Musings on Pakistani social media – Twitter edition

Caveats: I want to highlight four facts before you read this unstructured rant.

1. My political views are what are termed as “political islamist” or just “islamist”. So my observations and inferences that I have derived from them may be colored by those views.

2. The period I am covering here is from pre-May 2013 election till now.

3. I follow around 250 people on twitter and in addition say they Retweet (RT) 50 other people regularly so in effect my observations are based on tweets of total of 300 people

and most importantly, as brought to attention by one commentator,

4. I am generalizing here i.e., brushing with broad strokes. Its just a high level view of my observations.

Pre-election period

PTI by appealing to educated and plugged-into-social-media youth had really taken off and had become a formidable foe by engaging the disengaged youth. Other parties also took to twitter and facebook but one has to admit that PTI had the strongest presence on social media before the election. How they abused this position and how it ultimately fooled them into believing that being a majority on social media means being a majority in the parliament is covered by others extensively so I will not dwell on that.

All parties in Pakistan have an element of cult in them. Most people follow these parties not for the values or manifestos they have presented but because of their leaders. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has always been a cult of Bhutto on a national level, but under Zardari it has become a Sind regional party.

Supporters of PML-N mainly follow it for the Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif but its more of a personality following rather than a cult. The only party that is not a cult is probably Jamat-e-Islami but its too small a party. We also have Awami National Party (ANP) leadership of which remains in the ahl-e-bait of its founder Baacha Khan. But in relative terms, these parties are open to or at least tolerant of criticism of their actions as well their leaders.

On the other extreme, we have Muttahida Quomi Movement (MQM) a party of urban Sind headed by self-exiled leader Altaf Hussain. The cult eader status bestowed to him is extra-ordinary. They are highly intolerant of criticism and no newspaper which has offices or circulation in Karachi will dare to criticize them.

However, they failed to understand the impact of social media mainly twitter. MQM didn’t appreciate the fact that twitter allows people to express their frustrations and criticisms anonymously something which the general public couldn’t do on print and electronic media without fear of reprisal from MQM. So in of absence any criticism in public sphere, MQM fooled themselves into believing that people of Karachi will vote for them out of fear or will remain at home. However, quite a large number of people in Karachi were fed up with MQM and wanted to vote PTI (as no other party reached out to them or even talked to them) but when the voters reached polling stations, in some cases they weren’t allowed to vote, their vote had already been cast, or in some places MQM workers were filling ballot boxes with fake votes and at some places they strong armed the polling station staff to not reach the polling station on the allocated time_a fact which came to light in voting of national assembly seat from Karachi NA-250. MQM presumed that like earlier times people will take this silently. Surprisingly, people refused to be cowed down and in certain cases took to streets (which would never have happened earlier).

For MQM this was a first i.e., ordinary people protesting against them openly. They were at a loss as to how to counter this onslaught and it led to a few faux pas speeches by their leader Quaid-e-Tatheer Pir Altaf Hussain Bhai. (I have covered these  here “MQM’s reign of terror post elections 2013″ and “Why and How MQM Rabita Committee was beaten”). On the social media front, MQM was totally ill prepared for the criticism and abuses that started against them. People who would normally be discrete in their criticism of MQM even privately as they live and work in areas surrounded by MQM supporters took to criticizing MQM openly on Facebook where you are not anonymous. On twitter, frustrated Karachiites tagged MQM representative and became abusive towards them, towards MQM but most importantly towards Quaid-e-Tatheer Pir Altaf Hussain Bhai. MQM was not at all prepared for this barrage of criticism. This post “Social Media Strategy of MQM” makes it pretty clear how MQM deals with criticism generally and how trying the same tactics on social media actually backfired. Later they created a lot of fake accounts to tweet favorable news and occasionally create and tweet a lot of hashtags to get MQM related topics to trend such as #united4Altaf #onlyAltaf yesterday but its safe to say that MQM is still not able find its bearings on twitter. (For some twitter humor -> “Altaf Hussain and Titanic”)

