WASHINGTON: The United States ran a ‘Cuban Twitter’-like programme in Pakistan too, but it closed down when the project failed to generate enough funds to run itself, US media has reported.
The reports identify the programme as ‘Hamari Awaz’, launched in Lahore by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009. While launching the programme, she announced that the US would fund the first 24 million messages and then it would have to generate its own funds.
The US State Department ran the programme out of the office of Richard C Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died in 2010. Pakistani telecommunications companies provided the network.
An announcement distributed after the launch identified ‘Hamari Awaz’ as “a service you can use on your cellphone to distribute news stories, to invite people to an event, to share your thoughts and opinions, to report problems that you see, to call for actions to solve those problems.”
State Department officials told The New York Times that at its peak the programme cost about $1m and connected more than a million people who sent more than 350 million messages. Users of the service could sign up using their personal information or remain anonymous.
The service was used by a diverse segment of Pakistani society, according to people who ran the programme.
“Farmers used it to share market prices. News organisations used it to reach readers. People used it to connect and share information such as cricket scores,” the Times reported.
State Department officials enlisted the Pakistani government to promote the social media programme, which officials thought at the time might ease mounting tensions between the two countries. US officials contacted by the Times would not say when the Pakistani programme ended or what it ultimately accomplished.
Between 2009 and 2010, the United States launched similar programmes in dozens of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Last week, the Associated Press released an exposé on one of these programmes called ZunZuneo, which aimed to stir political unrest in Cuba.