Fall School in Internet Politics at the University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan

by: Teodor Kalpakchiev

(Photo credit: Jan Mehler)

The Fall School in Internet Politics is a part of long-term project entitled the ‘Changing Role of Social Media in Muslim Countries’. Being a brain child of Hasnain Bokhari and run by the chair of Muslim Culture and Religious Studies at the University of Erfurt, it is sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and spans over 2012-2014. It has a range of sub-aims, but admittedly the most important one is to review curricular trends through establishing a dialogue between parties often sidelined because of domestic disturbances and the so-called “West”.

The aim of this academic exchange was to shed light on the role of social media in Pakistan, as it has increasingly had significant impact on the elections there. Even if this instrument of communication is typically attributed to the young population, access to internet is constantly growing in the country and its telecommunications sector is the fastest-developing sector, in which competition has provided for special package deals (500 free SMS for example), something unthinkable for the consumer in the European market.

Throughout these twelve days we had an experience that would be best described as thrilling. We often found ourselves rushing to a particular sight or venue, trying to keep up with the intensive program. Usually our day would begin with a couple of academic lectures in the morning and from 2-4 p.m., visits of sights, meetings with distinguished academia or politicians and savouring the Pakistani cuisine. The renowned piquancy of the food is actually nothing to be afraid of – as is the case with many other preconceptions about the country.

Pakistan is also a place with a ubiquitous cultural heritage and many historical sites. Among the most appealing and memorable places from our visit were the Indian-Pakistani border, where two nationalism shows clash, the Lahore Fort – which is an Mughal citadel more than 5 centuries old, whose history is so long as it is untraceable, and the National Arts Museum in Islamabad, home to marvelous pieces of contemporary art.

But it is not the traditional sightseeing that would attract potential visitors. It is the fact that the country is home to at least three realities – the rural, the urbanized and the capital – of which the last could not attributed to any outsider’s expectation. It is a well-organized, accessible and modern place with a strong presence of international expertise, clearly distinguishable from the rest of the country. It could be therefore argued, that a visitor can see the many faces of Pakistan – the coziness and tranquility of the rural life, the fast pace of the urbanized cities and the modernity of its capital, all of which interwoven with the vast influence religion has on everyday life, including the internet.

However it is impossible to share all the details in simple report, as it will simply be overburdened. Instead I would like to invite you most cordially to this evening’s edition of Café International, where we, the participants of the Fall School, will share even more.

See you there.