This is an unfortunate series of events where blasphemy appears to be the cover for censoring social media.
There is no question that offensive content hurts the feelings of many, but the lawmakers should understand that banning or restricting digital media is not the solution. Censorship is counterproductive and affects the rights of millions who rely on digital media, especially social networking sites for information, entertainment, as well as commerce.
Some social media sites including Facebook and YouTube were banned in the past as well. While the ban on Facebook was short term, YouTube remained inaccessible in Pakistan for approximately three years. The dynamics of media have changed significantly since then. Social media is a vital source of information and citizen engagement. Just because a few individuals post offensive materials is no argument to threaten censorship.
The PTA and IT Boards of the government have been working vigorously to promote Pakistani IT talent to the world, also showcasing the potential the market has for international investors. At such a time, a taking such a step will only deter the confidence of potential investors in the sector keeping in view a continuous threat of government’s fluctuating policies.
The ban on YouTube and the consequent mechanism devised by the government authorities and Google should serve as an example of how to tackle the issue. The anti-cybercrime law passed last year was severely criticised by right groups as the threat it poses towards the freedom of expression. Some senior officials have threatened that to prosecute people under that law for defamation. Given the vague definitions and high-handed approach of state functionaries, this law is open to abuse. Sadly, most of Pakistan’s political parties backed the law and the Parliament instead of safeguarding our rights has become an instrument to curtail our liberties.
In January, five bloggers went missing. A vigorous media campaign accused them of blasphemy. After three weeks of detention, these bloggers returned home and nothing came out of that unlawful process. The Parliament should have checked such excesses by the executive. Tragically, it has joined the chorus orchestrated by elements of state and sections of mainstream media. If nothing else, these developments are a sad reflection on the quality of democracy in Pakistan.

Pakistan wants Facebook, Twitter to help it combat blasphemy

Pakistan says it has asked Facebook and Twitter to help it identify Pakistanis suspected of blasphemy so that it can prosecute them or pursue their extradition.
Under Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, anyone found to have insulted Islam or the Prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Thursday that an official in Pakistan's Washington embassy has approached the two social media companies in an effort to identify Pakistanis, either within the country or abroad, who recently shared material deemed offensive to Islam.
He says Pakistani authorities have identified 11 people for questioning over alleged blasphemy and would seek the extradition of anyone living abroad.

