Global Courant 2023-05-19 15:30:32
Imran Khan’s ouster as Prime Minister of Pakistan last April in a vote of no confidence by parliament led to a political realignment among Pakistanis that is having ripple effects around the world.
Networks connected to the two poles of this conflict – Khan and the country’s military leadership – have been fighting their battles to the halls of the US Congress and that of London Mayfair Districtas well as TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.
The center of gravity is Khan, a famous cricketer turned philanthropist and populist politician. Since losing the support of Pakistan’s powerful generals – a process that began in late 2021, in part due to a conflict over personnel changes in the army – Khan has leveraged his strong organic media reach and popularity in the diasporawhich introduces new volatility in Pakistani politics.
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Now the Pakistani army is on the defensive like it hasn’t been in over a decade.
Khan tests whether the military can maintain its dominance over the political and information realm in a controlled, semi-democratic system. Over the past week, large parts of Pakistan fell under a mix of emergency rule And state of siege.
The last time the Pakistani military faced a serious media challenge was in 2007, when the heavy-handed treatment of the country’s deposed chief justice sparked a protest movement against military ruler Pervez Musharraf. The Movement of lawyers, as it was known, maintained a symbiotic relationship with Pakistan’s cable news channels, which emerged in the Musharraf era. The movement was also supported by opposition parties.
News channels broadcast live coverage of the movement’s protests well into the night. The Musharraf government some channels off the air, but this caused a backlash. While the military has since again resorted to this tactic – like with violence – it has also developed its own network of related channels and media personalities.
Over the years, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Press Relations (ISPR), the army’s public relations arm, has become the country’s largest media group. controlling journalists, making moviesand at work social media networks.
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Some of this was deployed to counter what the military said was “fifth-generation warfare” from India, a world leader spreader of fake news. But the main battleground in the Pakistani military’s information wars has been and remains at home.
In 2018, much of the army’s online support came from volunteers who were also supporters of Imran Khan. When the army’s split with Khan became clear last year after the no-confidence vote, these digital janissaries followed the deposed prime minister. But because many of these supporters come from army families, the resulting clash is one within the wider military clan.
Fight to regain control
The military has since struggled to regain dominance of Khan’s information domain. Early in this crisis, it used coercive tactics against prominent journalists. Some were arrested. Others were forced flee the country. One was right killed in mysterious circumstances in Kenya.
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Those that were forced off the air have since gone online. dissatisfied retired army officers have also become social media stars, winning hundreds of thousands of subscribers on Youtube. They are among the military’s strongest critics and often claim to have inside information. The challenge is so serious that the military, in a veiled reference to these men, refers to them as “externally sponsored” troops fighting “propaganda warfare” against the army.
The military has also struggled to control Khan’s digital native millennial and Gen Z supporters. Managing a few dozen news channels is one thing. But today, the tens of millions of mobile phone users in Pakistan are themselves content creators or news broadcasters.
The military has responded with analogous tactics – such as A press conference with the country’s military spy chief – only to find the fearsome official mocked in memes that go viral in an instant.
Now the Pakistani army is launching a counter-offensive the popular Khan and its digital army. Leverage supporter violence after Khan was arrested on May 9 on corruption charges, the military turned to brute force, including wrongful kidnappings. When released, Khan’s defenders clearly apologize under duress.
The government of Pakistan has tried to tell its own story – posting ads on TikTokfor example, calling on Pakistanis to “condemn the acts of shameful incidents”.
It has also brought back old hands from the days of fifth-generation counter-warfare, some of whom appear to be crafting pro-government counter-narratives that have been made suspect in impeccable English.
Harassment may silence young Pakistanis, but it will only deepen the rift between the military and wider society. A failing economy and growing authoritarianism will accelerate the flight of Pakistani professionals.
The Pakistani diaspora – once a staunch supporter of cooperation between their native and adopted countries – will come to resemble Iranians in the US and Canada lobbying against the Islamic Republic.
Finally the Pakistani army. as it has done so many times, friends will probably turn into enemies and win the battle but lose the war.
This article is provided by Syndication Bureauon which the copyright is based.