Lashkar-e-Islam, one of 65 organizations that are banned in Pakistan The shadows of three men brandishing assault rifles welcome the reader to the Facebook page of the banned organisation.
According to Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, or FIA, who is tasked with shutting down the sites, “still more than 40 of these banned groups operate and flourish on social media sites, communicating on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram”. They use them to recruit, raise money and demand a rigid Islamic system. It is also where they incite the Sunni faithful against the country’s minority Shiites and extoll jihad, or holy war, in India-ruled Kashmir and in Afghanistan.
“It’s like a party of the banned groups online. They are all on social media,” the FIA official told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition his name not be used because agency officials are not allowed to be quoted by name.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is waging a cyber crackdown on activists and journalists who use social media to criticise the government, the military or the intelligence agencies. The Interior Ministry even ordered the FIA, Pakistan’s equivalent of the American FBI, to move against “those ridiculing the Pakistan Army on social media.”
Even the FIA official concedes state support for some of the banned groups but said it is a global phenomenon engaged in by all intelligence agencies.
“Everyone is protecting their own terrorists. Your good guy is my bad guy and vice versa,” he said, adding that some sites belonging to banned groups are intentionally ignored to gain intelligence.
On one Facebook page, the Afghan Taliban flag welcomes viewers, its masthead emblazoned with Arabic script identifying the page as belonging to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Still another Facebook site features one of India’s most wanted, Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, another banned organization and a U.S. declared terrorist group.
Saeed even has a $10 million U.S.-imposed bounty on his head. Yet his group, which has been resurrected under several names, is billed as a charity and has several Facebook pages. Currently called Falah-e-Insaniat, the group boasts of its community work, but its pages feature anti-India videos, call Syria a bleeding wound, rail against India and chastise the Pakistan government for siding with the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks.
Ahmed Waqass Goraya is a blogger who was picked up and tortured by men he believes belonged to the country’s powerful intelligence agency, known by its acronym ISI. He said Pakistan’s social media space is dominated by armies of trolls unleashed by the military, intelligence agencies and allied radical religious groups to push their narrative. That narrative includes promoting anti-India sentiment – India is Pakistan’s longtime enemy against whom it has lost three wars.
Critics who openly accuse the military of using extremists as proxies are under attack, said Goraya. He fled Pakistan after social media was used to suggest the he and other bloggers were involved in blasphemy, a charge that carries the death penalty. In Pakistan even the suggestion that someone insulted Islam or its prophet can incite mobs to violence.
Earlier this month, Taimoor Raza, a minority Shiite, became the first person sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law for a social media posting.
Taha Siddiqui, a Pakistan-based journalist with France 24 and an active social media user who often criticizes heavy handed actions of the military or its agencies, has taken the FIA to court to demand to know why he is under investigation after being ordered to come in for questioning. His resistance is taking its toll with family, friends and colleagues, who plead for him to be silent, he said. “They worry someday I will just disappear.”
If you always double speak and show double standards no one will trust you in the world and that is what is happening in Pakistan. After Osama bin Laden’s lie, no one believes Pakistan. The Government and the Army of Pakistan is so engrossed in maintaining their relevance that they ignore such snakes in their back yards.
Days of Pak turning into an anarchic state are not very far off.