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How angry is PM Khan?

Having watched his historic speech about the writ of the state treated like toilet paper by protesters who didn’t like the Supreme Court judgment on the Aasia Bibi case, one wonders how angry Prime Minister Imran Khan will be when he lands back in Pakistan.

In a democracy that is even marginally functional, this question should have been the principal one driving both public discourse and private conversations among those who occupy offices subservient to the chief executive of the country.

In the national discourse, partisanship drove Pakistanis into convulsions of several types. There were the standard PML-N and PPP hypocritical ones–because let’s face it, the playbooks for capitulation were written not at Bani Gala, but at Ghari Khuda Baksh and Raiwind. There were the PTI’s unseemly defensive convulsions: “at least the PM made a speech” is not a defence of the government, it is an indictment – because let’s face it, a PM shouldn’t be signing rhetorical cheques that his authority can’t cash.

But the most vexing convulsions were of those young Pakistanis upon whom a complicated intellectual ménage à trois has been imposed for the last several years. The intersection at which haters of corruption, lovers of Islam, and ‘the establishment can do no wrong’ crowd all meet had an incredibly difficult weekend. For them, the disorder and anarchy stoked by the standard bearers of post-Mumtaz Qadri Barelvi politics is a direct challenge to the Singaporean calmness and order that pro-establishment hypernationalists seek in Pakistan. That their anti-corruption mascot (the prime minister) would take such a stern line against the protesters was even more confusing. So the standard defence of the state’s capitulation to the thuggery of the protest leaders was: “Would you prefer bloodshed?”.

Alas, if only these great Pakistanis, whose certificates of Muslimness and patriotism are in such great demand, would only have asked the same question whilst our state was pummelling the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and their Lashkar-e-Jhangvi enablers across the length and breadth of the country. Or whilst our state was pulverising bhatta-khor terrorists under the sparkle of Karachi’s city lights. Or whilst separatist terror was being fought with an iron hand in Balochistan.

“But sir! We must talk to them. Would you prefer bloodshed?”

Of course, this binary that has been offered to a nation that is being programmed to think only in binaries makes little sense in practice. The response to a call for the killing of judges is not to start using Cobra attack helicopters to clear protesters. It is to file cases of sedition and treason against those making such calls. Allah knows, we are developing a quite robust skill set when it comes to filing treason cases – what’s a couple more?

The poison that has been fed to the nation for the last several years, deliberately and knowingly, does not discriminate as it seeps from television screens into the minds of the unwitting. The poison does not ask where the viewer works, or what future difficulties the viewer will face. The poison does not operate on a time lapse, working only against the system when it is headed by the democrat we don’t like, and becoming neutralised when we finally get the virile democrat that we have always wanted to look like since we were young. The public discourse doesn’t work like that.

Nawaz Sharif discovered this on July 28, 2017. You can’t fuel a movement for an independent judiciary and then start whining when the same independence comes asking questions about your Panamanian wealth. But at least Sharif was helping build up an institution. That same institution is what has delivered the historic, bold, and courageous decision on Aasia Bibi. Relationship status? It complicated!

The poison of binaries that has infected the national discourse in recent years is not nearly as complex. It is a single blade sword of destruction that is incapable of nuance.

You are either for Imran Khan or you are for corruption. You are either for Maryam Nawaz Sharif, or you are for military dictatorship. You are either for military operations, or you are for the TTP. You are either for the death penalty, or you are for terrorism. You are either for Khadim Hussain Rizvi, or you are for blasphemy.

These poisonous binaries are not the stuff of individual choice or restricted to our smartphones or drawing room chatter any longer. They infect public policy in a grave and substantive fashion.

In 2016, a national fiasco emerged when details were reported on discussions at the highest level of government about the status and future of UNSC Resolution 1267 sanctioned organisations allegedly in Pakistan.

Since we are cultivating a national culture of binaries, the saga that emerged therefrom became a debate about patriotism versus treason. But the foundational issues that relate to UNSC Resolution 1267 sanctions remain unresolved. In February 2018, Pakistan was unable to defend itself at the Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris, which lead to the country’s grey listing in June 2018.

The irony of the unresolved status of 1267 sanctioned organisations is that no country on the planet has fought international terrorism as effectively and as bravely as Pakistan. And for a generation of army officers that have spent their lifetimes fighting terrorists, the demonisation of Pakistan represents a betrayal of proportions unmatched. When you are a citizen of a country in which poisonous binaries rule the day, this means that if you don’t share this sense of betrayal, and you don’t reach the same conclusions as those officers, you are essentially a traitor to the nation.

The post-Mumtaz Qadri assertion of Barelvi identity has emerged in Pakistan within this context of poisonous binaries. Even the most superficial engagement with any of the speeches or lectures of Khadim Hussain Rizvi demonstrates the intense sophistication of his narrative.

Shortly after the initial burst of the anti-courts, anti-judge, anti-army and anti-government rhetoric of Pir Afzal Qadri and Rizvi went viral, their official Twitter account began to issue tweets that were hauntingly familiar. The overriding theme? Contempt for the Pakistani liberal. The word ‘liberal’ has come to signify everything that a good soldier, and a good patriot, and a good Muslim is not. It also happens to signify those that stood by Aasia Bibi, those who constantly try to remind fellow Pakistanis of the importance of democratic institutions, and those that are conscious of Pakistan’s vulnerability to instruments like the UNSC Resolution 1267 Sanctions Committee.

If you only operate in binaries, your choice is obvious: Khadim Hussain Rizvi is a true patriotic Pakistani who stands for our religion, is not corrupt and does not need donor funding. Those that stand against him are the opposite.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is fast approaching the 100-day mark may not have learnt many things on the job so far, but he knows one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: poisonous binaries, including those that he himself has employed and perfected over the last seven years, are useless to the prime minister of a nuclear power with 220 million young and hungry citizens.

How angry will PM Khan be now that he’s back in Pakistan? He should be hopping mad. He has had to bite his tongue and swallow his pride in order to go on his Make Pakistan Solvent Again Tour through nearly half a dozen countries. He and some very brave judges have been left hung out to dry. Pakistan has been made to look weak.

But the PM Office isn’t a container, and negotiating with complex stakeholders isn’t the same as the softball interviews he is accustomed to giving. The PTI’s usual tactics won’t work anymore. The honeymoon is over.

Mosharraf Zaidi, "How angry is PM Khan?," The news. 2018-11-07.
Keywords: Political science , Historic speech , Public discourse , Religious politics , Democratic institutions , Military operations , Public policy , Financial action , National discourse , Corruption , Terrorism