The party that made the most use of social media pre-election was PTI led by former cricketer and philanthropist Imran Khan. The cult leader status that the supporters bestowed to Imran Khan was comparable to cult status of Quaid-e-Tatheer Pir Altaf Hussain Bhai amongst MQM supporters. PTI supporters would not tolerate any criticism of PTI much less Imran Khan and would stoop down to hurtling abuses to anyone daring to criticize or even trying to give suggestions to change their policies/manifestos etc. They earned the name “PTI trolls” as they would come down together on any journalist or analyst on twitter. They also created fake accounts of journalists/analysts and tweeted positive propaganda with respect to PTI and with respect to opponents, they spread malicious propaganda. This is what a fake account of, Jang/TheNews journalist and anchor of GEO TV program Jirga, Saleem Safi tweeted most probably operated by a PTI troll on election day. Tweets have since been deleted but I took a screenshot of them.

This and similar other tweets from other fake accounts upset Saleem Safi so much that he wrote a whole column in Urdu about it

I am having fun with it

Post Election Period

Once the elections were held, it was hard for PTI supporters to fathom that despite having such a huge presence on social media, how come the outcome was not what they desired. They went into denial mode claiming mass scale rigging. Absence of Imran Khan from the scene due to his fall from the lifter two days before the election also meant that there was no leadership to guide them. PTI was a major force in urban centres but failed to make any headway in suburbs and rural areas. As such, when the results showed that masses didn’t vote overwhelmingly for PTI, PTI supporters stooped to calling general public Jaahil (ignorant). You have to understand that these voters of PTI were mainly first time voters and educated elite of Pakistan who had never bothered to vote earlier and credit goes to Imran Khan for engaging them. They were teachers, professionals, businessmen, corporate CEOs and consultants educated from best Pakistani and western universities but they couldn’t take the loss at ballot box and still could not come to grips with the fact that a vote of someone living in rural area or not as highly educated as them or as successful as them is equivalent to their vote. There is a wonderful website which collected unquotable gems from these Harvard, Wharton, IBA, LUMS etc educated youth on social media. Do visit it Public shaming #Pakvotes as it will give you some insight into their mindset. A wonderful essay in this regard that I cannot recommend enough is The Disadvantages of Elite Education by William Deresiewicz, which is a must read.

Now that PTI has its government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, focus of PTI trolls has shifted to actions of their own government and there is significant reduction in their social media trolling. Probably they too have realized that this trolling is actually destroying the little goodwill that they have left, if any.

Lets move to the other intelligentsia we have on social media. These are the so called English speaking journalists and analysts on twitter and can be described as left-of-centre in their leanings and probably hate PTI for its rightist leanings. They also despise the general public of Pakistan as when it comes to issues such as terrorism etc, general public leans right. They are best described in the following tweet

Pakistan especially KPK is facing a lot of terrorism. One such day was yesterday wherein a Terrorists strike in Quetta, Peshawar, NWA

As many as 49 persons, including security personnel, lost their lives and over 100 others sustained injuries in separate incidents of terrorism in Quetta, Peshawar and North Waziristan on Sunday.

Now if one followed the intelligentsia tweets yesterday, it was all outrage. There was empathy for victims but that was also a tool to express outrage. Outrage against terrorists? No. Outrage against PTI (as they rule in KPK) as well as common man as he is not fully behind the army in this War on Terror or because the common man opposes the Drone strategy

The above are a sample most read journalists/writers in English press of Pakistan and all they have to offer is to blame the common man or blame Punjab. The above is just a sample. Yesterday, my timeline was filled with such useless outrage from morning till night. It is not as if we are not fighting this war. We have been fighting this war for last 10 years. Here is a good piece of research Numbers of Terror on the myths propagated by these journalists in terms of number of people killed and as if our army is not fighting this war.

