Pakistan’s crackdown on internet continues as it bans Musk’s ‘X’ over ‘national security’

Pakistan’s crackdown on internet continues as it bans Musk’s ‘X’ over ‘national security’

Crackdown on the internet is not a new thing in Pakistan, and the country keeps on continuing the practice with its latest ban on the somewhat indispensable micro-blogging platform X (formerly Twitter).

The country has recently restricted the access to Elon Musk’s X for Pakistani users, “in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order, and preserving the integrity of the nation.”

According to representations made on behalf of the Pak interior ministry before the Islamabad High Court where it had acknowledged the ban on X, the ‘threat’ to Pakistan’s national security from X was flagged by intelligence agencies in a ‘confidential’ report following which the interior ministry cut off the country’s access to X, without even bothering to fulfil all procedural requirements. 

The government has made some ‘justifications’ for this ‘punitive action’, and one of them is- X refused to localise its operations in Pakistan.

The government also alleged that X “does not obey Pakistani laws”.

Though the country’s interior ministry recently confirmed the ban on X, users of the social media site in Pakistan had been reporting problems using the platform since mid-February, around the time of elections, when jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) called for protests against a government official’s admission of vote manipulation.

According to an editorial titled “X post facto” published in Pakistan’s leading English daily the Dawn on Friday (Apr 19), “As has become its modus operandi, the state is using smoke and mirrors to try to justify its decision to ban X, formerly Twitter.”

“In the current political climate, where there is widespread public dissatisfaction with the state’s policies, it is rather difficult to take any claim regarding some unspecified ‘threat’ from social media at face value,” the editorial read.

The editorial’s writer opined that the country’s government should realise that global tech companies are very wary of markets where regulations are opaque and subject to official whims. 

“No company will want to move to a country where the state can quietly shut down a major global service without justification or due process. Our decision-makers should realise the harm they are causing,” according to the editorial.

Amid the South Asian nation’s growing curbs on internet, the Sindh High Court in Pakistan has reportedly given the Pak government a deadline of one week to withdraw the restriction and restore the platform.

Viewed through the history of Pakistani governments, the country has a shabby record of freedom of expression, journalism and right to access to the internet. The crackdown is growing at an alarming rate. 

Experts have described it to be a fight between, on one hand, the status quo, the negative morality espoused by the state as a force of unification rooted in tradition, and on the other, the positive alternative, which is inherently present in the status quo.

The Pakistani government, in recent days, has imposed stricter restrictions on social media along with the conventional media. 

The recent curb on social media platform X highlights the tension between the country’s national security concerns and the right to access information in an increasingly digital world.

This particular ban is alarming as journalists, activists and general people majorly use X to express their opinion freely and to practice their freedom of speech as well as right to the internet.

The internet and social media blackouts in Pakistan are not only threatening the freedom of press and speech, it is also hurting the businesses in the country, which has been facing a major financial crisis.

During the internet and social media restrictions, the small and medium online businesses had to bear irremediable losses due to the lack of internet or social media connectivity.

Besides, this social media blackout strategy sends negative message to the domestic as well as international investors, who feel reluctant to invest in the information technology sector of Pakistan, which is one of Asia’s fastest-growing internet market, as they are not sure about government policies and implementation mechanisms.

The Pakistani consumers are losing millions due to regular internet and social media blackouts for “security reasons”, and the lack of cyber laws and implementing mechanisms destabilizes the economic environment. 

It also has serious implications for the country’s economic growth and, consequently, its stability. 

Pakistan’s practice of imposing ban or restrictions on social media platforms and accounts, or on the complete internet is not a new phenomenon as the country has been practicing it since 2005. 

The Pakistani government mostly implements the ban around national occasions like Eid, Muharram, and other political or religious events for the sake of “security measurements.” 

Pakistan’s opposition parties claim that internet and social media shut downs are also used by the country’s governments for their political goals which makes this whole phenomenon unpredictable and damaging.  


Fadia Jiffry

Fadia Jiffry

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