PTI Social Media Activists 'Remorseful' For Anti-Army Posts

PTI Social Media Activists 'Remorseful' For Anti-Army Posts
Some social media activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a dominant force on the Pakistani internet whose 'troll farms' have become infamous for their vitriolic posts against the Pakistan army and its senior leadership over the past year, are now expressing remorse and apologizing for their online statements.

This is nothing new for the PTI, whose leaders and workers consider it "the sign of a great leader" to constantly go back on their words: such 'intellectuals' fail to realize that two U-turns bring them right back to where they started. PTI supporters and affiliates on social media routinely excoriate the army, former army chief Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa, incumbent army chief Gen Asim Munir, DG ISI Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum, Maj Gen Faisal Naseer (popularized as "dirty harry" by former premier Imran Khan), and other military officers who are pointed out by the PTI leadership. The intent is to 'prove' that the current miltablishment is "guilty until proven innocent" in the court of public opinion, especially as viewed on social media.

It may also be noted that PTI supporters are incited by their own leadership's actions to go 'above and beyond' in their criticism of the country's powerful military establishment. But when push comes to shove, and these activists are taken into custody by police, PTI leaders and officebearers are nowhere to be found: just like ordinary PTI workers and mid-tier leadership filled the jails during PTI's 'Jail Bharo Tehreek' while PTI chairman Imran Khan secured his bail.

Hamid Habeeb, a PTI supporter from Karak who resides in Kohat, was recently arrested for posting against the army on social media. In a recent video, he can be seen admitting to his 'crime' of posting incendiary content on social media platforms against Pakistan's army and army chief "out of love for Imran Khan". Habeeb seeks forgiveness and vows that he would never "harm the prestige" of Pakistan and its institutions again.

It is clear from this video that Habeeb is under duress: he is still behind bars, and he corrects himself when he says he will be conscious of the "respectable army" and its reputation in the future.

In another video, one Bilal Ahmad Khan - who identifies himself as "provincial operational head" of PTI's social media team - says that he is resigning from this position due to personal reasons, some of which he lists.

Bilal does not seem to be in custody, but he appears emotionally drained in the video. To some, his statement seems 'well rehearsed', as he does not have to pause or correct himself as much.

In a handwritten affidavit, Bilal states that he posted some content on Facebook "accidentally and without understanding". He affirms that he will never post anything online which could be construed as "against any institution of Pakistan".

"I respect all institutions, including the army and the government, out of my heart as a Pakistani," the affidavit reads.

It should be obvious to all Pakistanis - especially those who readily subscribe to conspiracy theories and poisonously inconsistent narratives - that there are clear distinctions between lawful and unlawful criticism. Just as there is a fundamental difference between a lawful command and an unlawful command. And the miltablishment's failures to distinguish between them consistently have now led the Pakistani citizenry to cease - even denounce - any consideration of constitutional and legal limitations on freedom of speech.

It is indeed a sad state of affairs that many among us would "do anything for clout".

PTI supporters would be wise to pay heed to Chaudhry Parvez Elahi's advice to Imran Khan nearly a year ago: first think, then measure, then speak. All Pakistanis must remember that freedom of speech does not mean freedom to ridicule, because the right to free speech does not overrule every human being's right to dignity. And to address accusations that they are a 'cult', PTI supporters must decide whether their political inclinations are stronger than their loyalty to Pakistan, or not.