Twitter has widened the schisms in our society. These journalists consider the rest of the population as illiterate or unenlightened, it has actually polarized the society with the result that if these journalists/analysts/”though leaders” decide to bandy behind a particular issue, the rest of population believes there is a hidden agenda. Like PTI trolls and supporters, by just promoting their own causes and belittling the causes that the rest of the population wants to stand behind, they polarize the society. What they think is satire is actually read as affront by common man.  They don’t try to listen to other viewpoint or convince him of their arguments rather shove their views down common man’s throat. As such, common man refuses to listen to them and runs in opposite direction. As such, we all have our pet projects and causes which are mutually exclusive rather opposites. They are pro-drone, common man is anti-drone. The people who the common man have voted in want to use negotiation with Taliban as part of overall strategy because fighting them for last 10 years hasn’t resulted in any gains as far as common man knows so these people make fun of common man, his thinking, leave no opportunity to snark at it and consequently want nothing to do with negotiations. This polarization manifested itself clearly in case of Malala attack. The innocent minor girl faced a barbaric attack by Taliban. However, the vehemence with which the aforementioned journalists/analysts/thinks took up her cause and displayed their outrage actually distanced the common man from her. Whereas she needed the whole nation to stand behind her, the constant point scoring by our “intelligentsia” made sure that common man believe that she is part of some larger conspiracy or hidden agenda.

The intelligentsia continues to blame Zia ul Haq for creating this confused nation but they have only themselves to blame. Zia has been dead for more than 25 years. A whole generation has been born and grown up during this time. What have they to show for this 25 years to correct Zia’s wrongs? A few columns blaming Zia. 25 years down the line they will still be blaming Zia and all they will have to show for their efforts will be their satirical and hate filled columns, blogs and tweets. Lot of good they are doing.

Below is one of my sunni bias manifesting itself

Getting 100 people killed in a fortnight is a genocide of Karachiites. But we take it in a passing. 12 people were killed in Karachi day before yesterday. But a lot of people only feel outraged when its someone from minority because it allows them to push their agenda whatever that is.

This is till 1155am today: Karachi: Six killed in violent incidents, police encounter today. Only half a day has passed. Assuming pattern continues, around 12 will be killed today, which is a number equivalent to people killed in a bomb blast. But bomb blasts happen once a week or twice. However, this many people keep on dying on streets of Karachi everyday yet there is no outrage in any quarter.

A brilliant, thoughtful and well-structured read on selective outrage that we as a society show is Death of a Nation. Its a must read.

How to spot a lying Dictator? It’s the percentages, stupid.

A lot of numbers are flying around in the media nowadays. Opinions have become polarized on every subject after financial crisis, Arab Spring, War on Terror etc. To give weight to their arguments, opinion makers quote made up (or so it seems) statistics to give credibility to their side of the story.

Most recently, King Mohamed VI of Morocco held a referendum to seek approval for  his proposed reforms. His proposal was approved by almost 99% of voters. From Huffington Post:

Moroccans on Friday overwhelmingly approved a new constitution their king says will bring the country much-needed democratic reform, the Interior Ministry announced.

The preliminary results showed a 98.94 percent approval rating and 72.56 percent turnout and appeared to indicate strong belief by Moroccans in the king’s promises of reform just months after hundreds of thousands marched throughout the North African country calling for more democracy.

98.94% approval rating and 72.56% turnout. Now where have I seen such numbers and referendum on such unilaterally proposed reforms before? There are no points for guessing that Pakistan would be the correct answer. We have a history of holding such referendums by military dictators.

When Ayub Khan appointed himself ruler of Pakistan, he carried out referendum to give legitimacy to his rule after deposing Iskandar Mirza in a bloodless coup. From Wikipedia

In 1960, he held an indirect referendum of his term in power. Functioning as a kind of electoral college, close to 80,000 recently elected village councilmen were allowed to vote yes or no to the question: “Have you confidence in the President, Field Marshal Mohammed Ayub Khan, Hilal-i-Jurat?” Winning 95.6% of the vote, he used the confirmation as impetus to formalise his new system.

The next referendum was carried out by next military dictator Gen Zia after deposing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a coup (it wasn’t bloodless as he had Bhutto hanged).  And the question asked by him was

Whether the people of Pakistan endorse the process initiated by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan, for bringing the laws of Pakistan in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and for the preservation of the Islamic ideology of Pakistan, for the continuation and consolidation of that process, and for the smooth and orderly transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.

