As new PM takes oath, Pakistan senator seeks permanent ban on social media sites

With Shahbaz Sharif set to become the next prime minister, concerns grow over the continued disruption of X for over a fortnight

Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N (photo: PTI)
Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N (photo: PTI)


Senior PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif is set to become the next prime minister of Pakistan to lead a coalition government after last month's elections produced a split mandate. Sharif (72), who is the consensus candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), submitted his nomination on Saturday.

Meanwhile, amidst serious concerns over the continued disruption of the social media platform X in Pakistan for over a fortnight, a member of the senate has demanded a permanent ban on all social media owing to its negative impact on the younger generation.

Senator Bahramand Khan Tangi, who was recently expelled by PPP after he moved a resolution seeking a delay in the 8 February polls, called for a complete ban on all social media platforms, deeming them detrimental to the future of the young generation, Dawn News reported. The resolution is listed on the agenda of the senate session for Monday.

Tangi, who is set to retire on 11 March, said: “Social media platforms are adversely affecting the young generation in the country… [and] being used for promotion of norms against our religion and culture, creating hatred among people on the grounds of language and religion."

The resolution notes with concern “the use of such platforms against the interests of the country through negative and malicious propaganda against the armed forces of Pakistan” and calls upon the senate to recommend to the government to ban Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, X, and YouTube to save the young generation from "their negative and devastating effects".

X has anyway been largely offline in Pakistan since 17 February, with occasional service restorations, mainly after former Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Ali Chatta made a statement in front of the media, claiming that the “elections were rigged”.

Separately, reports said authorities are considering a blanket ban on all virtual private networks (VPNs), prompting the IT and services sector to express concerns that such action could severely harm the cash-strapped country’s economy, with a majority of users are using VPNs to access social media platforms.

Numerous posts have been mocking the authorities, including caretaker IT minister Umar Saif, for using a VPN. Saif uses a VPN as his current location in recent tweets shows Hong Kong.

So far, no authority has taken responsibility for restricting the services of X, which activists see as a dangerous trend. “This way, those in power are saying that they can ban any platform without any reason or being answerable to anyone,” said Nighat Dad, a digital rights activist and member of the UN secretary-general’s advisory board on AI.

She added that such a blanket ban on any platform is a violation of fundamental rights, and those in power are not considering the reputation of the country worldwide, especially concerning those who are being invited to invest in Pakistan.

Rumours that even VPNs will be banned in the country have rung alarm bells in the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), which said such a proposal for a blanket ban on VPNs would have detrimental consequences for Pakistan’s economy and its burgeoning reputation as a tech and innovation hub.

P@SHA also said a VPN ban would not only disrupt business operations but also stifle growth for companies and individuals heavily reliant on dynamic IPs for their work.

“The banking sector, in particular, faces severe financial repercussions due to restricted access to VPNs, hindering their ability to manage international transactions effectively,” a statement by P@SHA said, adding that such bottlenecks would obstruct the government’s vision of achieving the $15 billion exports target for the IT and IT services and also undermines the extensive endeavours of SIFC to facilitate the ease of doing business.

“Without losing reputational credibility, competitive advantage, and clientele, we advocate for the formation of a joint working group with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to ensure the uninterrupted operation of internet services while addressing regulatory concerns,” P@SHA said.

Currently, all commercial users are mandated to get their VPNs registered at PTA in two categories for companies and freelancers. Organisations and companies are required to undertake IP Whitelisting for call centres and video conferences. Today, more than 3,540 VPNs and 25,085 IP addresses have been registered with the PTA, but there is no bar on individuals using VPNs for non-commercial purposes.

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