A Debate On Pakistan’s Political Taboos – OpEd


Populism, driven by religious sentiments has been the centerpiece of cult politics in Pakistan. Pakistan came into being on the premise of Two-Nation Theory that clearly stipulated that Muslims were a nation separate and distinct from the rest of the world and that the purpose of Pakistan was to help Muslims live their lives in an Islamic way. This Islamic way, over the years, was politicized to suite politicians’ personal interests sometimes above national interests. 

And the trend continued to date as seen by anti-elite, anti-conservative and Islam-driven populism of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Playing on the extremist tendencies entrenched in Pakistani society in the aftermath of historical attempts at Islamization and by openly asserting his own interpretation of Islam to gain blind support, Imran Khan has now effectively radicalized the nation, prepared to wage a war against state’s democratic fabric without asking much. Pakistani society, in following Khan’s ideology of Haq-o-Batil has unquestionably been carefully organized to pursue a form of cult politics that suits his one-man agenda.

Such repetitive politicization of Islam has induced for Pakistan a ‘false conscience’. The events of May 9 2023 cannot be characterized as anything less than a very practical manifestation of Khan’s blind pursuit for absolute power. His recent and open call for attacks on state institutions is screaming evidence of his dictatorial and authoritarian personality. The National Security Committee (NSC) decided to observe May 9 — when multiple incidents of violence and vandalism were reported amid protests sparked by PTI chief Imran Khan’s arrest — as “Black Day” at the national level.

While the protests were under way, social media was flooded with footage of a mob clashing with police in Karachi, attacking and entering the army’s head office, General Headquarters, in Rawalpindi and vandalizing the Lahore corps commander’s residence all the while brainwashed into believing it was all for a righteous cause. Meanwhile, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan’s building was also set on fire in Peshawar with martyr’s sculptures brutally desecrated – perhaps the first time in history of Pakistan, a people from within were so skillfully psychologically manipulated to the point that they scared nation’s hard earned prestige for a cult leader who later disowned their outrage to save his own neck and political leverage.

When populace of a state where illiteracy rate is staggering high is driven towards painstakingly twisted concepts of Jihad and Haqeeqi Azaadi, the beleaguered public is frustrated enough to do all in their power to avenge their own socio-political miseries. All such overtures shall be publicly and categorically avoided and rejected, in all forms by all relevant stakeholders. 

Pakistan is already going through economic free fall, with foreign reserves barely enough to stand a month of imports (at $4.3 billion). It is unfortunate that while PTI government has spent its tenure fighting corruption or in other words opponents, foreign debt rose by 37% or $35.3 billion to settle at staggering $130 billion (by end December, 2021). Hence, as repeatedly highlighted, economic chaos is one of the reasons of his ouster and is not a fallacy – often painted as such by the PTI’s now blinded supporters.  

Today when the nation seeks answers for rising militancy in the country, PTI leaders fail to acknowledge that it was Imran Khan alone who had been staunchly advocating soft corners for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan while security forces and innocent civilians bled to death on the motherland’s soil. Not to forget that this very advocacy by Imran Khan and his political supporters also made Pakistan an easy target for enemy countries and despite decades of fighting the exhaustive War on Terror, the nation was still labeled as ‘sympathizers of terrorism’.

Even when Khan’s foreign policy conduct is taken into account, he has an unpredictable relation with the West that created mistrust and tension so high in both country’s bilateral relations that an entire nation rallied together for condemnation of the United States. The infamous Cypher episode in which Khan underscored was proof of planning his ouster from government with alleged Western involvement revealed that his agenda is narrowly aimed at the pursuit of blind power and not the wider national interest of the nation. Various voices then raised questions over compromised morality of Khan’s appointment as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.”Even citing cypher No and date is a violation of the official secret act,” an ex-diplomat said as his personal assessment on the issue.

It must be made sure that in times when terrorism is already seeing an uptick (with 436 cases reported previous year), the social gullibility is managed by all parties in the treasury or opposition as well as all relevant stakeholders so that infiltrators don’t get leverage of such a political mess. It should be made sure by PTI and former premier that slogan of Haqeeqi Azaadi is not directed against our security institutions publicly so that security polarization in avoided.  

A country struggling to stand on its feet, fighting against a hostile enemy at the gates, threat of militancy and a hybrid war, Khan’s power politics sum up simply as :

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Zarrar Sheikh is an Islamabad based Independent Political Analyst.

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