When The Culture Of Vendetta Threatens Democracy – OpEd


The tumultuous past few weeks manifest the fragility of Pakistan’s democracy. It shows failure of the democratic and parliamentary system, and triumph of vendetta over truth and reason. The violent destruction by PTI supporters on May 9, followed by the brutal crackdown by the state, benefits no one.

In fact, there are powerful lessons from violent events of the last few weeks: a mean-spirited approach, extreme political polarization, and warring partisan factions are becoming rising threats and that the absence of democratic unity, issue-based politics, and the rule of law are unhealthy signs for the future of democracy.

Debate and consensus building have taken a backseat to personality-driven politics in Pakistan. Clearly, curtailing the freedom of press and ensuring a subservient judiciary will not hide dark deeds in the age of internet. In fact, subverting the state and democracy will lead to more authoritarianism and chaos.

The government is gloating over its pyrrhic ‘victory’ and rejoicing in downsizing the Imran Khan-led PTI. It has left the opposition to lick the state inflicted-wounds. Yet, few have focused on the cost of polarization and Caesarism, a radical challenge to a flawed democracy.

Ominously, the ‘bloody’ civilians have allowed their praetorian masters to meddle in political issues by bulldozing and checkmating the opposition, and using unelected institutions counterproductively. It has not worked in Pakistan’s troubled political history ever before.

Will Khan learn a lesson from his reversals? In hindsight, pulling the trigger too early to regain power, even if induced by provocations, was a spectacular failure and a tactical mistake. Overturning the state through fascist tactics and violent means is fraught with risks. Those involved in rioting and arson deserve punishment under the law.

Khan should have worked patiently for elections after his ouster, even if the establishment stacked the odds against him and his PTI. He gave the establishment an excellent opportunity to strike back with devastating results for Khan and his party.

His earlier success articulated an alternate ideology and gained crucial establishment support. He channeled and transformed public distress and protest into a winning strategy. He also mobilized his supporters and elevated the PTI to power.

Playing the victim brought Khan rich dividends after his dismissal as prime minister in April 2022. With a floundering economy, there were high chances of a PTI comeback even in delayed elections.

Now, Khan and his impressionable supporters are left high and dry. The so-called ‘leaders’ are deserting the crumbling PTI in droves, many under the establishment’s pressure. It is too early to tell if the May 9 blowback is a brief hiccup and if Khan will recover his momentum. A great deal depends on the state of the economy.

The PTI may make a comeback if high inflation persists or if Pakistan defaults. It is not an unwinnable fight despite an unforgiving establishment that considers Khan untrustworthy and unfit for the high office. Khan has to change his autocratic and combative approach, something alien to his nature, and build bridges with other political forces.

But no matter who is in office, the stagnant economy, backbreaking inflation, a mountain of debt, rising unemployment, and poverty remain a reality. Wishing away problems through empty propaganda, divisive slogans, and aggressive language will not work. Unverified claims, lies, and conspiracy theories will not help.

Draconian regulations that hold political prisoners without due process must be amended. The government must shelve proposals to try civilians in military courts. Banning politicians and parties has proved to be counterproductive in Pakistan. Instead, promoting democratic culture and preparing for free and fair elections is paramount at this stage.

May 9 was an important wake-up call for the power elite. People no longer believe in unreal illusions, lies, and false promises. The values of freedom, equality, and fraternity must replace vendetta politics and endemic injustice before it is too late.

Clearly, no government can solve all the problems, but people want to see a fundamental base to improve their lives. Politicians and the press must play a proactive role in removing toxicity from the public discourse. The even-handed delivery of truth, facts, and objectivity is crucial to revitalizing politics. It is the best way to keep the country intact and authoritarian forces at bay.

This article was published by The Friday Times

Saad Hafiz

Saad Hafiz is an analyst and commentator. He can be reached at [email protected].

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