Karachi Metroblog in the press!

POINT OF VIEW: Pakistan Embraces Internet After Quake
By Hasan Jafri
Dow Jones Newswires

Huma Imtiaz usually writes music reviews and discusses Karachi’s lively restaurant scene on her internet blog. But in the past three weeks, she’s been blogging for a very different purpose: giving advice on relief efforts after Pakistan’s devastating earthquake.

“I suggest people buy Scotchprints – the material used to make billboards,” the 20-year-old Pakistani wrote in a recent posting. “If you buy two of those, they can be rigged together to make a small tent.”

Her blog, at karachi.metblogs.com, is part of an explosion in internet use by Pakistanis in the aftermath of the quake. From Karachi and Islamabad to small towns in the countryside and locations across the world, including Silicon Valley and London, hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are using the internet to express grief, offer hope and raise funds.

The phenomenon sends several positive messages about Pakistan – not just about its ability to recover after the quake, but about its ability to overcome the poverty and religious and ethnic divisions that have plagued its development for decades.

One message is the growing importance of the web in a country where access to the internet didn’t exist a decade ago, and where 45 service providers still reach only a tiny fraction of the population of 150 million. A mere 2.1 million Pakistanis buy access to the internet from service providers. But this month’s tragedy has shown how millions of others are using internet cafes around the country to reach the web. Scores of websites and blogs are believed to have been created since the quake; the country has close to 100 local web-magazines, portals, directories and chat sites, a figure which is growing by the week.

During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, now underway, business usually drops so much that Pakistani internet service providers offer discounts for using their services. But since the quake, SuperNet, one of the largest local ISPs, has seen traffic jump by 50% from the same period a year earlier.

It’s not just individual bloggers putting the technology to use. A group of local companies and aid agencies has set up a portal – www.earthquakepakistan.com – to coordinate efforts, in a first for Pakistan.

Silicon Valley-based Pakistani Sabahat Iqbal Ashraf created an online database to help; pakistan.wikicities.com contains detailed personal accounts, links to charities, items needed by relief workers and a venue for Pakistanis in North America to share information and coordinate relief efforts.

Pakistani and local academics in the U.S. have also created a portal – www.risepak.com – to coordinate relief efforts and share demographic information about areas hit by the quake.

The surge of internet activity is giving a financial boost to the internet industry in Pakistan. But the positive impact may be more profound; some believe that seeing the way the internet has helped relief efforts and stimulated economic assistance from Pakistanis abroad, the government may step up efforts to build the country’s information infrastructure.

Among other things, this could benefit Pakistan’s fledgling business outsourcing industry, which is much smaller than the world-beating industry in neighboring India but has been growing in the past two years.

The quake “has sent a clear message to the government that a stable, ready-for-action wireless infrastructure is essential”, says Tariq Mustafa, a senior executive at SuperNet.

The internet boom prompted by the quake also holds out hope for positive social and political change in Pakistan. In a way that’s impossible with more traditional forms of communication, the flexible, participatory nature of the internet is helping apolitical, urban Pakistanis connect emotionally with the country’s poor, who often are ignored by rich cityfolk and policy-makers alike.

In a country riven between different communities, the internet is fostering the illusion at least of a single community.

“The response to the earthquake has been overwhelming,” says Ali Ahsan Halai, editor of Spider, a Karachi-based information technology magazine. “I have never seen Pakistanis unite in quite this fashion under any other circumstances.”

One example occurred in the days immediately following the quake, when thousands of people assembled to volunteer and offer aid at the PAF Museum in Karachi – Pakistan’s largest and richest city, known more for violence than benevolence – after Imtiaz and others publicized the event on the internet.

“If you want to see a nation that others have dismissed as a ‘failed state’, read the blogs,” says Ashraf, who writes about Islam and Pakistan on ifaqeer.blogspot.com. “Never in the 35 years of my life have I seen Pakistanis come together like this.”

The euphoria is likely to fade somewhat in coming months as relief efforts start winding down, donor fatigue sets in and Pakistan’s old social and political conflicts reassert themselves. But the sense of community promoted by the internet may persist to some degree.

(Hasan Jafri, the Dow Jones Newswires bureau chief in Kuala Lumpur, has reported in Asia and the U.S. for 12 years and previously headed DJN’s Singapore bureau. Jafri began his journalism career in Karachi, the city of his birth).

By Hasan Jafri, Dow Jones Newswires; 603 2692 5254; hasan.jafriÆdowjones.com
Edited by Andrew Torchia

7 Comments so far

  1. hafsa (unregistered) on October 27th, 2005 @ 2:43 pm

    cool. we’re getting famous :p

  2. Teeth Maestro (unregistered) on October 27th, 2005 @ 7:28 pm

    I think Karachi and Lahore Metblogs played a vital roal to keeping the Internet Surfer fully informed during the crisis – Good job to everyone

  3. Amin (unregistered) on October 27th, 2005 @ 8:19 pm

    I am a Pakistani, working in the Middle East. Had never read this blog, only started after earthquake. Guys, what is happening, you people, every common man in Pakistan, so many people abroad, doing a lot to help victims of earthquake, I saw Pakistanis giving so much in Dubai that there was no space left in Pakistani consulate and I know how much every one in Pakistan has contributed. But when I read or watch news, particularly western news, and people are still suffering and suffering a lot. Just chk this site


    Ö..”I don’t know where all the relief supplies are going — but it’s not to Bagh.”

    I ask the Questions WHY WHY WHY…what is happening…where is all aid going which is being given to Govt. I have personally done and continue to do what. I have begged from my company and sent 100 tents. I literally beggedÖ.and every one in Pakistan is doing so muchÖbut still its cold darkness for all our brothers and sistersÖ..

    I dont have account, hope some one post it on main blog so that collectively we can think of some way to make a difference

  4. Kashif (unregistered) on October 27th, 2005 @ 10:37 pm

    Recognition brings motivation. Keep it up guys.

  5. jinx (unregistered) on October 28th, 2005 @ 8:30 am

    this and the lahore metroblog were mentioned on CNN. excerpt taken from NYC metblog.

    “In related news, Metroblogging was mentioned during The Situation Room on CNN yesterday. In fact they pulled the Lahore site up and showed viewers a few entries. Here’s the full transcript, but this is what was said:

    ‘What we’re seeing from blogs, are efforts to reach out. This is MetroBlogging, this is a group blog, a global group of blogs, and they are in various cities all over the world. We saw them reach out in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. Here they are in Lahore for everyone who wants to help out. They have a comprehensive list of how you can do so. Another one in Karachi, an organized list of ways that you can help.’

    Here in NYC our thoughts are with our fellow authors in Pakistanóyou guys are doing a fantastic job and we hope you and all your loved ones are well.”
    Posted by dana bushman at October 12, 2005 12:02 AM

  6. Arsalaan Haleem (unregistered) on October 28th, 2005 @ 10:02 pm

    Wow, we just got famous. It’s all because of the efforts, time and energy that Huma, Saba and others that helped publicised this blog.

  7. anna delcient (unregistered) on December 22nd, 2005 @ 5:30 am

    look, students are trying to research about the effects on people in pakistan by earthquake and u, telling totally different things. We’re looking for personal accounts from VICTIMS

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