Pakistan has 1.9 million twitter users and since the start of the year it has become a major channel for dissent, comment and dark humour against the grinding ISI state.
For those picking their way through the complexities of good guys and bad guys in an opaque country, it has also become a way to support and pay tribute to the Pakistanis who risk their lives to defend the ordinary citizens. It is a way to circulate articles including this in the New York Times by the Martha Gelhorn award-winning editor Umar Cheema, who was picked up and tortured by the ISI, and to swap high-spirited news and gossip.
Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch , Pakistan, on the unsung security forces who take the brunt of extremist action: “True Heroes — security guards, police, soldiers at the frontline — & their families who endure such suffering. Pity about those who command them.” Omar Waraich continues: “I’ve lost count of how many heroic Pakistani security guards have given their lives stopping terrorists killing more people”.
The daily repression, torture and murder of Baloch nationalists, unknown in the west, is constantly and pithily documented. Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, put out the murder of a distinguished intellectual and academic “Brilliant Balochi scholar, a very popular teacher at Balochistan University , built a library wth his own money. Prof Saba Dashteyari killed” and days later: “Slain Dr. Saba Dashtiari’s room sealed, writings taken, flowers removed”. Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: “Abrar Hussain killed in Quetta today represented Pakistan in Olympics boxing. Stop killing Baloch nationalists and deal with these murderers”. A Balochi tweets: “Pakistanis u’ll never knw what Prof Dashtayari meant. 4 u its another man killed-for us an institution has closed its doors”.
It’s also become a medium in which high profile tweeters can see off the ISI in a way precluded by regular print, online and broadcasting, some areas of which are infiltrated by the agency itself. On the way to be interviewed on Dunya tv in Islamabad after a long run-off with the ISI, Syed Saleem Shahzad was picked up and killed. A Pakistani tweeted: “Dunya TV has very ‘rogue’ elements within it too, btw. I will not be surprized if SSS’s assassins were tipped off abt the show”.
Not best known for its brainpower, the ISI struggled to master the tweet but now apparently has a bevy of guys and gals bothering the media in return, even if it is still not quite bright enough to understand that dubious tweets are flushed back out into the public domain. One riled a well-known and outspoken young liberal broadcaster who replied: “No, you pathetic cretin, I do not hate Pakistan . I love the country and it’s people. Hate the ISI for it’s dangerous duplicity!” Sideways to a friend: “What’s intersting about X is have you seen his posts and blog he’s clearly not an ordinary person if you get my drift. Hmm.”
Best of all is the terse satire the medium has spawned:
“Whoa!! ISI warns journalists to not defame Pakistan ‘s “Sensitive agencies”!! I have medical qweshun: Can dicks…”.
“Just spoke with ████ from the ISI. He tells me that █████ is in Quetta . █████ in Karachi . And Elvis is in █████ “
Pakistan’s best tweeters:
Ali Dayan Hasan, Human Rights Watch: @AliDayan
Abbas Nasir, former editor of Dawn: @abbasnasir59
Shehrbano Taseer, humanitarian campaigner: @shehrbanotaseer
Omar Waraich, journalist: @OmarWaraich
Raza Rumi, journalist: @Razarumi
Majorly Profound, satirist: @majorlyprofound
Mohammed Hanif, award winning novelist: @mohammedhanif
George Fulton, television producer: @GeorgeFulton1
Nadeem Paracha, columnist and satirist: @NadeemfParacha
Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.