General You are Tubed!
by Adnan Gill
Like mortals, political parties also go through life-changing events that can elevate their virtually unheard leaders into the stratosphere of prominence and idolization; similarly, it can throw a crown-bearer of a party into the dark depths of ignominy and oblivion. There was a time when it used to take a war or a catastrophe to bring a leader to fame and recognition, or contempt and disgrace. Now, fame and disgrace lay only a blog or YouTube away. In this day and age of satellite TV, cell phone cameras, and internet portals, political carriers are made or trashed at the speed of light.
Megastar Cricketer Imran Khan with global following of millions of fans was virtually an unknown in the cutthroat world of politics. Then came the May 12 Karachi carnage. Dozens upon dozens of MQM workers indiscriminately shooting their political opponents were caught by the prying eyes of digital cameras. Despite the government's best efforts to hide the reality by shutting down the cable operators, within minutes the bloodbath was viewed on YouTube by shocked audiences around the world. This time, MQM which prided itself for bringing a revolution through the wizardry of electronics was fatally stung by the wizardry of information technology. MQM and their infamous leader Altaf Hussain were effectively ‘Tubed’. Cognizant to the potency of YouTube, now MQM volunteers are trying to drown the information through coordinated spamming attacks. At regular intervals, they upload dozens upon dozens of short pro-MQM video clips on YouTube under every possible Tag related to the Pakistani politics. But despite their best efforts bloggers like GeoPakistani.com and PkPolitics.com have marginalized MQM’s spamming attacks by providing an alternative portal for the Pakistani news and views.
Where YouTube drove the last nail in MQM's political coffin, it plucked Imran Khan from obscurity and pushed him into the every-day vocabulary of emotionally drained and frustrated Pakistanis who were waiting for a political messiah to lead Pakistan into an era of stability and prosperity.
Blogs and YouTube once again played a pivotal role when the Pakistani establishment tried to hide the truth through the news blackout when the police busted open the heads of lawyers and journalists in a brutal crackdown outside the Supreme Court. Countless video clips and still photographs on the Internet left no doubt in anybody's mind that the crackdown was premeditated. The global community was left flabbergasted to see how there were more policemen (both in uniform and civvies) than protesters. These well-armored policemen were not only armed with batons and teargas, but they had their pockets filled with stones that they showered on the protesters without any regard to age, gender, or profession. Within hours, the pictures of stone-throwing policemen shamelessly beating and dragging hapless women were flashed around the world. One such picture which stood out was of a policeman hurling a baseball size stone on a woman as she covered her head with her hands while desperately running away from her attacker. Arguably, the glory days of government’s monopoly on tailored information were long gone, and this time the Government was ‘Tubed’.
To the credit of MQM, it was quick at recognizing the awesome potential of YouTube to disseminate information at demand that is why it vainly tries to control the damage through the spamming attacks. However, the Pakistani establishment has not shown any signs of learning a harsh lesson from its mistakes. On November 3rd, once again, it fallaciously tried to gag the news and information about the latest crackdown on the Pakistani judiciary, lawyers, journalists, students, cherry-picked opposition leaders, human rights activists, and anyone else whom the General Musharraf deemed to be a hurdle in his lifelong rule.
The General did not realize that the Pakistani public stepped into the information age years ago. Despite government's best efforts to rob the truth from Pakistanis, the public circumvented the information vacuum through the satellite dishes, SMS messages, phone cameras, blogs, e-mail circuits, and most importantly through video portals like YouTube.
Whether intentionally or naïvely General Musharraf argued that the populace are supporting his second Martial Law, because they did not come out on the streets. What the General does not realize is that even people in the remotest areas, are busy carrying out a bloodless revolution against his regime through the magic of information technology. Thanks to this magic, once invisible politicians like Imran Khan are addressing the nation from hiding, and the expatriates are organizing protests all around the world. These expatriates are lobbying their respective governments to pressurize the General to, at a minimum, reverse his second Martial Law and most importantly to reinstall the pre-November 3rd judiciary. The outcries of expatriates are already bearing fruits. President Bush has already hardened his government’s stance from pussyfooting around to demanding General Musharraf to take his uniform off, and to hold free and transparent elections on time.
India tried to leash the bloggers, recently Myanmar tried to hide its brutal crackdown on the monks, only to realize that the information genie is out, and it can not be caged. It will be in the Generals benefit to grasp the reality that it is no longer possible to keep 160 million Pakistanis oblivious of the truth through censorship and threats of trials of civilians in the military courts. The historic crash of Karachi stock market is the living contradiction of the myth that information can be controlled.
Whether you realize it or not but General you are ‘Tubed’ too.