News

In Pakistan, it's a Facebook faceoff

Kim Barker
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The clash over Pakistan's future also is being fought on the popular Internet social networking site Facebook, where competing groups of mostly 20-somethings try to sabotage one another or debate which potential Pakistani leader is "hotter."

By far the most popular leader - judging by the number of Facebook groups, at least - is President Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. ally who has inspired about 300 of the networking groups either devoted to or against him.

There are many pro-Musharraf groups, including "THE ONLY HOPE - MUSHARRAF," "we love Musharraf" and "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who like Musharraf!" which has managed to find only 31 members.

A Musharraf fan club called "Pakistan would be LOST without President Musharraf!" has 2,083 members and 87 Musharraf pictures and warns: "AND FOR ALL THE HATERS, this site is strictly for President Musharraf's fans only! Inappropriate language on the wall would not be tolerated."

The ominously named group, "In favour of Emergency in Pakistan and the Ultimate Stabilization," features doctored photographs of Musharraf opponents Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose parties won the most seats in the February parliamentary elections, including one of Sharif's face superimposed on a man wearing shorts and a T-shirt saying "Yeah Baby."

But many of the groups are anti-Musharraf, reflecting the feelings of most Pakistanis, who blame Musharraf for everything from high gas prices to a flour shortage. In the past year, Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999, has watched his popularity sink, declared an emergency, sacked the independent Supreme Court, and resigned as army chief.

The political parties led by Zardari and Sharif swept most of Musharraf's allies out of the parliament last month, and the two will soon name a new prime minister and form a government.

The use of Facebook by Pakistanis and the country's expatriates reflects the way that media, from Internet blogs to the mushrooming number of private television stations, have played a major role in the recent political crisis. In the past, troubled Pakistani leaders, including Musharraf, have cracked down on critical media.

Some controversial blogs have been blocked, but Facebook has escaped censorship attempts. Some anti-Musharraf activists use Facebook as a way to organize protests, from London to Lahore.

Groups have names such as "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Musharraf!" - only 1,544 found - and "I bet I can find 1,000,000,000 who HATE Pervez Musharraf" - only 610.

A self-help group with a photo of Musharraf strapped to a turnip calls itself "I Think a Turnip would make a better Head of State than Musharraf."

Other groups include:

I hate Pervez Musharraf

I Hate Musharraf

Musharraf is a Bloody Rascal

Go Musharraf Go!!

GO MUSHARRAF GO!!!

GO MUSHARRAF GO!!!!! (meaning, in the parlance of Pakistani politics, go away).

But Musharraf is faring much better than either of his political rivals or any of the ones to come.

The groups debating Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 19-year-old son of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and Zardari, do not all debate his future political prospects. They mainly focus on his appearance: "Let's not assassinate Bilawal Bhutto because he's hot, ok?" or "I don't support Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, I just think he's HOT."

On the other side, there's the group named "The Bhutto Kid Is About As Hot As The Geico Caveman."

Only a few groups talk about Sharif or Zardari, who have both faced corruption charges in the past, although one group is called: "The thieves, Zardari and Shareef are back in power. AGAIN! 5th time! DOH!!"

For some people interested in Pakistan, though, such personalities do not matter.

"Musharraf, Bhutto, Sharif ... Who Cares? Will Somebody Please Kill Osama?" asks one group, referring to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who many terrorism experts believe is hiding out in the remote border areas of Pakistan.

"The world isn't some telenovela starring Who's Who in Pakistan," this group argues. "Somebody go put a bullet in Osama!"


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