The government is tackling the issue of fake news head-on. This can only be a good thing; at least on paper. Requests have been sent to Twitter and other social media sites to remove misleading and doctored images showing Asia Bibi abroad. There are likely two fears at play here. Firstly, that a resurgent and violent religious right will subject state and citizenry to a repeat performance of taking to the streets to incite anti-minority hatred and murder. Secondly, that diplomatic missions here in Pakistan will be considered ‘legitimate’ targets for attack. Indeed, this is reportedly the primary factor behind Britain’s refusal to offer asylum to the former far labourer. And then there is Holland which has just pulled a number of staff from its embassy in Islamabad over threats by religious parties over anti-Islam tweets by far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders. All of which underscores to the extent to which Khadim Rizvi and his ilk are continuing to win this round. Yet the ruling PTI has, for all intents and purposes, appeared to misjudge what is required to re-establish its writ. Yes, it approached Twitter to take down the account of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief; which was being run in both Urdu and English. And while the argument can be made that this was, in fact, a misstep given that it represented the best hope of the group hoisting itself by its own petard — banning such hate speech was ultimately the right thing to do. What is not is going after journalists that have tweeted criticism of the state’s handling of the situation; as well as questioning the agenda of an American public relations consultant. For this is tantamount to muzzling the free exchange of ideas. Not to mention the holding of elected representatives to some degree of public account. That 10 years of uninterrupted democracy has brought the country to this juncture is simply not good enough. For Pakistan is now a place where deals are made with those who demand a poor Christian woman’s head on a stick while crying judicial blasphemy. In short, the government appears to be confusing managed chaos with democracy. And no good will come of it. To be sure, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team inherited a dire situation that extends beyond a haemorrhaging economy. Including a climate of fear where the citizenry had previously been urged to report any sort of blasphemous rumours. And where journalists and civil society activists were routinely picked up on anti-state charges that became a byword for criticism of the security apparatus. Fast-forward to the present and not much has changed. After all, Taha Siddiqui and Gul Bukhari are two journalists who have been warned by Twitter over “violating Pakistani law”. The former escaped an abduction attempt at the beginning of the year by up to eight unidentified armed men while the latter was picked up as she was crossing a military cantonment in Lahore back in July. Thus juggernauting down this path will only lead to autocracy. And this was not the promise of Naya Pakistan. * Published in Daily Times, November 14th 2018.