Pakistan trying to use internet to fan extremism
The Freedom House, an international internet rights group, released its 'Freedom on the Net' (FoTN) report for the year 2019 recording an overall decline in global internet freedom between June 2018 and May 2019.
Does the availability of Internet score over the lives of innocent citizens? This is the question that needs to be seriously pondered.
After the abrogation of Article 370 and constitution of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, the government imposed a ban on the use of mobile phones and the internet as a precautionary step to avert any abuse of the facilities by the terrorists and their handlers to mobilise masses to propagate violence. Though, after the normalcy returned to Kashmir, the postpaid mobile phones have been restored and the government has already provided 280 e-terminals for accessing the internet.
"As many as 230,418 persons used the internet facilities across 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley," according to a report of the Government of India. According to it, as many as 93,247 landline phones, 2,005,293 postpaid mobile phones are functioning in Kashmir.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has recently restored the Internet connections of more than 80 subscribers who have signed a bond agreeing to use the services strictly for business purposes and no unlawful activity. The state security agencies are seeking assurances so that there is no wrong use of the Internet. Connections of some call centers, corporate offices and tourism-related entities whose work is completely dependent on the Internet have been restored as well. The FM stations in Kashmir have also become live after the restoration of mobile phones as hundreds of listeners continue to make phone calls to the show hosts for several interactive programmes.
The return of the use of the internet has enabled the use of traditional net-enabled Thuraya satellite phones by the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. This was not being used in the absence of internet and prepaid mobile phones to communicate with their handlers. This has given credence to the government stance that the restoration of internet would be drastically abused by terrorists to spew violence in Kashmir.
Net-enabled satellite phones are like modern smartphones, but they connect directly to satellites instead of using mobile towers for internet access. According to senior security officials, use of the phones, called “Suraya” in militant parlance, diminished since services like SMS and mobile internet gave them an easier way to communicate with each other as well as their leadership in Pakistan.
The police are now ascertaining the scale at which these satellite phones are being used. Official sources said the police have discovered net-enabled satellite phones being used in Kashmir on at least two occasions in the last two months.
Pakistan, which has been fraudulently fanning extremism in Jammu and Kashmir, has made many abortive attempts to raise the issue of internet shutdown in the Union Territory, ignoring the facts that Balochistan, which it has illegally and treacherously occupied, has been facing prolonged internet shutdown from the past few years. Apart from Balochistan, internet facility is also restricted in Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA, now part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province from time to time.
Pakistan's Science and Technology Minister Fawad Hussain Choudhary, famous for his foolish statements, once again made a mockery of himself when he stated that Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) would look for the possibility of providing satellite internet in Kashmir.
Twitter users were quick to mock Chaudhry’s statement, with some Pakistanis themselves talking about the sorry state of internet services in most public spaces in their country itself.
Some Twitter users also pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pakistani minister in light of the fact that Turbat, the second largest province in Balochistan, has been without internet access for the last four years.
Ironically, Pakistan itself lags behind much of the world when it comes to internet penetration; as of 2019, only 33 percent in the country enjoy access to the web, while the coverage of 4G services in the country is just 58.9 percent.
The Freedom House, an international internet rights group, released its 'Freedom on the Net' (FoTN) report for the year 2019, titled 'The Crisis of Social Media', recording an overall decline in global internet freedom between June 2018 and May 2019.
The watchdog in its report placed Pakistan at 26, out of 100 (100 being the worst) — one place down from last year's ranking. The country scored five out of 25 for obstacles to access, 14 out of 35 for limits on content, and seven out of 40 for violation of user rights index.
It is pertinent to mention here that a bunch of petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the internet restrictions. The state administration has justified the imposition of internet curbs. A bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir administration, that it was not only fighting enemies within but also with those from across the border. "There were several other messages on social media from mainstream political parties and separatists which justified putting restrictions on the internet," he said, adding that social media is "uncontrolled" and one can convey views using hashtags on twitter handles.
Referring to social media app Twitter, Mehta said that "there were thousands of messages on official twitter handles of Pakistan Army, Afghan Taliban and other terror groups meant to instigate the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There was a propaganda by the Pakistan Army. It is an "exceptional situation" which required exceptional measures as the psychological cyberwar was propagated by vested interests.