‘Is Pakistan Following China’s Lead in Controlling Social Media’

One week ago, New Pakistan wrote about the repressive new social media regulations that were recently implemented by the government of Pakistan. The Pakistani deep state is so paranoid about any difference in opinion that it wants to ensure there is no difference of opinion either in mainstream or social media. It is also becoming increasingly clear that not only is Pakistan dependent economically and militarily on All Weather Ally China but that Naya Pakistan seeks to follow Big Brother China even in the realm of political and media freedoms.

According to lawyer, human rights advocate and columnist, Yasser Latif Hamdani, “the newly unveiled “Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020” (CP) slipped in secretly in January but notified on February 12 are just another case in point. This comes a century after the British imposed the notorious Press Act that had tried to but ultimately failed to control free press in the subcontinent. Yet the more things change the more they remain the same, principally the hubris of a government that seeks maximum control.”

Further, as Hamdani notes, “The objective, therefore, behind it is to intimidate the ordinary citizen and exercise a degree of control that borders on paranoia. It emanates from this idea of “fifth generation warfare” which has been taken to mean that everyone who expresses a point of view contrary to the established state narrative is somehow on the payroll of the enemy. One does not discount the possibility of such foreign interference but who is going to draw the line? Will it remain limited to the idea of foreign interference? Will not some pious operative not turn his attention to religious minorities and persecute them? Will the same pious operative not attack liberals, feminists, progressives and freethinkers for working against the “cultural values” which are in any event undefined. Where will this stop? Do we live in the 21st century or are we magically transported to the King Henry VIII’s England or Ferdinand and Isabella’s Spain? Will we have a new inquisition in this country? You are calling forth a flood.”

In a recent piece titled ‘Pakistan puts press freedom at the core of struggle for new world order,’ James M. Dorsey, a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, wrote about how Pakistan’s sweeping regulations restricting social media have “put freedom of expression and the media at the heart of the struggle to counter both civilizationalist and authoritarian aspects of an emerging new world order. The regulations, adopted without public debate, position US social media companies like Facebook and Twitter at the forefront of the struggle and raise the spectre of China’s walled off Internet with its own state-controlled social media platforms becoming the model for a host of illiberals, authoritarians and autocrats.”

According to Dorsey, Pakistan appears to be following in the footsteps of China. “Pakistan could become a prime country that adopts not only aspects of China’s 21st century, Orwellian surveillance state but also its tightly controlled media. The basis for potential Pakistani adoption of the Chinese system was created in 2017 in plans for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a US$60 billion plus crown jewel of the Belt and Road, an infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven initiative to tie Eurasia to China. The 2017 plan identifies as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. The plan appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game. It envisions a full system of monitoring and surveillance to ensure law and order in Pakistani cities. The system would involve deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.” A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.” The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

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