The other victim of #GurdaspurAttack

Indian police firing on attackers

On Monday, a group of militants dressed in Indian Army uniforms carried out a deadly attack in Indian Punjab. It is too early to know who was behind the attack, but speculation has already begun. Indian media has predictably laid the blame squarely on Pakistan, while here we have been hearing reports that it was actually a revolt by Indian Sikh separatists. Seven people were killed before Indian security forces killed the three attackers in a battle that was drawn out as India was trying to capture the attackers alive. However, as much as India has suffered from this attack, Pakistan has also suffered, and will continue to suffer until we can raise the courage to face the disturbing reality.

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Is Farhan Khan Virk the Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh of Twitter?

Farhan Khan Virk

To say Farhan Khan Virk is a prolific Twitter user does not do justice. Even if you don’t follow him on Twitter, you’ve probably seen his work. Despite only joining Twitter less than three years ago, Farhan has managed to post over 187,000 Tweets. That’s over 170 per day on average! His subjects fall very much on the hyper-nationalist side of things, and a recent Tweet by Ali Salman Alvi revealed that as usual with this crowd there may be much more to the eye that what is admitted.

Apparently, before Farhan was Tweeting as himself, he was Tweeting as Dr AQ Khan. He is allegedly behind other fake Twitter accounts also, but what really caught my attention was this amazing screenshot:

Rather than feel any shame, however Farhan responsed to being outed as part of a Twitter propaganda ring with sheer arrogance.

I wrote a piece last year about the propaganda rings that seem to be rapidly spreading. I am not going to point fingers at Farhan as an ISI media operative because obviously I don’t have any evidence that he is. As far as I know, he’s just another cog in the hyper-nationalist media machine who has the time to not only post hundreds of Tweets every day but apparently to run multiple fake accounts and to coordinate with a team of other Twitter users to promote a hyper-nationalist message.

I don’t know if Farhan is paid to do this. Maybe he is just a wealthy young activist who chooses to spread hyper-nationalist propaganda instead of otherwise spending his time on school or a career. Axact may have been a diploma factory, but there also appears to be a propaganda factory also. Like Axact, it may be a matter of sheer arrogance that undoes it.

Trending in #Pakistan

Twitter trends

I am a Twitter addict. I can’t help it. I am glued to Twitter, every minute checking for new posts. There are people who I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me think, and there are people I follow because I know that they are going to say something that makes me angry. One of my favourite parts of Twitter are the “trends”. This is where Twitter tells you what some of the most popular terms that are being used at that moment. It gives an insight into what the collective voice of the country is thinking. Or does it?

Some trends are unsurprising. During elections especially, politics seems to dominate Twitter trends. During the recent elections in Karachi, hashtag #NA246 was steadily appearing on Trends. After Election Tribunal announced re-polling in the district, #NA125 began trending. Often though the hashtags that are trending do not just notify about a topic, but contain a specific political message. This is where things get interesting.

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Twitter Ban: Blind, Deaf and Dumb

This was supposed to be our weekend. President Zardari landed in Chicago and it really looked like he was going to use his fast-approaching-legendeary negotiating skills – the same ones he’s used to keep a relatively stable coalition in the government and to end the stalemate in Pak-US ties – to turn around sinking Pak-US relations. Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman was in the middle of a media blitz, explaining Pakistan’s position on CNN and then publishing an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune that outlined steps the Americans could take to help re-start Pak-US relations. Then, the lights went out.

As the NATO summit started its first day, Pakistan was in the dark about what was going on because PTA blocked access to Twitter, the social media site made famous for breaking news and providing real-time insights into what is happening across the world. Twitter played a major role in informing the world about the Arab Spring uprisings. Saner heads prevailed, though, as the Prime Minister ordered that access to the service be reinstated immediately. But for about eight hours, Twitter users were left trying to circumvent the ban by using proxy accounts and other methods.

The decision to block access to Twitter was made in order to protect the emotions of the masses from seeing Tweets that were derogatory toward Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This is the same reason that Facebook was blocked a couple of years ago, and it makes as little sense now as it did then.

Can we be honest about a few things, please? First of all, “the masses” are not using Twitter. There are about 2 million Pakistanis on Twitter – roughly 1 per cent of the population. As far as I can tell, it’s mostly an elite audience – politicians, journalists, bloggers and other highly educated people discussing culture and politics at a high level of discourse, primarily in English.

Worse, the Twitter ban completely overshadowed what our representatives were trying to say, and detracted from our image as a modern global power. Where were all those self-appointed guardians of the national ghairat as a hyperactive minority was actually making our nation look foolish in the eyes of the world?

The bigger issue, though, is that, especially with Twitter, blocking access to the site blocked access to important information about events that directly affect our country. Our leaders were in the US attending a critical summit of NATO to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, and we were cut off from one of the best sources for breaking information. We were also refrained from giving our own opinion and reacting to breaking events. By blocking Twitter, PTA didn’t silence those who would defame the Prophet (PBUH), they silenced Pakistan.

None of these sites requires anyone to look at offensive material. Actually, nothing requires anyone to use any of these websites at all. If you don’t want to see offensive posts on Twitter, don’t follow offensive people. If you don’t want to see offensive material on Facebook, don’t go to offensive pages. If you believe that you can’t control yourself from looking at offensive material on these sites, don’t use them at all. Leave the rest of us alone.

The Evolving Relationship Between Pakistan and the United States

Technology never ceases to amaze me. Wikileaks aside, technology has opened up a whole new window into the world of diplomacy, and our own Ambassador to the US can be followed on Twitter and on video all over YouTube. When he Tweeted that he was going to be speaking at the James A Baker III Institute in Houston the other night and that it could be viewed on a webcast, the nerd in me got really excited. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, you can watch it below:

Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani discusses the evolving relationship between Pakistan and the United States at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston Texas USA on 1 December 2010.

Ambassador Haqqani discusses the history of Pakistan-US relations and the present model of cooperation between the democratic governments of Pakistan and the US as they try to overcome historical suspicion and doubt.

Questions include topics Wikileaks, Asia Bibi, ISI, media, India, nuclear disarmament, and the positive contributions of the Pakistani-American community.