Pitfalls of the Social Media

There are always two sides of the coin. This is particularly true for technology. There are obvious uses and utilities of the social media. It has to a very large extent empowered the ordinary folks to send their messages across to a very large audience. This liberty in some cases is being used to spread hatred and disinformation.

I have been added by friends, relatives and colleagues to become a member of a number of Whatsapp groups. I thought these sites would provide like minded people to catch up on news about each other and be a support system, when one was down in the dumps or needed genuine help or sincere advice. Unfortunately this is not the case. Most of these places spread negativity at a lightning speed. The rumor mills works effortlessly to spread false information, once a message becomes viral on social media. Many if not most of these messages spread baseless and useless information through unwitting accomplices. The purpose of these messages is mostly to spread hatred and disharmony. Packaged in a subtle and convincing manner, these appeal to political, sectarian and moral senses to those on the social media. When these messages strike the sympathetic chord, sensible people do not even take a nanosecond to pass on second hand information without verifying the veracity or source of these messages. Most of this recycled information has been planted in the first instance with sinister motives and apparently sensible people become part of these campaigns.

I’ve tried my best to leave some of these groups but caring and sometimes concerned friends have very sympathetically added me right back thinking that I had accidentally left and did not do so on purpose. To be frank, I do not have the gumption to tell them real reason for my departure. In a final act of surrender I’ve become a silent spectator of the goings on in the morbid spaces of social media.  The most I do now is to clear chat, as soon as I find the thread become too large for the memory of my smartphone.

The Government in power is afraid of the propaganda launched on the social media to expose its wrongdoings. In desperation it threatens to prosecute those behind these campaigns under the Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act of 2015. Cyber rights activists have crusaded against the indiscriminate application of these laws and have been to a large extent been able to win some important concessions. Threats of incarceration hasn’t stopped trolling or harassment in cyberspace.

There is a need to sensitize the users of the social media to act as responsible citizens in cyberspace. The state, the people’s representatives. Opinion-makers, the clergy, the role models, teachers and parents all have a role to play. Everyone is a stakeholder. Sometimes the messages being uploaded are striking against the very vitals of the state and our family values and ethics. Rules of the game have to be defined and all concerned must be asked to abide by these. Group admins should not moderate the conversation and under no circumstances be allowed unsubstantiated information to be uploaded on groups that they’re managing.  If they are not careful in their responsibility they’re party to the crime and last but not least they should learn not to add anyone without his or her consent.

We need to act before it is too late!



Bank Accounts for Afghan Refugees

Sher Khan (not his real name) is an Afghan, who was born in Pakistan and has known no other country. He is in his late twenties and already has three children. These children are technically Afghans but like their father have never known any other country but Pakistan – the adopted homeland of their grandparents. Sher Khan is an honest and hardworking man and performs his job as a watchman with vigilance and rare commitment. I have found him to be thoroughly dependable and better than those holding genuine Pakistani CNICs. I want to keep him for the long term and would like to deposit his pay check directly into his bank account on a monthly basis. The online payment is hassle free and can save me a lot of botheration. I can’t do it because banks have very strict instructions about not opening accounts for aliens without proper documentation. Sher is registered with NADRA as a refugee and has an alien card. The card expired last year and the renewal is pending because Government is yet to decide how long they would be letting Afghans stay in Pakistan. As per instructions received by the local banks, an Afghan residing in Pakistan should have an Afghan passport and work visa to open an account. Even this is problematic because the account holder has to frequently get the visa renewed to let his account remain valid. A bank account is a good way of keeping track of a monetary trail and brings the grey economy into the fold of the mainstream. Not allowing the Afghans to open a bank account is to encourage them to make financial transactions outside the tax net. This by extension denies the authorities to check the money trail and prevent it being used in any illicit activity. In my opinion the approach of excluding the Afghans from opening bank accounts is extremely counterproductive. They should be allowed to open bank accounts and be made part of the normal economic activity. Most Afghan refugees, like most Pakistanis are honest, hardworking and decent people. They should be integrated and not segregated. Most of us are apprehensive about the perceived harsh immigration policies that become part of the Donald Trump Presidency. The why should we be adopting patently bad policies to marginalize and antagonize Afghan refugees. These people have been in Pakistan for a number of generations now and therefore we must be careful in crafting our Afghan refugee policies. Better sense and prudence should be our leitmotif.

