In the drama (and melodrama) that followed President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of Emergency in Pakistan, those opposed to it are left with very few avenues of protest. Leading political figures have either gone into hiding or have been arrested, there is a clampdown on private television channels, and newspapers not aligned with Musharraf’s policies face harassment.
Imran Khan, former Pakistan cricket captain and now chairman of Tehreek-e-Insaaf, a political party opposed to Musharraf, went into hiding only to be arrested when he resurfaced last week.
While in hiding, he released a video exhorting students and liberals across the country to rise against the Emergency. The video shows a haggard-looking Khan asking the Pakistanis to resist Musharraf’s move or else it would lead the country on a path of destruction. On November 14, he signed up with GeoPakistani.com, a London-based website, to launch a 26-minute video exploring the causes of the rift between Islam and the West. Both videos are rising up the charts on the site.
YouTube, it would seem, is fast becoming a potent force for anti-Musharraf protesters to reach out to their constituencies in the absence of access to traditional media. In the larger scheme of Pakistani politics, admittedly, Imran Khan has very little to go by as compared to former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
Yet, Khan has cleverly used the one platform that allows him to reach out to the West.
His short video message on the Emergency and the documentary on Islam are seemingly targeted at policy makers in the US and Europe. Pakistan itself has very little Internet penetration, so reaching out to millions in his own country is somewhat of a challenge. But, when it’s on YouTube, America will watch.
For instance, the Editorial page editor of the influential Seattle Post Intelligencer said in his recent column that Pakistani dissent could well start with a YouTube clip. Mark Trahant wrote: “Khan says in the film that underlying everything is the notion that America cares only when its own people or its own interests are threatened. It's a powerful film. One that helps us Americans see ourselves through the eyes of Pakistanis. That is a good enough reason to watch it. But more important, right this minute, we should watch this work as an act of defiance against tyranny.”