Echoes Of Divisions? – OpEd

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Pakistan has been grappling with a growing concern in recent years: political polarization. This phenomenon witnessed the expansion of the chasm between right and left-wing politics, along with the rising levels of intolerance of the society towards such differences; this has become one of the most critical problems to face the Pakistani society today.

Indeed, this split has many roots; however, the core differences between the various political parties cannot be ignored. It seems that to advance their party, instead of advancing the political agendas of the greater nation, so many parties indulge their term in power concentrating on their benefit and employing the techniques of polarization to gain the support of the population. They work more in the political realm and cunningly mobilize the ethnic, religious, and regional aspects to stir up people and form fractions favorable for their political purposes. The party spokespersons when expressing media opinions and interacting with the electorate continue to employ further inflammatory words and repudiate the opponents, with one side accusing the other of being ‘unpatriotic.’

The anti-corruption campaign has often involved an accusation of corruption and the failure of those in power to invoke equal allegations of corruption against their rivals. They do not address the current problems and give people false hopes but it also serves to undermine people’s confidence in the political process. This seems to be the situation as parties fight from the pulpit and bar, the public finds itself amidst accusations and counter-accusations, writhing in the reality that the situation is past the point of the truth.

This new form of extremism added to the complexity of the political situation in Pakistan and the region as a whole. The expansion of radical ideals and radical Islamists along with the formation of religious-political groups has made society divided religiously. These groups try to gain power and authority and impose their politics and agendas which include discrimination towards people of other political leanings. It has become worse in recent years after getting large numbers of votes in some constituencies due to increased support for nationalist ideas that were once considered as marginal in Britain.

The current research also confirmed that the attention given to social media has contributed widely to polarization. People spend hours online, and these platforms become echo chambers where you see the same kind of stuff that you already accept as the truth. The algorithms that are used at the core of social media platforms are built in a way to make the users to stay on the sites for more time; this is due to their ability to feed the users with content of their political leaning. This has led to the creation of social groups that are largely self-contained and can easily avoid exposure to discordant opinions and therefore difficult for people to find common ground and negotiate.

However, the impact of social media is not limited to the online platform but even to the actual political frequency and idea patterns. It indoctrinates users into parties, and their manifestos and actions, as well as informing and influencing the messages users themselves share and consume. This, in turn, increases the level of political and social regionalization, the gap within political and other groups, as well as within parties.

This so-called polarization is exacerbated by the public’s disillusionment with state institutions. The negative campaigning of some political parties against the judiciary, military, and accountability institutions has discredited those organs. Currently, when a party is punished by the judiciary, then instead of just accepting the ruling with respect, the involved parties instead try to regain the support of the public, and this is an aspect that contributes to the weakening of the rule of law.

This has also been attributed to social justice as people’s rights are not properly protected which has also led to economic differences between the rich and the poor hence the increased polarity. The growing gap between the superior and the inferior class has resulted in the youth of today’s society feeling neglected and abandoned throughout society. This has led to the emergence and spread of terrorism or radicalism that feeds off society’s disenfranchised elements while strengthening the populist movements that emerge to fight for disenfranchised groups’ rights.

The media has also not been spared the ravages of polarization and this is clear from the views that have been expressed. The negative use of these criteria has further led to the creation of divisions within the society because the public is fed partial truths only from one side hence magnifying their own biases. The activities of ‘power quarterson’ such as the military, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the presidency have also been concerning, with many Pakistanis arguing that these entities are involved in politicking and therefore countering the democratic process.

Notwithstanding, there are some rays of light contributing to the process of polarization, though it has its bottlenecks. Recently civil society organizations, political parties, and some politicians have been encouraging dialogue and reconciliation efforts. Such efforts have endeavored to unite those of diverse ethnicities and political beliefs, whose purpose has been to seek a common goal and contribute to a better society.

However much work remains to be done regarding the causes for its development and the issues that led to the appearance of polarization. There is a need for political parties to consider the interest of the nation and he or she need to be ready to set aside the differences when choosing strategies to tackle certain issues in the nation. They must also therefore be willing to play stake with their opponents and be able to sit as equal counterparts for dialogue instead of using aggressive words that polarize people.

That is why the media is also an essential source of stability and attempts to bring people closer together. In this case, the media acts as a watchdog and as an honest broker that plays a crucial role in presenting political issues from the right perspective, thereby giving equal airtime to any individual who is in a peaceful mode seeking solutions to problems facing the nation.

In this complex landscape of political polarization, the question looms large: It is this fundamental question of whether the people are prepared to abandon divisions that characterize the nation and strive towards a shared goal of realizing a prosperous nation for all. Is it possible to overcome the political and other divisions that have been placed in front of us and accept ourselves as a very diverse society? In the current society where trust in institutions is diminishing as voices are being replaced and divided, how can we encourage cultural transformation where dialogue, empathy, and cooperation reign supreme? While facing these and many other questions, let us consider what type of society we would like to see in front of us, and what each of us can do to create a better and therefore united, prosperous, and equitable world.

Noureen Akhtar

Noureen Akhtar s a PhD Scholar (SPIR-QAU) and has worked on various public policy issues as a Policy Consultant in National Security Division (NSD), Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Currently, she is working in Islamabad Policy Research Institution (IPRI) as a Policy Researcher/Consultant. Her work has been published in local and International publications. She can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter: @NoureenAkhtar16

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