Amid upheaval, Pakistanis find a haven on the Internet
A blogger alerts fellow students to an imminent campus demonstration. A chat room user offers up a poignant Urdu-language poem. Another message has more practical advice: a homemade tear-gas remedy.
In the days since President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule, many Pakistanis have found a haven in cyberspace, where they can share information, keep up with the news and stay in touch with friends and associates amid a roundup of thousands of opposition activists.
About 15% of Pakistan’s population of 160 million has Internet access. Amid the crisis, many who were previously only occasional Web surfers have become full-fledged devotees.
“It’s not Burma,” said student Aitsaz Qureishi.
“We can talk to each other, and we can talk to the outside world.”
It’s unclear why Internet access has been more or less unrestricted, as tough media curbs take effect and cellphone service has been cut more than once.
Some websites have been blocked, but many Pakistan-themed sites are attracting record numbers.
Economic considerations are a possible reason for the lack of Internet restrictions. The Pakistani economy has been hurt by the turmoil, and limiting Internet use would disrupt too many businesses.
Others believe the government wants a quick means of dispelling unwanted rumors, such as persistent but untrue reports that soon after the emergency declaration, Musharraf had been overthrown by his generals.
Chat room users and bloggers are exercising a degree of self-censorship, some have said, out of concern authorities might be eavesdropping.
Despite their wariness, cyber-diarists continued chronicling a national upheaval that is also wrenchingly personal. A sampling:
* On Wednesday, students in the eastern city of Lahore (lahore.metblogs.com) live-blogged from a protest broken up by police.
* On a website that takes its name from the subcontinental term for traffic circle or village square (chowk.com), Goonga posted a graphic design combining Urdu script for “emergency” covered with a stylized red X.
* On British-based Pakistan Politics (pkpolitics.com), poster Saqibtahir wrote simply: “LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY.”