• Those responsible for May 9 riots must be brought to justice
• FIA starts probe into ‘Imran’s tweet’ on Hamoodur Rehman Commission report
• Top brass vows to neutralise terrorism from Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Faced with an intensifying wave of criticism on social media, the Army on Thursday labelled such expressions as “digital terrorism” and declared a firm commitment to combat and defeat anti-military campaigns proliferating across online platforms.

The statement that marked further stiffening of the stance of the military towards online dissent and suggested an impending crackdown against the critics came at the end of the 83rd For­mation Commanders Conference at GHQ, which was chaired by Army Chief Gen Asim Munir and attended by corps commanders, principal staff officers, and all formation commanders of Pakistan Army.

“The forum underscored that politically motivated and vested digital terrorism, unleashed by conspirators duly abetted by their foreign cohorts, against State institutions is clearly meant to try to induce despondency in the Pakistani nation, to sow discord among national institutions, especially the Armed Forces, and the people of Pakistan by peddling blatant lies, fake news, and propaganda,” the statement issued by the ISPR read.

“The nation is fully cognisant of their ugly and ulterior motives and surely the designs of these nefarious forces will be comprehensively defeated,” it added.

Over the past couple of years, social media campaigns against the army have escalated, reflecting broader tensions within the country’s political and social fabric. The government, often in tandem with the military, has responded with stringent measures aimed at controlling the narrative and stifling dissent.

These measures have led to numerous arrests and legal actions against journalists and social media users accused of disseminating “negative propaganda” against the military and the state. Additionally, there have been several instances of restricted internet access, and notable social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter) have faced bans.

Despite stringent government efforts to suppress criticism, digital activism remains a crucial platform for dissent, highlighting the persistent conflict between the state authority and free speech in the digital era. This ongoing struggle has led to an increasingly firm stance from the military this year.

The social media challenge has become a recurring theme in official statements from ISPR, especially those issued after public engagements of the army chief and events like corps commanders’ meetings highlighting the military’s heightened focus on controlling its narrative in response to the challenges posed by digital discourse.

The military’s latest reaction has come against the backdrop of a post on the X account of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, in which he urged his followers to study the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report on the events leading to the separation of East Pakistan.

At the same time, an investigation has been launched by the FIA’s Cyber Wing into the post on Mr Khan’s account.

The participants of the formation commanders’ conference, according to the statement, also emphasised that for the country’s overall benefit, it is essential to bring to justice those who planned, executed, supported, and enabled the events of May 9.

They argued that without quick and clear justice for the offenders and the establishment of law and order, the country’s stability would continue to be threatened by the schemes of such individuals.

Cross-border violations

The conference expressed grave concerns about ongoing cross-border violations from Afghanistan and terrorism being planned from Afghan territory.

They noted that terrorists were using Afghanistan as a base to attack Pakistani security forces and civilians.

“The Conference concluded by affirming the resolve to neutralise all threats to the security and stability of the country with the full backing of the proud nation,” the ISPR further said.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2024

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