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A polity riven

An analysis of Pakistan’s politics performed in the style of a laboratory experiment would include the scientific imperative that any alteration of the variables combining to achieve a desired result in a controlled environment, will inevitably spawn different and even unexpected outcomes.

And thus, it is no surprise that, whereas yet another elected government has been sent packing prematurely, the manner and style of its exit– and indeed the immediate political consequences of its ouster – have been unique. Oft labelled a hybrid political dispensation, Khan’s PTI in the wake of a largely dismal governance scorecard has managed to abrogate the constitution, concoct a preposterous foreign conspiracy as an excuse, take on its benefactors, and yet, while smarting from an unceremonious – albeit constitutional – dismissal, emerge, to date, virtually unscathed.

A more traditional outcome, in keeping with our checkered political history would have seen the ouster followed by a punishment and at least a temporary fall from grace. Instead, the PTI is back in familiar and comfortable territory – the street – belting out its formulaic propaganda as it prepares for another election and a possible return to power.

While conspiracy theories abound regarding the events leading to the demise of the PTI government, it is more important to take a stock of the fallout of not only the last two weeks of rollercoaster politics, but of the last eight years since 2014 when Imran Khan and his PTI launched their dharna against the government of Mian Nawaz Sharif.

First and foremost, our journey into disunity, into becoming a completely divided polity, appears to have been completed. For the first time in our short history since 1971, we are riven purely based on our political alignment. Unlike 1971, however, this division has no provincial or ethnic contours and is neither based on class, nor on language or sect. Deliberately, it chooses to be totally ahistorical, reductive in its outlook and ignorant of facts, content only on fueling the antagonism that allows opponents to be painted as archetypal nemeses.

The potency of its poison can be felt across the country, as families, friends, colleagues, and compatriots find themselves incapable of budging from cemented positions, dismissive of reasoned debate or dialogue, agreeing not to disagree with, but only to vanquish the opposing point of view. Socially, it is the telos of the PTI’s political philosophy, which only dons the garb of democracy and its principles, fleetingly and opportunistically in its quest for power. Politically, it is the expression of a desired power arrangement with a single party, the PTI, occupying the treasury benches and enjoying the utopia of a political monologue, with all opposition permanently languishing in Adiala Jail.

Second, the project to denigrate the political class, originally spearheaded by the establishment and later leased out to the PTI in 2018, has been a success. Lampooned, caricatured, accused of corruption and all manner of skullduggery, despite no convincing court verdict or indictment confirming such accusations to date, parliament, and politicians, minus those that fortune has placed within the PTI ranks, are a derided lot.

Their vilification has been aided and abetted by a largely rampant and unprincipled electronic media where professional post-truth conspiracy theorists, who for the most part appear not to have read a single book cover to cover, comically assume the roles of wise social and political commentators, working on partisan agendas, and belting out an absurd admixture of fact, fiction and lies through the course of the never-ending twenty four hour news cycle. The result is seen in a population willing to suspend its disbelief, ignoring reason, rationality and objective evidence and displaying practised disdain for the constitution and the rules of parliamentary democracy it enshrines.

Successfully also, while being a part of the same political class, PTI, through its propaganda has carved a separate space for itself immune from all criticism, part of, yet apart from, the Augean stables that is the parliament. Whether it continues to enjoy such immunity from public rebuke remains to be seen in the outcome of the ECP hearing of its foreign funding case, but for now it is clear that, despite years of governance experience tucked under their belt, the PML-N and the PPP have thus far lost the communications war for public approval.

Which brings me to the third factor underpinning the success of the PTI, that is the capture of an entire generation of disgruntled young men and women – the oft touted youth bulge – that were drifting rudderless in a political landscape dominated by the old political order, which treated them with indifference, failing to imagine that their will and aspirations will chart the course for Pakistan’s future.

Untrained and disinterested in Pakistan’s political history, full of energy and fascinated with the images and stories of life within developed capitalist economies, searching for their identity in a confusing amalgam of culture, religions, sects, ethnicities, classes and languages, this youth bulge was unknowingly delivered into the arms of Imran Khan. With his charismatic persona, his veneer of incorruptibility, and an exciting adrenaline-pumped gladiatorial style of engagement with political opponents, Khan and his PTI are the first political love affair of this segment of society. The biggest challenge for the PPP and PML-N, and one that will define their political future, is how they can capture some political space within this demographic.

Finally, with the premature and abysmal end of yet another political dispensation, it is also abundantly clear that all the energies and machinations of the political class are solely focused on capturing the reins of political office. Beyond that end, there appears to be no further purpose and certainly a complete absence of any ability or plan to manage the economic future of this country, short of quick fixes. The tough decisions required – such as land reforms, the taxing of agriculture, import substitution, exports augmentation, civil services reform, and industrialization among others – find no appeal within a landed elite that is proudly boastful of its feudal origins which is entrenched within state institutions and which is comfortably comatose with the spoils of its rent seeking activities.

The current government is thus confronted with the unenviable dual task of healing the nation while it works to fix an economy in shambles.

Email: kmushir@hotmail.com

Khayyam Mushir, "A polity riven," The News. 2022-04-20.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political history , Politica class , Politicians , Parliament , Democracy , Imran Khan , Pakistan , PTI , PMLN , ECP