EDITORIAL: Whatever the government might have gained by blocking access to the internet over the last few days, ostensibly to quell violence and unrest in the wake of Imran Khan’s arrest, is not readily quantifiable.
But it isn’t hard at all to calculate the kind of damage that has already been done to people that bank on online services for their everyday work, freelancers, and especially e-commerce businesses. It’s also done no good to the government’s own claims of striving to create a vibrant digital economy.
Then there’s also the point that for all its faults, especially spreading disinformation in certain times, the internet is also the most efficient platform for authenticating information in highly fluid situations. And simply turning it off for a lot of people can also be very counterproductive, as the government must no doubt have learned by now.
Yet despite all the drama after the arrest, especially the apex court’s orders declaring it “illegal”, there’s still no sign of a return to normalcy and mobile broadband services as well as social media sites like Twitter and Facebook remain blocked.
That leads one to question the real purpose of the ban. For one thing, it clearly failed to do anything about the violence as mobs went on a torching spree through military installations up and down the country. And for another, all it has done is drag Pakistan back to the 1990s just when it was struggling to keep pace with 21st century technology.
After all, these are times when the working model of the entire world is changing, especially post-Covid, as leveraging online capabilities and remote working facilities is making businesses more efficient for everybody.
Yet over here, the government itself is pushing the few daring entrepreneurs that are actively flirting with new technologies and setting up viable e-commerce outlets out of the country.
Indeed, a number of young IT workers have openly lamented that such policies have pushed them over the edge and they are considering leaving Pakistan for places with more online freedom. This isn’t bad just for the individuals and companies that are suffering, but for the economy and indeed the entire country.
Therefore, the government must not only immediately roll back this ridiculous ban but also restore people’s confidence by making it amply clear that such self-defeating policies will never be implemented in future. Unfortunately, this is just one more feature of the toxic political environment that has firmly gripped social society as well.
Even when nothing is blocked, social media sites are usually overflowing with fury and vitriol. And in the race to go one-up against the other, political leaders and their supporters have come to treat everything as fair game, even some of people’s most fundamental rights.
This is no way to survive in the modern world. Pakistan is already dangerously close to being a lost cause with its economy collapsing and its politics becoming a zero-sum game.
And while leaders from all over the political spectrum have had a role to play in this sad slide, the government of the day must still take the bulk of the responsibility; especially when it comes to things like restricting ordinary people’s, and workers’, access to online space.
In times of very high inflation and unemployment and very low production and growth, such cruel measures eat up more livelihoods and work opportunities, which must be condemned in the harshest terms.
It is sincerely hoped that better sense will prevail and such measures will be rolled back sooner rather than later; regardless of the overall political situation or how the government and opposition feel about each other.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023