Say what? Come again?

From Wikipedia

It was reportedly approved by 98.5% of voters, with a turnout of 62.2%.

Finally, it was Musharraf’s turn and he carried out another sham referendum. (Since this happened in my life time, I have seen with my own eyes military bringing in people from interior Sind by truck loads at one of polling stations half an hour before election commissioner visited the place at NIC building, off Sharae-Faisal, Karachi). The question posed in the referendum was

For the survival of the local government system, establishment of democracy, continuity of reforms, end to sectarianism and extremism, and to fulfill the vision of Quaid-i-Azam, would you like to elect President General Pervez Musharraf as President of Pakistan for five years?

From Story of Pakistan

According to the Government there were 78 million eligible voters. Eighty seven thousand polling stations were set up, including booths set up at prisons, hospitals, petrol stations, workplaces, and markets. However, there were no voter lists or constituencies, and anyone who could prove his identity and age could vote at any polling station. According to the Government estimate, around 98 percent of the counted votes backed General Musharraf continuing in office and the turnout of the referendum was said to be around 70 percent.

What’s with the obsession of dictators with approval ratings reaching almost 100%? And when voter turnout has normally been less than 50%, how come voter turnout in referendums reach 70%? Don’t they know that this puts the credibility of the results into question.

Once these usurpers have legitimized their rule for the said period promising reforms, it turns out that by the time they leave (rather “forced to leave”) and take their reforms with them, the country is worse off compared to when they took over.

Based on this history, I will give King Mohamed VI of Morocco a maximum of 10 years of sham reform before he is booted out or is restricted to his palace.

Whereas these dictators create an infrastructure of polling/votes before quoting statistics, we have an Interior Minister who has taken to quoting percentages like a magician creating them out of thin air at his whims. But that is for another post.

Watch out Mr. President

From Dawn

LARKANA: President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday said that they will not take revenge for the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Who does he think he is helping by not bringing the killers and murderers on trial? This is the third prime minister that has been killed in this country and he believes that he is doing the nation a favor by letting the murderers go.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Rather in this case, by not bringing the murderers to the book (Zardari has claimed on numerous occasions that he knows the culprits) Zardari is keeping the door open for future prime ministers as well as civilian president (watch out Mr. Zardari) to be killed without any fear of getting caught or punished. He is not doing anyone any favors least of all himself.

Despite the fact  that two people who stood to gain the most by Benazir Bhutto’s murder were Zardari and Musharraf, I like to believe that he is a bereaved widower. However,  by making such statements he is not helping his case.

UPDATE: Someone posted an SMS that she got

Bilawal to Zardari, “dad its been 2.5 years since we became maskeen, when would we catch the murderers?”

Zardari,”Maskeen to pehlay hi ho, qatil pakarwa kar yateem bhi hona chahtay ho?”

Playing the Devil’s Advocate : Faisal Shahzad and TTP

Within two days of the failed attempt, the media circus was in full force with every magazine or newspaper churning out op-eds on the event dissecting Faisal Shahzad’s connections with TTP and trying to make sense of his motives.

Most of the op-ed pieces assigned his motives to 1. his modest upbringing (which we can easily rule out as he was son of an Air Vice Marshal), 2. Zia ul Haq impacted hate based education system of Pakistani schools and madrasas (being a son of AVM, he has probably done O and A levels), 3. anti America sentiments at his home (which is hard to believe for sons of top brass of military which is getting fat with American military aid living in bungalows, driving BMWs and Mercedes etc.), 4. his hatred for American foreign policy (though it did not stop him from applying for naturalization a few months ago), 5.watching Zaid Hamid and the likes and dreaming of world domination (this one has been beaten to death but to me he seems more like a Friends, Heroes and Lost fan) or 6.disillusionment with American dream because his house was foreclosed couple of years ago and he was looking for a reason in life (seems the most probable cause ) but as I have no idea what was going on in his mind and I am no psychologist so I will not offer an opinion.

