Unguarded cyber frontiers

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Sikandar Noorani

PAK government’s decision to implement new rules about online content is a much needed appreciable step in the right direction. Enormous damage has already been done to the society in the absence of appropriate rules to deal with malevolent practices on digital platforms. Recently a friend of mine received an alarming false message on WhatsApp group urging people to withdraw cash from the banks amid likelihood of forfeiture of deposits due to serious financial crisis in the country. As the message was nothing but a pure rumour to spread the chaotic demoralization and sense of mistrust in the nation, question rightly arises that how can such attacks be countered in cyber arena without appropriate rules? While the nation kept paying heavy price in war against foreign sponsored multiple terrorist outfits, the masterminds and handlers of terrorists enjoy full scale impunity in exploiting the unguarded cyber space of Pakistan. Multi-directional attacks by social media warriors are posing serious challenges to the national integrity and stability.
Dangerous pattern emerging from targeted social media campaigns confirmed that some powers are vigorously trying to destabilize Pakistan while remaining invisible. Ideological, moral, diplomatic and ethnic fronts have mostly remained under attack in cyber arena. Weapon of rumours and twisted news were used extensively to tarnish the image of Pakistan at international forums. Demoralizing stuff was spread systematically to portray Pakistan as a failed state. Detailed counter checks of dubious social media accounts revealed that most of these were being operated with fake IDs from Afghanistan and India. Mostly these accounts were seen extensively busy in spreading hateful propaganda stuff against the state institutions of Pakistan. Almost one and a half year back, ISPR officially announced reservations against deliberate anti-Pak social media campaigning from Indian controlled fake accounts. Besides spreading ethnic hatred in the KP [erstwhile FATA] and Balochistan, these accounts were vigorously used to trivialize the successes of defence forces in war against terrorism.
Recent shocking disclosures by EU Disinfo Lab about Pak-centric massive fake news operations under Indian patronization needs to be taken seriously by the decision-making quarters. More than 700 fake media houses and 10 NGOs with false credentials are spreading rumours and false news against Pakistan round the clock. News feed of this massive network influenced the EU and UN to believe that Pakistan happens to be a rogue state. Damages of these well-knitted influence operations can be easily felt on diplomatic front where Pakistan always faced troubles in pleading the case of IIOJK. On internal front, Pakistan is facing a much complex challenge in the hands of those social media combatants who are persistently pouring acid on the ideological foundations in the garb of freedom of speech. A handful of foreign based social media activists have found shelter and financial support from enemies of Pakistan.
This bunch of self-styled activists comprised runaways and self-exiled journalists having visible west influenced vague liberal tendencies. Having no sense of public sentiments attached to the issues of blasphemy and Khatm-e-Nabowat, bunch of absconders frequently provoke the masses through their controversial comments on digital forums. Such inflammable provocations have enough potential to spark huge fire of retaliatory violence in our society. Though, igniting the public sentiments through rumours and wilful blasphemy are illegal as per Pak laws but a social media mercenary stationed abroad can neither be caught nor be tried. As per law of the land mutiny attempts, provocative rumours to ditch the state institutions and hateful propaganda against defence forces of Pakistan are punishable crimes. Freedom of speech guaranteed sufficiently in the Constitution cannot be practised in isolation while violating rest of the laws of the land. Indian desperate moves to cripple Pakistan through fabricated allegations and cyber propaganda onslaught needs to be countered without further waste of time.
How Pakistan can ignore the separatists’ campaigning instigating innocent Baloch youths for terrorism on the behest of India. As a matter of principle, no state can ever allow foreign- based fugitives or runaways to spread hateful themes pointed straight at its existence. Removal of objectionable illegal content through systematic institutional monitoring is the first immediate step to deal with deep rooted cancerous tendency. After a long sleep, finally the State has shown signs of alertness by formulating a set of rules to counter the multi-directional cyber onslaught on Pakistan. In the first week of October Federal Cabinet approved the requisite set of regulations titled ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020’. These rules have been formulated by the experts after a lot of deliberation and professional consultation. Merit of concerns expressed by a few quarters on these rules with reference to constitutional right of freedom of speech must be weighed against the threats posed and damages done to the country in the absence of appropriate regulations. Genuine concerns must be addressed through efficient consultation without compromising the real intent. Tech big giants focused on huge profits should not be worried if Pakistan is securing its unguarded cyber frontiers. Obviously, state cannot trade its national security, socio-religious bindings and ideological foundation with profiteer business tycoons.
—The Islamabad-based writer is a retired army officer and occasionally contributes to national press.

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