Social media offer Pakistani young a new forum for debate

By Filza Khurram

KARACHI, Pakistan, Jan. 13 (UPI Next) --

Social media have provided Pakistan's young a platform to comment on issues ranging from the killing of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud to the bravery of girls education activist Malala Yousafzai, feted around the world for her campaign against Muslim fundamentalists, to support for former cricket player Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party.


Pakistan, a nation of 182 million people, has one of the world's fastest-growing social media-using populations, with more than 8 million Facebook users and almost 3 million people using Twitter.

Sindh Medical College student Abdul Rehman described the new media as exciting and powerful, but added that opinions "are often projected as facts" and said some stories get undue focus.

Journalist Aamir Ali, an associate professor who lectures on science and technology at the University of Karachi, said social media is playing an important role in Pakistan, noting that young people, who make up 60 percent of the country's population, use sites to raise questions on the latest developments. He noted retired people and political party leaders have accounts on social networking sites to interact with the public and learn their opinions.


The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has reported that the country had more than 18 million Internet users in 2010. Young people who used to spend leisure time in playgrounds, libraries, coffee shops and gyms now find each other on the Internet, particularly social media websites. The shift has not hindered the exchange of ideas.

"I am personally happy over the U.S. move to kill Hakimullah, but at the same time I condemn drone attacks that breach our sovereignty and kills innocent [people]," Zainab Wajid, a Lahore student, wrote on Facebook.

Singer Taimur Rehman remarked on his Facebook page on the mixed response to Mehsud's assassination.

"Pakistan laments that its enemy number one [murderer of thousands of people] was killed on the eve of an offer to make him ‘a stakeholder of peace,'" he posted.

Many have used social media to raise doubts about Malala. Conservative Pakistanis, and even some members of Parliament, have questioned her fame. Others have posted supportive messages. Kinza Ali, an international relations student at the University of Karachi, posted on her Facebook page that "finally the Malala hype comes to an end."

"In just 15 days she tours various countries, gets the biggest nomination in Nobel peace prize, bags the human rights award, inaugurates a massive library, goes to the most popular news shows, meets the most famous people and yeah, finally [U.S. President Barack]Obama and his family... Well hats off to the organizations who are using her as a bait," she wrote.

Bilal Ali, on the other hand, who is studying music and arts at Karachi's Iqra University, posted in support for Malala on his Facebook page, calling her "a young girl who ought to be a heroine for people across the board in Pakistan,"


Yet, he wrote, only a minority supports her, while, "On the other hand, a mass murderer, a killer of Pakistani’s like Hakimullah Mehsud, has been given the degree of being a martyr."

Young people have taken to social media to question the policies of Khan, whose PTI placed second in the May elections. The party's showing is widely believed to have been facilitated with the support of social media users.

Rida Kazmi, 26, a doctor at Karachi's Agha Khan Hospital, posting on her Facebook page, called on Khan to "hold your circus rallies to demonstrate against the target killings and bombings of polio heath workers, Hazara [an ethnic minority] and Shia people, policemen, army personnel and innocent civilians."

"I think you should merge your party with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and invite Mullah Radio as the chief guest," she said, referring to an Islamic political party and Pakistan Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, a hardliner responsible for the attack on Malala that nearly took the teenager’s life.

Bilal lashari, a student at the University of Karachi, said Khan oversteps his authority by blocking NATO supply chains.

"In my opinion, the authority to allow or block NATO Supply [convoys] comes under the domain of Federal government and not under the provincial (KP)government," he tweeted. "If so-called saviour, Imran Khan, is really concerned about 'national pride' and 'national integrity' then he must come up with a resolution against the NATO supply [system] in the National Assembly. That is how things should work in a democratic state."


Pervaiz Rasheed, a National Assembly member and Pakistan's information minister, worries Pakistanis are not expressing themselves responsibly.

He told UPI Next he is concerned about users' irresponsibility. For example, he said, "social media can sometimes be used to gain sympathies as evident in Hakimullah Mehsud's case, where a killer of hundreds of innocent Pakistani civilians is portrayed as a martyr."

Rasheed said, what is needed now is "to regularize social media by putting [in place] controls to negative and false flow of information, whether in terms of pictures, movies or articles."

"Otherwise," he said, "this media can be used by an enemy of the state to deliberately change the public opinion against the government, army or any particular sect, creating a huge problem."

He told UPI Next the government would like only to monitor posts for "the spread of negative information" but has no plans to regulate the Internet.


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