ISLAMABAD: The government is mulling forming a special task force to check social media campaigns against the army, an official source told Dawn on Thursday.

He explained that a summary to set up the task force has been moved but was still awaiting approval. “For now it is just a proposal.”

The proposed task force will comprise officers from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Pak­istan Tele­communication Authority (PTA) and the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). The proposed task force will be assisted by the police and other law enforcement agencies and frame recommendations to check the misuse of social media.

The move came at a time when the government has accused the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and its chairman, Imran Khan, of running a vilification campaign against the military.

As widening political polarisation in the country was also reflected in the digital world, several social media trends vilifying the army and its officers have been promoted in the recent past. In Aug 2022, the military expressed strong disapproval of “false propaganda and insensitive comments on social media” after six army officers were martyred in a helicopter crash in Balochistan. Later, the FIA constituted a team to trace and arrest those behind the campaigns.

An official of the interior ministry said eight TikTok accounts, 44 Twitter accounts and more than 50 Facebook accounts have been identified who were allegedly involved in running ‘anti army’ campaigns on social media.

Second attempt

This is the government’s second attempt to quell the army’s criticism on social media in as many months.

In Feb, differences emerged within cabinet members after a bill proposing a crackdown on social media was presented for the apex body’s approval.

During one cabinet meeting, some members observed that the law should also apply to those defaming the parliamentarians while for some, harsh punishment would be tantamount to curbing freedom of expression. The interior ministry had presented the proposal titled Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

The cabinet was informed that despite the presence of Section 500 in the Pakistan Penal Code (Punishment for defamation), there was ‘a long-standing need for a separate provision to protect the judiciary and armed forces’ from scandalous and derogatory attacks.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2023

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