Pakistan porn crackdown a ''political stunt''

The Pakistan government’s decision last week to block pornographic web sites is more a political stunt than an effort to purify society, experts say.

State-run Pakistani Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) announced last week it had blocked more than 1,800 pornographic web sites in an attempt to protect Internet users from what they call "their evil influence."

The Pakistani Telecommunication Company Limited regulates private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who use its lines.

Asif Rashid Bhatti, director of software firm eZAM Technologies, said: “Implementing such a decision is most likely to be impossible from a technical point of view."

Owais Leghari, the federal information technology Minister, ordered the PTCL to filter porn sites under pressure from powerful religious parties.

The six-member political alliance of religious parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) gained a strong position in national elections last October. It is campaigning for Islamic laws in the country and an elimination of "vulgarity and obscenity" from the electronic media and the Internet as, it is what they call, "a Western conspiracy to corrupt the nation's morally and destroy its culture."

“This is one good step by the government. But this is not enough to save the young generation from the filth of pornography and vulgarity,” said Maulvi Hamidur Rehman, a leader of pro-Taliban Jamait Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).

“The government should revamp the whole education system and the electronic media in line with our culture and religion so our youngsters are not tempted by such evils,” he said.

But, Mushkoor Hussain, a political analyst, said, “This step by the government is just a move to appease the powerful religious elements in our society and to put a mask on its face.

“It shows the government’s hypocrisy because it tries to present itself as a moderate, secular and progressive government in Pakistan to the world, especially the West, but at home it takes every step to ensure the Islamic leaders continue to give the party their support,” he said.

Recent findings show more than 60 per cent of an estimated one million Internet users in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan visit pornographic web sites.

Internet service providers (ISPs) say the majority of those visiting pornographic sites are young and middle-aged people.

The deeply conservative Muslim country witnessed a mushroom growth of Internet cafés in major cities and in remote towns where youngsters spend hours surfing pornography sites for as low as 15 rupees ($0.25) an hour.

Muhammd Aslam, an employee at an Internet company, said: “The ban on a few hundred websites will prove futile because there are millions more sites and thousands more are added every day.

“Its not difficult to find a porn site that is not on the banned list. Search engines are the easiest way to find thousands of such web site in a few seconds,” he said, adding, “People will find a solution to such tactics.”

Haroon Chattha, 19, a student and regular visitor of an internet café. He said: “Some of the popular porn web sites are not accessible. But all are not blocked. We have managed to find new ones.”

Muhammad Rashid, owner of 'Surfers' Internet café, said: “The ban has a little impact of our business because blocking some sites doesn't make any difference.”

Asif Bhatti said: “The ban will also affect the users of pirated software because “cracks” for the copyright software often found on the pornographic websites.

"The blocking of so many sites will also slow down the system. Instead of taking such steps the government should help provide better facilities to net users and help ISPs to increase download speeds,” he added.