Dawn Editorials 2nd February 2024

Digital oversight

THE Sindh High Court has asked the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to enforce the relevant laws to prevent and remove “objectionable and illegal” content on social media platforms on the complaint of some YouTube vloggers. This calls attention to the critical need for clarity and specificity in the laws governing digital content. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules, 2021, which have been invoked in the plea, with their vague characterisation of what is ‘lawful’, leave too much to interpretation. This vagueness can be misused for blanket censorship. A notable instance was in 2019, when websites like Alibaba, Bloomberg, and Buzzfeed were mistakenly blocked for hosting ‘unethical’ content. This action, far from being isolated, is indicative of a pattern. There have been numerous occasions where the PTA, citing the removal of ‘harmful’ content, has restricted access to information, often without transparent justification. These actions have not only impeded access to information but also raised questions about the arbitrary nature of these decisions.

The broad discretion granted to the PTA in moderating online content has frequently led to decisions that seem more arbitrary than judicious. The lack of transparency and accountability in these processes has stifled freedom of expression and hampered the growth of Pakistan’s digital landscape. To address this, judicial oversight is imperative. No sole authority must be allowed to behave as judge, jury and executioner. The high court must ensure that the enforcement of digital laws is balanced and fair. It should demand that the PTA operate within a framework of well-defined legal standards. Transparency and accountability should be the cornerstones of these standards. Moreover, involving civil society, digital rights experts, and other stakeholders in formulating these standards is crucial. As we navigate the digital age’s complexities, it is essential that our legal frameworks evolve to protect both national security and individual freedoms.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2024


Militant nexus

AS a recent UN report on terrorist activity has noted, a witches’ brew of extremely dangerous militant actors continues to find sanctuary in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Unless these threats are addressed proactively, Pakistan, as well as the greater region, may suffer the fallout. As per the Security Council’s 33rd monitoring report on Al Qaeda and IS, the former terrorist group has established a string of training camps in Afghanistan, including in provinces bordering Pakistan, where TTP suicide bombers receive instruction. Moreover, the document says that Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent was instrumental in the cross-border militant attack orchestrated by the TTP in Chitral last September, with the former providing fighters for the deadly incursion. The UN report also says that the Afghan Taliban are “generally sympathetic” towards the banned TTP, and that the Tehreek-i-Jihad Pakistan, a shadowy group that emerged last year and was involved in numerous bloody attacks inside this country, is reportedly a TTP front formed to provide “plausible deniability” to the Pakistani Taliban. Another finding of concern is the apparent nexus between the Majeed Brigade, a Baloch militant outfit, and the TTP and IS-K.

The UN report substantiates the state’s position that anti-Pakistan militants are finding refuge in Afghanistan, and that the Taliban are not doing enough to address the matter. The document observes that Kabul’s de facto rulers did take some steps, including imprisoning some TTP cadres, and moving others away from the Pakistani border, “to alleviate Pakistani pressure”. But clearly, these moves have not gone far enough in stemming the militant tide. The fact that other militant groups — such as anti-China outfits and the sectarian IS-K — are also active means that Pakistan should work with regional states, including China, Iran and the Central Asian countries, to put pressure on the Kabul regime to address this potentially explosive problem. Bilateral efforts also need to continue between Pakistan and Afghanistan. If left unattended, the militant problem in Afghanistan can again become a multinational security headache. The message from all regional capitals should be: if the Taliban want greater recognition, international cooperation, and foreign investment, they must shut down terrorist sanctuaries. From Pakistan’s perspective, the potential link between Baloch separatists and jihadi groups — highlighted earlier by some observers — would complicate matters in Balochistan, and would require an effective counterterrorism response from the new administration.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2024


Date confirmed

THE sense of uncertainty that had taken hold between the nights of Wednesday and Thursday stands broken. We have a green signal: elections will go ahead as scheduled on Feb 8.

The prospects of polls being held all over the country on the same day had been thrown in doubt once again after reports that the ECP had requisitioned a high-level moot yesterday over the worsening law and order situation in KP and Balochistan. The announcement had led some to speculate that an election delay in the two provinces might be on the cards.

A senior ECP official had told this publication that the Commission was deeply perturbed over the recent surge in terrorism-related violence and discussed the option of delaying polls in high-risk areas. Another said, “Anything was possible.” Meanwhile, a statement issued on behalf of the army had been more reassuring, promising that the armed forces were ready to protect the “quintessential democratic exercise”.

All is certainly not well in the country, not with candidates being gunned down or targeted in gun and bomb attacks on their offices, convoys and rallies.

There is a clear and present danger from the myriad terrorist and militant outfits operating in the country, who have made plain their intentions to use this sensitive transitional period as an opportunity to sow more chaos in the country.

There is considerable social unrest, not just due to the extreme political polarisation seen in this election cycle but also because of more entrenched issues, such as the discontent of the people of GB and the enforced disappearance crisis plaguing Balochistan.

It is within this challenging environment that law enforcement and security forces have to operate as they strive to protect a nationwide activity that has the participation of millions of citizens. Commendably, they are rising to the occasion and have reaffirmed their preparedness for the task at hand.

It has been stated before, but bears repeating that our security forces and law-enforcement agencies must now dedicate their energies solely to their core job of protecting the people. Taking a confrontational position against those they are responsible for protecting is not just a violation of their oath of service, it also creates unnecessary risks that may imperil the law-and-order situation.

All they should focus on is the safety and security of the public. Law enforcers must remember that they are there to fix problems, not become a part of them.

As they make their security plans, policymakers should account for the fact that inimical forces seeking to destabilise the country will try to take advantage of its internal divisions. To counter their designs, LEAs and security forces must affirm that they are there for everyone, regardless of their political affiliations or beliefs.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2024

 

February 19, 2024

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