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This Guy Kept Calm While Gunfire Close to Karachi's Recently Attacked Airport Rattled Pakistan

Security forces are conducting a search operation as they seal the whole area of Pehlwan Goth after an attack by unidentified persons on Airport Security Force (ASF) camp number 2. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (10/6/2014)

Security forces conducting a wide search operation after three-four people open fire at the Airport Security Force academy. Image by ppiimages. Copyright Demotix (10/6/2014)

Two days after a deadly Taliban attack claimed 36 lives at Karachi's Jinnah International, reports of “another round of gunfire” close to Pakistan's busiest airport rattled Pakistanis on social media and sent residents in the country's security-strained city into a panic, almost instantly.

But Jawad Nazir, a 25-year-old volunteer running an unofficial Twitter account for Pakistan's top air traffic authority, tried to keep everyone calm.

While chatting with me on Twitter he said, “I just think defusing tension at times [like these] and taking all the criticism can also keep people calm.”

After speculative tweets and reports about “gunfire at the airport, again” started spreading on Twitter and Pakistan's vibrant but frantic TV news channels, Jawad, a college student, volunteer wilderness trainer and social entrepreneur based in Rawalpindi city, tweeted this from the unofficial “Civil Aviation Authority Pakistan” (@AirportPakistan) account:

Later he reported from the same account:

The reported gunfire was from 3-4 people who allegedly opened fire at the Airport Security Force Academy and ran away. The training academy is a few miles from Karachi's Airport, which the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had finally cleared for travel less than 24 hours before, following a brazen 6-hour battle between security forces and militants in the early hours of June 9.

Within a few hours of the reports of shooting, Pakistan's chief military spokesman tweeted:

The situation seemed to have settled within an hour, after which the Taliban claimed responsibility for the firing. With this latest attack at the airport, however, rumours continued on Pakistan's social media, following the authorities’ decision to suspend air travel temporarily and put security blocks on roads close to the airport:

Within 40 minutes of the “flight operations suspended” notice, @AirportPakistan tweeted:

One Twitter user angrily responded: 

Karachi-based journalist Omar Quereshi tweeted:

I got in touch with the man behind @AirportPakistan Jawad Nazir, who kept things calm on Twitter and he agreed to answer a few of my questions quickly because he had an exam in 5 hours.

Jawad is also a volunteer wilderness trainer with Youth Impact. Photo from Jawad's Public Facebook page.

Jawad is also a volunteer wilderness trainer with Youth Impact. Photo from Jawad's Public Facebook page.

I asked him why he runs the account on his own time and money, and he replied, “My motivation for this account is to ensure some decent image of Pakistan globally. We are already not in a very good book of foreigners :(“. He continued:

I've seen major international airports tweeting to their passengers on a daily basis, so I thought ‘why not from Pakistan?’ So I started back in January this year, by updating delays and cancellations of flights on a daily basis.

He continued about his response to the 6-hour Karachi Airport siege:

Now in this situation of the attack I was expecting people to storm their questions towards the CAA account so despite my exam on Monday morning, I stayed up all night long answering people and trying to defuse the situation. It did work, and I also kept people informed about the [latest updates].

Jawad has college degrees in journalism and political science, and is working on another degree in business administration. The journalism degree clearly helps him sift through misinformation and maintain a neutral tone. After the Karachi airport attack had ended and rescue operations were still underway for trapped employees of a cargo company, he tweeted:

I went through a log of tweets from @AirportPakistan during the Karachi airport siege and attack, and it seems Jawad respectfully and tactfully, answered hundreds of queries from concerned travelers in a span of 18 hours. He got some strong endorsements from a few leading journalists about his updates too: 

Photo from Jawad's Instagram.

Photo from Jawad's Instagram.

While we were messaging over Twitter, Jawad added that he is also “a struggling aviator, a rejected cadet pilot from a commercial airline. They said I am color blind. I don't believe [them].”

The brief firing incident delayed Karachi Airport's already recovering flight schedule, which Jawad monitored continuously, despite his impending exams. Journalists, like BBC's Amber Rahim and official Twitter accounts from leading international airlines, retweeted his posts, too:

Back in March, a online newspaper for London’s business community, wrote a piece on @AirportPakistan, assuming it was an official account, with the headline “Pakistan’s official airports Twitter account is the most optimistic and brilliant in the world“.

Jawad is trying to get in touch with the right person at Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority to get their endorsement to run an official Twitter account. (They currently don't have one.) Jawad gets his flight information from the official CAA website and tracks flight statuses through some online “trade secrets”.

Jawad is just one example of the many young entrepreneurial Pakistanis staying resilient despite their military and government's failure to reign in the Taliban and provide peace and security to the country.

Sahar Habib Ghazi interviewed Jawad Nazir for this report. Sahar is the Managing Editor at Global Voices and she divides her time between Karachi and San Francisco.

Anushe Noor Faheem contributed to this report
  • Muhammad Asif

    Respect for the well intentioned effort. However it is unwise to impersonate an official institution and ‘make believe’ already vulnerable passengers etc that they are talking to an authority. I really hope this is not seen as something to follow on an amateur level. I encourage the young chap to remove CAA logo and title and instead declare that it is a personal account aimed at helping people so everyone makes an informed choice of following or not this account.

  • Pingback: When in doubt, Tweet it out! / Saad Hamid

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