Amid his biggest critics, Rehman Malik the hero basks in glory -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Amid his biggest critics, Rehman Malik the hero basks in glory

By: Saher Baloch

Karachi: Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik, who complained the other day about receiving abusive comments on Twitter, was all smiles on Sunday as he met with the organisers of the Social Media Mela 2012 for a chit-chat.

Malik became a hero for the social media when he stepped in to help the Indian delegates visiting the Mela get their visas in time.

“Within 24 hours, the delegates got their visas,” the organizers said. That alone made him a superstar among the people, who otherwise share a love-hate relationship with him.

“He is actually very nice to speak to,” said stand-up comedian Sanjay Rajoura, who sat in the front row with the other Indian delegates.

Starting off, Malik confessed that he was not good at typing and took a three-week course to type properly on a keyboard. “Apart from hacking, I learned everything.”

The session remained lively as people enjoyed Malik’s experiences on Twitter but there were some serious moments when a discussion on extremists using the social media and the rights of minorities came up.

Just like many speakers shared their experiences of being hounded by “trolls”, so did Malik.

“Even if it’s late in the night, I check my Twitter account just to see what is being said about me. I must say, I get abused a lot,” he shared, which earned him a few sympathetic looks and a lot of grins.

Calling anonymous tweeters as “eggs”, he said there were many “rotten ones” that misused the power that they had. He said the cases in which people accused of something, they should at least come up with proper references.

But all in all, he felt he was not obliged to reply to an “anonymous egg on Twitter”.

What would he do when confronted with an abuser is simple? He said, “I would ask the person abusing me, ‘Mr Egg, tell me what’s your identity? Only then I’ll reply to you’,” he added to roaring laughter and applause from the audience.

Someone in the audience told him that a few people remained anonymous after considering the situation in the country, where one can easily get killed for voicing a different opinion. “If you are right, you must not hide behind eggs,” Malik replied.

“I know the identity of most of the people on Twitter who post anonymously and spread misinformation. My only advice would be to refrain from that if you want to earn respect.”

Coming to some serious issues, Karuna John, associate editor at Tehelka.com, asked Malik if he used feedback he received on Twitter while making policies.

“We do at times. But most of my time on Twitter is spent talking to people who need my ministry’s help. We find out if the demand is genuine and help accordingly.”

He noted that some people used social media for their personal motives. “But no matter what the provocation is, I think the interaction must go on. That’s how we’ll understand each other.”

Mehmal Sarfraz, a blogger and activist, asked Malik about the continuous ban on certain websites in Pakistan. She said many websites speaking about the plight of the Shia and Ahmadiyya communities have been blocked by the government, while the ones used by extremists and terrorists were never even spoken about.

“To my Shia friends, I will say that our government is trying its best to help them. I understand your point,” he replied. “Terrorists are certainly using the social media to further their cause. But most of them are hosted from abroad.”

Mentioning Hizbut Tahrir, he said that he knew that it was a radical organisation operating from the United Kingdom. “I have taken up this issue many a time with their government to take them off or ban them.”

Taking a different route, he said he was completely against the recent rally in Punjab, which was staged by “terrorist-minded people”. He said even writing a “strong letter” to the high-ups did not yield anything as the chief minister of that province helped them with the rally.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to clear his position on many issues, he said many people thought that he did not know anything. “But I give facts based on intelligence.” As for the changes during his government’s five year tenure, he said that it was a “step by step” process and gave the example of the “decline” in suicide bombings in the country.

As the media was restlessly looking for an opportunity to ask Malik a few questions, they were asked by the organizers to save controversial questions for later, if necessary.

To pacify them, Malik said that he would definitely respond to their questions later or whenever they deemed fit because, he said, “With the exception of my bedroom, you people get hold of me wherever I am anyway.”

At that moment someone from the audience asked Malik where he shopped for his ties. “I love them, and that’s why I am asking about them,” the questioner added.

Smiling, Malik replied, “Whenever I travel abroad, I buy ties for myself. I don’t go for brands, though, just for the colour.”

Journalist and activist Mohsin Sayeed asked him if there would be an end to the “ban culture” in Pakistan, considering a number of films were currently banned in the country without any particular reason. Malik replied that the trade of films between India and Pakistan must be on equal terms. “What happens is that we get a lot of their films but ours don’t go there, with ‘Bol’ being the only exception.”

Another in the audience suggested that a student exchange programme between India and Pakistan should be started in order to clear misconceptions.

“I genuinely believe that if we have to go looking for friendship, we must go next door rather than searching for friends far away from our region,” Malik said. “The government is definitely looking forward to getting it started.”

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