Internet outages hit PTI’s bid to launch manifesto

Published January 8, 2024
PTI workers wave party flags during a rally. — AFP/File
PTI workers wave party flags during a rally. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A bid by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to launch its manifesto for the 2024 general elections and raise funds through a telethon was stymied on Sunday after a total blackout of social media sites was reported throughout the country.

This is the second time in recent months that internet services were disrupted as the PTI planned to host an online event. On Dec 17, the party organised a virtual power show, which also suffered due to a disruption in internet services.

On Sunday, many social media users failed to join the online event through their accounts.

“Live metrics show a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms across Pakistan, including X/Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube,” internet tracking agency Netblocks said on Sunday evening.

Netblocks Director Alp Toker told AFP the disruptions were affecting network providers across the country.

Spokesperson says document to be revealed in a few days

“Such nation-scale social media targeting political activities is almost unprecedented at this scale — Venezuela is one other country that has used similar measures to limit opposition speeches and rallies,” he said.

Over the past few days, the PTI had been creating hype about its manifesto, which was supposed to be launched on Sunday night. However, PTI spokesperson Raoof Hasan told Dawn that the party would now be able to share its manifesto “after a couple of days”.

Last month, Mr Hasan said that a number of people were contributing to the manifesto document, which would be launched before elections. Former finance minister Shaukat Tarin was one of the key members of the PTI’s manifesto committees, but he parted ways with the party in December 2023.

Telethon disrupted

The former ruling party said it had anticipated social media curbs and asked its supporters to attend the telethon through social media sites. But after online disruptions, it urged them to join the transmission via VPN. However, the VPN being shared by PTI representatives required Rs1,999 per month to sign up.

Dawn was able to view a part of the transmission on YouTube. At the time, the virtual event — moderated by Ali Malik and Jibran Ilyas — had an audience of over 7,000 people. Around 10:20pm, it was informed that the party had collected $44,000 and Rs30 million.

Erstwhile PTI chairman Barrister Gohar Khan welcomed people and shared a message on behalf of Imran Khan, who is incarcerated in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.

“Imran Khan is in jail to protect your rights… Pakistan’s fate is democracy and we are making efforts for a country in which the judiciary and people would be free, every citizen would get respect and we will achieve our target,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Senator Sania Nishtar said there were 16 social welfare programmes during the PTI government to support people. “We introduced health cards, a cash transfer programme, and also took steps to address the issue of stunting among children,” she said.

Laiba Dar, daughter of Usman Dar, said that Imran Khan gave a “vision to the youth”. She said that even if her father was forced to quit the party, she and her grandmother would stand by Imran Khan.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2024

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