Pakistan - Zardari knew nothing about visas to Americans

Former interior minister Rehman Malik on Wednesday said that he or Asif Ali Zardari did not know anything about the visas allegedly issued to the Americans ahead of the US raid to kill Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden (OBL) in 2011.
Addressing a news conference here, Malik blasted Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif for linking him, Zardari and former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani with the visa scandal after former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani claimed Pakistan facilitated the US operation.
In an article in The Washington Post, Haqqani claimed that he had played a role to facilitate the US to target and kill OBL.
He said that his “connections” “led to closer cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in fighting terrorism over the 3 [and a] 1/2 years I served as ambassador and eventually enabled the United States to discover and eliminate bin Laden without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military, which were suspected of sympathy toward Islamist militants.”
He added: “I brought the [US] request [to help] directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved. Although the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation, these locally-stationed Americans proved invaluable when [former US President Barack] Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.”
Haqqani maintained he was forced to resign in 2011 as ambassador as the military was annoyed with his role in the US raid.
Later, Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif demanded a parliamentary commission on the controversy.
He said that since Haqqani had named Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, there should be investigations.
He asserted that merely labelling Haqqani as a “traitor” will not be enough.
Rehman Malik rejected Khawaja Asif’s allegations saying: “If Khawaja Asif claims I knew about US visas he is wrong, these are false, baseless, point-scoring accusations and I strongly refute them. Khawaja Asif’s allegations are baseless and a pack of lies.”
He added: “Neither Asif Ali Zardari nor I as Interior Minister of Pakistan knew about issuance of visas to Americans.
Malik said that the Interior Ministry “deals only with renewal of visas rather issuance of visas.”
Senator Malik also refuted allegations levelled by Husain Haqqani that Asif Ali Zardari and Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani were taken into confidence, while issuing visas to the US officials.
He said that no sensible person would believe such statements as the issuing authority of visa was the ambassador and the embassy staff and President of the country had nothing to do with the process.
“The visa is issued to any applicant after due legal process and scrutiny by embassy staff including the military attaché,” he added.
Senator Malik however, said he would welcome if a parliamentary commission was formed to investigate allegations made by Husain Haqqani.
“Any issue related to national security should be investigated, either it's Kargil debacle, Dawn leaks, drones or issuance of visas to foreign nationals either to Americans or Indian,” he said.
Malik demanded that not only Haqqani’s claims but all those issues, which were related to national security and were still unresolved must be investigated by the same commission.
“Who allowed American forces to attack Afghanistan, while using Pakistani soil and who allowed drones attacks inside Pakistani soil must also be investigated,” he said.
Malik demanded that then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz should also be brought back for allegedly validating and endorsing Pervez Musharaf’s decision of allowing American forces to attack Afghanistan from Pakistani soil and operate in the tribal belt.
He said that when the US army as a whole was allowed to enter Pakistan and “use our space and soil then how is it possible that operators of CIA will not come to operate.”
He said Musharraf must be questioned for giving Shamsi Airbase to the US for use as a base for CIA and United States Air Force surveillance and drone operations against militants in Federally Administered Tribal Areas in October 2001.
Malik said that none but Asif Ali Zardari as President of Pakistan ordered the US to vacate the Shamsi Airbase on November 26, 2011 after the tragic incident of Salala in which 24 Pakistan army soldiers were martyred.
He added that Obama later pressurised the PPP-led government on the Shamsi Airbase but Zardari refused to budge.
“Even Obama didn’t meet Asif Ali Zardari in an international conference for the same reason. It is baseless to say that PPP’s government allowed Americans to operate inside Pakistan. The fact is that the PPP stopped Americans to use the soil of Pakistan. It is the need of the hour to know who allowed Americans to operate inside Pakistan,” he contended.
Senator Malik said that the nation wanted to know the facts of Kargil debacle and also about the Justice Javaid Iqbal’s Abbottabad Commission Report.
He urged that a Powerful National Reconciliation Truth Commission should be formed to investigate all the ambiguous national catastrophes including Kargil debacle and the Dawn leaks.
He said that nation wanted to know that why the government was hesitating in initiating trial against Indian spy Kulbushan Yadav so the matter should be referred to the same commission.
He said that government so far could not raise the issue of Kulbushan Yadav in the United Nations which was matter of great concerns.
Senator Malik said: “We want the commission to also investigate the issuances of visas to Indian nationals to work in Pakistan and who were the ultimate beneficiaries in Pakistan.”
Referring to the article by a renowned journalist, he said while investigating the article of Husain Haqqani, the claims of that journalist should also be investigated who wrote that he and some other journalists were called on by a politician in Murree who informed them about the soon fall of Benazir Bhutto’s government and named himself to be the next Prime Minister.
Malik said that soon he would be preparing the Terms of Reference for the commission so that all issues related to national security and interest could be investigated thoroughly.

Pakistan - Uproar over CIA claims attempt to distract from Panama issue

Husain Haqqani has said that he made no admissions neither hurled any accusations in his opinion piece that has stirred a storm in the political circles in the country.
The former Pakistan ambassador to the United States said that he had penned the opinion piece on reports emerging in the media, adding that the matter was being blown out of proportion to divert attention from Panama and other issues.
Haqqani clarified that he had admitted to the presence of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Pakistan, but hadn’t claimed someone had intentionally facilitated their presence.
He also criticised those asking for a parliamentary commission to probe the issue, saying the same people had termed a commission on memogate inadequate.
“The more one digs into the matter, the more will be revealed,” said Haqqani, adding that people should not take the matter seriously.
In his article, "Yes, the Russian ambassador met Trump’s team. So? That’s what we diplomats do” — published in The Washington Post, Haqqani had admitted that with the authorisation of the-then elected civilian leaders he, as Pakistan’s ambassador to US, had facilitated the presence of large number of CIA operatives in Pakistan to track down Osama bin Laden.
Haqqani identified the then president Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani as his “civilian leaders”, and revealed, “In November 2011, I was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle. Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army — even though I had acted under the authorisation of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.”
Haqqani wrote: “The relationships I forged with members of Obama’s campaign team also led to closer cooperation between Pakistan and the United States in fighting terrorism over the 31/2  years I served as ambassador. These connections eventually enabled the United States to discover and eliminate bin Laden without depending on Pakistan’s intelligence service or military, which were suspected of sympathy towards Islamist militants.”
The former ambassador said, “Friends I made from the Obama campaign were able to ask, three years later, as National Security Council officials, for help in stationing US Special Operations and intelligence personnel on the ground in Pakistan. I brought the request directly to Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who approved. Although the United States kept us officially out of the loop about the operation, these locally stationed Americans proved invaluable when Obama decided to send in Navy SEAL Team 6 without notifying Pakistan.”