Suemedha Sood

November 13, 2007

The U.S. finds itself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to dealing with the current situation in Pakistan–a military coup with blatant disregard for democracy. It’s almost to be expected, though, when the U.S. has unflinchingly supported Pakistan with an extensive aid package for the past seven years. In doing so, the Bush administration has willfully ignored the conflict of interest inherent to supporting an undemocratic government.

What no one seems to be saying is that U.S. dollars are going to help Musharraf repress the Pakistani people. It is the U.S.-backed military that is cracking down on protesters, that is jailing democracy-supporters, and that has now placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest. While it should bring us hope that tomorrow Bhutto’s supporters will take to the streets in the 185-mile “long march” for which she is being detained, it also raises fears of increasing police brutality–all of which is indirectly being backed by U.S. money.

Unfortunately, it is not easy at this point for the Bush administration to simply cut off all aid to Pakistan in one fell swoop. Turning its back on a nuclear-armed government could be a bad move strategically. Which is exactly why we shouldn’t have waited until something like this happened. It took a real emergency for our government to reevaluate its wholehearted support of Pakistan.

Yes, as the administration keeps reiterating, Pakistan may be an important ally in the fight against terrorist groups. But over the past years, we have also been aware of ties between Musharraf’s government and groups affiliated with terrorist organizations.

As the West attempts to deal with Musharraf’s mess, foreign ministers from the Commonwealth of Britain announced that Pakistan will be suspended from the Commonwealth’s councils unless the state of emergency is repealed, the constitution is reinstated, and Musharraf steps down as army chief by Nov. 22.

The most effective action is being taken by the people of Pakistan. Pakistan’s students have joined the fight against dictatorship in full force. In a hopeful act of democratic action, they are using the Internet as the ultimate tool of dissidence to subvert the repressive dictatorship.

Students are using blogging, text messaging, online organizing, and any other electronic means to disseminate information, communicate with the outside world, and motivate activism in and outside Pakistan. Above all, they want to thwart the government’s attempt to shut down the flow of information through media.

Student protesters organized a wiki on the state of emergency to post information and update each other about protests. Other blogs include Metroblogging Lahore and Metroblogging Karachi. And of course Facebook has been instrumental in the “e-resistance.”

Perhaps most interesting–and a development I think is just ingenious–is the phenomenon of “flash protests.” Students text message their friends telling them where to meet, and then proceed to stage spontaneous mini-protests of about ten people at a time. The protesters gather, shout protest slogans, and then disperse before the police arrive. The beauty of flash protests is that they take advantage of Pakistan’s high rates of cell phone usage, recognizing that, while most Pakistanis lack Internet access, about 73 percent use cell phones.

This article in BusinessWeek does a great job of chronicling the movement and listing key websites and blogs: “E-resistance Blooms in Pakistan.”

Suemedha Sood is a 2007 fellow in the Academy for Alternative Journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The former assistant editor at the Center for American Progress, she is a frequent contributer to WireTap and