Social media to undergo scrutiny

Cabinet forms body to recommend regulations after ‘major debate’


Rizwan Shehzad   August 25, 2021
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry is addressing a press conference in Islamabad on July 27. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD:

Following the shocking assault on a female TikToker’s assault near Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on Independence Day, the federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to initiate a “major debate” by forming a committee tasked to give recommendations that could help to make some regulations to deal with such issues in the future.

The past few months have been quite eventful for TikTok in Pakistan. The social media platform has been in the news for a variety of reasons -- ranging from the telecommunication authority’s ban on the application due to “inappropriate content” to the assault on women at public places and transport.

At a post-cabinet meeting briefing, Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Prime Minister Imran Khan had expressed his concern over the TikToker assault and other such incidents.

Subsequently, the government’s spokesperson added that the cabinet has decided that a “major” debate would be started on such issues in the presence of people from different schools of thought.

“They will discuss different aspects of social media applications and give recommendations for a future course of action,” he added.

On the basis of constructive discussions, the information minister said, it would be decided what kind of regulations should be brought to deal with such issues.

“A high-level committee comprising religious scholars, intellectuals and representatives from the civil society is being formed and it will give its suggestions to the government,” Fawad added.

The minister said the cabinet had also discussed specific incidents of harassment of women and decided that a consultative process would be held to decide a way forward.

He said that the people invited for debate would discuss the trends dominating social media and give guidelines to the government.

Speaking about e-voting and electronic voting machines (EVMs), Fawad said rigging was an essential part of all the elections that the opposition parties had won.

“There hasn’t been a single election where the opposition parties, especially the PML-N, have won through fair means and that is why they are trying that the previous system goes on.”

The minister maintained that the government had tried to reach out to the opposition for the past year and tried to make them understand that the system needed to be changed.

“But there has been a constant effort by the opposition parties that the nine million Pakistanis living overseas do not get the right to vote and electoral reforms do not take place in the country.”

The minister said the PML-N and the PPP, through an organised conspiracy, wanted to deprive overseas Pakistanis of their right to vote.

He noted that most out of the 36 recommendations that the judicial commission, formed after the PTI protested against the rigging in four constituencies after the 2013 elections, had given were about the things that could go wrong after the polling time ended and election results were coming out.

“The EVMs can put an end to them,” he added.

He said that the judicial commission’s recommendations were an essential and integral part of the electoral reforms. Additionally, he said, the cabinet had also directed the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to conclude the e-voting process as soon as possible because Pakistan’s economy was dependent on the overseas Pakistanis.

“By not securing the voting right of overseas Pakistan that has already been given to them under the Constitution would a ‘big failure.”

Commenting on the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), he said the opposition alliance’s future was in London.

Referring to the PML-N leadership, he said, their weddings and children were in London and they might buy some more flats there.

Read PHA mulls restrictions on TikTokers

“Let’s see when [JUI-F chief] Maulana Fazlur Rehman goes to London,” he added.

He also said PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz also wanted to go to London to congratulate her son on his wedding.

“The way things and politics are, I think the PDM will either select Tory or Labour [party],” he quipped while naming the two major political parties in the UK.

To a question, Fawad said the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was in a state of "disarray" after Indian funding for the militant outfit had stopped. The minister said Pakistan was not a “weak country” and possessed the capability to overcome any challenges posed by the TTP.

Also read Taliban told to make clean break from ETIM, TTP

“These internal challenges are not a problem for us. Our [belief] is that once they stop having a funding stream from abroad then it will be a big blow for them and the rest we will handle ourselves.”

While welcoming the Afghan Taliban’s announcement that their soil would not be allowed to be used for terrorism against any other country, he said top terrorists from the Balochistan Liberation Army and TTP were present in the war-torn neighbouring country and would be handed over to Pakistan.

The minister said Pakistan was playing a responsible role in the process of the formation of a government in Afghanistan and was in close contact with Turkey, China and other countries for this purpose.

“Pakistan is in contact with the authorities in Afghanistan and also in touch with other countries.”

He said if Pakistan’s advice of reaching a political solution was heard earlier then the situation would have been different now. “It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s advice was not heard,” he regretted.

Fawad also said India should stay away from interfering in Afghanistan as it did have a border with the country.

“India has used Afghan land against Pakistan in the past few years. We are seeing an effort through Indian media that the peace process in Afghanistan should be sabotaged.”

The minister said Pakistan was a partner in peace and did not want any other country, including India to sabotage the process.

“We hope that the international community will take notice of this.”

Read more ‘No extension in evacuations from Afghanistan’, Taliban tell US

To a question as to whether or not the US was happy with Pakistan’s role, he said American Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with the foreign minister thrice; the army chief had exchanged views with the US chief of the central command and close consultation was underway with the Pentagon and the defence department.

“Two tracks of consultation are in process. One is of regional countries, which includes Turkey, Iran, and central Asian states. The second is the extended dialogue going on in Doha where China, Russia, the US, and Pakistan are involved. Both tracks are moving forward.”

The minister claimed that Pakistan was a major regional power. “Whether it is the US, UK or anyone else, Pakistan’s consent would be necessary for regional decisions.

“Just look at the countries where the army and institutions are not strong; the countries can’t run that way,” he claimed.

The cabinet approved an “important ordinance” which was pending for some time now. Under the ordinance, Fawad said, the membership of all those who had not taken oath within 60 days after winning a seat in parliament would be ended.

To a question if the incumbent finance minister would be elected from Lahore after the seat of PML-N leader Ishaq Dar was vacated once the ordinance was promulgated, Fawad said the premier would decide the matter.

To another query, Fawad said he did not have any information about SAPM Waqar Masood’s resignation – the news which dominated the TV screens on Tuesday.

The cabinet appointed Dr Ashfaq Ahmed as the new chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). Nadeem Zafar has been appointed the chief Statistician of Pakistan – a slot lying vacant for the past three years.

The cabinet was told that the economic indicators were “fantastic”, sustainability was seen in the exports; inflation was decreasing, a constant decrease was being witnessed in the debt-to-GDP ratio, and business confidence was increasing.

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