Pakistan, instant messaging, internet, security, Naeem Sahoutara & Shadi Khan Saif

Sindh province has been plagued by severe militant, sectarian and criminal violence this year, with the city of Karachi being particularly badly hit.

In an attempt to stop the violence, the government of Sindh wants to place a ban on instant messaging.

“The law and order situation and the lives of the people are important to us,” says Sharjeel Inam Memon, the Information Minister for the Sindh government.

“So the government has decided to shut down sites such as Tango, Viber, Skype and WhatsApp for three months, so that the terrorists and criminals who are using these networks to communicate can be stopped.”

The Sindh government wants to see a nation-wide ban.

The central government regularly shuts down cellular networks for extended periods on important national and religious holidays to “ensure the safety of the people”.

The country’s mobile network has been switched off about 12 times over the last year.

Students, like Ibrahim Abbas, say banning sites and applications will not stop the violence.

“There are various proxies you can use through your Android phone, and through these proxies can easily access Viber and WhatsApp. If a terrorist is planning a bomb using Viber technology, he’s smart enough to be able to use a proxy. It will only add to the miseries of the citizens.”

To some, including 25-year-old media student Salima Bhutto, the government’s proposals sound absurd.

“It’s a joke. YouTube and Viber are the things that young people use the most. So, banning them would only frustrate us. I would never support a nationwide ban.”

Pakistan, which now has 30 million internet users, has seen a tremendous growth in social media in recent years. Around 8 million Pakistanis use Facebook and some 2 million are on Twitter.

And the number is increasing by 7 percent every year.

Bloggers like Afia Saleem believe it has had a positive effect.

“It has become a very powerful tool to bring to the public space, issues, which the mainstream media either side lines or deliberately ignores. I think its contributing a lot to the information flow, awareness, advocacy and outreach and activism. It’s really a very positive role.”

A recent survey by an international watch-dog, however, placed Pakistan in the list of top ten countries around the world with the least internet freedom.

Successive governments have all imposed restrictions on internet use in Pakistan.

But they also depend largely on social media to promote their political agendas.

Politicians, like Awab Alvi from Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf party, are calling for the government to review its policy on banning instant messaging applications.

“The government needs to educate the people that the bans do not serve any purpose of filtering the information.”

But for now the Sindh government is pushing ahead with its ban on Skype, Viber and WhatsApp.


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