Who is minding the fort?

While our politicians fight it out in the parliament and on the Constitution Avenue and the D Chowk, and the military remains fully engaged in Operation Zarb-i-Azb and the populace reel under the miseries unleashed by monsoon rains, one wonders, who is minding the fort?

A number of red flags have popped up that need immediate attention. There was an exchange of heavy artillery fire along the Working Boundary in the villages of Chaprar and Bajwat in the month of August that resulted in the deaths of civilians and loss of property. As per form, Pakistan allowed the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan UN Military Observers Group (UNMOGIP) monitors to visit the sites of the ceasefire violations to assess the situation, while India blamed Pakistan without verifying the facts through neutral military observers. Then Indian Prime Minister Modi decided to cancel the talks of the defence secretaries because he did not like the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi talking to the Kashmiri Hurriyet leaders.

Having successfully upped the ante at home, Modi went on a tour of Japan. Sensing that the once pacifist country was displaying aggressive posturing in South China Seas. Modi took a jingoistic swipe against China< he warned his country’s eastern neighbour against expansionism in the region. To show that he now belonged to a separate regional bloc, Modi signed a number of agreements with the Japanese government on trade and commerce including one on defence. Both leaders expressed the intention to double the Japanese investment in India in the next five years. The upbeat mood of the two governments was quite visible at a joint press conference, where the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that he would work hand in hand with his Indian counterpart to “dramatically strengthen relations in every field and elevate ties to a special, strategic global partnership.” Modi in turn said that “We intend to give a new thrust and direction to our defence cooperation, including collaboration in defence technology and equipment, given our shared interest in peace and stability and maritime security.” The visit also used by the Japanese to push for the sale of an amphibious aircraft to Indian Navy. Abe and Modi agreed to look into upgrading a ‘two-plus-two’ format for security talks by bringing together their foreign and defence ministers, and directed officials to launch working level talks on defence equipment and technology cooperation. They also agreed to hold regular maritime exercises, and that Japan would continue to participate in US-India drills.

The other area, where there was a keen desire for cooperation was a nuclear energy deal. Despite mutual reservations in this area “significant progress” was reported. Perhaps these negotiations may move forward in the next round of talks. India, however had clear success in nuclear matters with Australia. An agreement was signed by Indian and Australian Prime Minister Modi and Tony Abbot to buy Australian uranium. The Australian PM was on a state visit to India and was looking for opportunities to enhance trade. The Australian uranium exports had been flagging particularly after it decided not to sell it to Putin’s Russia. The uranium deal is in the mutual interest of both countries. Uranium used for civil nuclear energy can of course be diverted towards bomb making. Of the 72 reactors under construction globally, about half are in India and China. Mr Abbott reiterated that “India is the world’s emerging democratic superpower,” and it was “an important sign of the mutual trust that exists between Australia and India.”

In September Mr Modi will be visiting the US to attend the annual UN General Assembly meeting. This is another victory for the Indian prime minister. Earlier, he had been denied a visa for his alleged participation in the Gujarat pogrom but now a red carpet welcome is being laid out for him. In an article jointly written by Joshua T. White & Michael Krepon, it has been surmised that the most important outcome would be a revision and extension of the 10-year ‘New Framework’ for the US-India defence relationship, which is up for renewal in 2015. Washington will also be making a new sales pitch for defence exports to India. It is expected that besides the possible sale of Apache and Chinook helicopters, joint projects will be mooted under the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), inaugurated in 2012. The US government and industry have proposed dozens of innovative co-development projects, which reportedly include cooperation on subjects as diverse as surface-to-air missiles, magnetic catapults, and big data exploitation. The most likely agreement would be the co-development of next generation Javelin anti-tank missile. Washington will also like to discuss the issues of regional security with India, which would clearly include China and Afghanistan.

            Meanwhile there have been developments, which suggest that the Islamic State (IS) and the AlQaeda are expanding their operations into South Asia. This is the making of an explosive security situation. Therefore there is a requirement that the country’s political leadership should come out of their wrangling and quickly focus on the internal and external threats.