However, I am surprised at how quickly well-respected analysts/columnists jumped the gun from calling creation of Pakistan a mistake to labeling Pakistan a failed state to calling it a jihad factory. What I found most absurd was Pervez Hoodbhoy’s column which was given wide dissemination adorning front pages of newspapers as well as e-zines from the second day without even waiting for a clear picture to emerge from US. To me it seemed that he had the material already written for some months and as soon as the news of failed attempt came out, with a few edits here and there, his article was ready for publication.

I will try to approach it from a different perspective: motive of Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in claiming that attack was carried out on their behest. I want to understand what TTP expected to gain by claiming that this half-hearted bungled-up operation was their brainchild. If I was a security analyst (which I am not) I would say that

1. TTP is on the run
2. They don’t have time to train recruits
3. They are desperate and clutching on to straws (I am surprised David Cameron’s victory as British PM has not been claimed by them.) Do you remember the firing incident at a naturalization center in US by a Vietnamese applicant which was also claimed by Baitullah Mehsud but was later denied by US authorities as a false claim?

From a PR perspective, claiming this operation as their own does not earn TTP any brownie point. It will also turn away any future would-be recruits because this shows that TTP has lost its effectiveness.

I have observed is that (please correct me if I am wrong) TTP was not on US’s list of targets. Though she carries out drone attack against TTP but it is only to oblige Pakistan which is backing/supporting US’s war on Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA – the so called good Talibans).

TTP is fighting against the Pakistan Army (which is stretched thin in terms of resources human as well as arsenal). By carrying out an attack at US soil, TTP has added its name to list of enemies of US. What objective did TTP expected to achieve from this (please bear in mind that TTP claimed the attempt after it was clear that the plan was a total failure)? Simply boggles the mind unless in their desperation TTP has also lost what little brain power it possessed.

At the risk of inviting the wrath of security agencies, what is most surprising is the incendiary device used by Faisal. Taliban are supposed to be experts in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) daily incapacitating military convoys with them. Even a Molotov cocktail is much easier and cheaper to make and causes more damage and quickly. The internet is full of resources from Taliban bomb making guides to Anarchist Cookbook to Thermite bombs all of which require around the house or around the neighborhood stuff to build and deploy. Honestly, it was a pretty retarded attempt and thanks God for that.

The only reasonable (or outlandish…depends upon how you look at it) theory I could come up with is he was part of a CIA financed campaign wherein TTP acts as agents of CIA and fools him into believing that he is carrying out the work of God by blowing up Times Square through a technique which was bound to be a complete failure from the start.

Pakistan Army has so far been resisting US pressure by not taking military operation into North Waziristan which is a sanctuary of TTA. However, since TTP claimed this attack and US has verified it further claiming that the failed operation was hatched in North Waziristan, US will now force Pakistan Army to start military operation in North Waziristan. This is a conspiracy theory but you have to admit that under the circumstances it makes sense.

At the risk of inviting further wrath of security establishment, what should have TTP done if they are serious about screwing US in the region and get Pakistan Army off their back? Very simply: use Lashkar-e-Taiba’s or Jamat-ud-Dawa’s setup and do such a bungled up effort in India. This will enrage India and they will move their forces on Pakistan border to launch an attack. This will force Pakistan Army to retreat from western region and move towards securing our eastern borders and leave the US and NATO without any support from Pakistan Army and at the mercy of so called good Taliban and bad Taliban. It should be remembered that a lot of supplies including drinking water to US and NATO army goes from Pakistan under the protection of Pakistan Army and Taliban who are paid off to allow the convoys to pass without causing much damage. Without Pakistan Army to provide support to US, logistical or otherwise, the losses of US and NATO forces increase exponentially.

Disclaimer: This article is just an attempt to understand the Time Square bomb plot from a different perspective. It should in no way be construed to be recommending any sort of violence against any nation, country or people. Who knows when the dust settles, the fact turns out that Faisal Shahzad sought training after watching Zaid Hamid and was trained by TTP who were desperate to make an impact (any kind) and have no brainpower left.