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Bloggers find ways to speak out in Pakistan

Unquestioning support for a military dictator who demonstrates only a limited commitment to fighting Islamic extremists and whose commitment to democracy seems nominal at best? Hard to imagine how that could go wrong.

With the “state of emergency” declared by Pervez Musharaf in Pakistan, commentators in the US are asking the sorts of questions they should have asked several years ago. Does the US really have meaningful influence over Musharaf’s government? Is Musharaf really committed to fighting extremism, or is he simply clinging to power? Should we be worried about Pakistan transferring nuclear weapons to other states?

These questions don’t seem to be bothering the Bush administration, which has taken no major steps towards cutting military aid towards Pakistan, even though it seems clear that Musharaf is far more enthusiastic about silencing those obvious threats to national stability – supreme court justices, lawyers and human rights activists – than he is in tracking down Taliban and other extremists. Or perhaps, as the Guardian argues, the US and UK are simply impotent in the situation and have been forced to admit they’ve got little or no control over their “partner” in the perpetual war on terror…

In the meantime, Pakistani bloggers are trying to figure out how to approach a media environment where independent voices are being routinely silenced. Independent TV stations have been taken off the air, and there have been reports of mobile phones and internet access being blocked. (The latest news, as reported on Dr. Awab Alvi’s Teeth Maestro blog, is phone service was just restored in Islamabad.) Yet there are numerous voices coming from the Pakistani blogosphere, some from bloggers outside the country, some from inside. Awab Alvi, who is one of the leaders of the anti-censorship campaign, Don’t Block the Blog, has warned fellow bloggers to be very careful and to consider that blogging in their own names may carry the risk of arrest – he’s turned over control of his blog to Ange Embuldeniya, who is posting regular reports on Alvi’s blog. In some ways, this technique is similar to how information got out of Burma during the monks’ protests and the following crackdown – information was passed to sympathetic bloggers outside the country who posted it online.

Omer Alvie, Awab’s partner on the Don’t Block the Blog campaign, is writing regularly from the UAE and has just announced that he’ll be making a short trip to Karachi – his wife has ordered him to make it a brief trip, “because my wife has placed Martial Law (more appropriately Marital Law) on my trip. She qualifies the reason as War on Terror. Hey, if Musharraf can use that excuse, why can’t she!” It’s unclear whether Omer will be able to blog in country, but I am confident he’ll have a lot to say when he’s next online.

Neha Viswanathan and the Global Voices team is tracking Pakistani blogs closely on a special page we’ve launched to cover the emergency. As the environment in Pakistan becomes more oppressive, it’s hard to know whether these bloggers will be able to keep posting. I salute their courage and hope anyone interested in the situation in Pakistan will take the time to listen to their perspectives and reports on the crisis in their country.

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