Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Pakistan’s politics: Art of manipulating societal sentiment for personal aggrandizement

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The past few weeks, in Pakistani politics, have been a revealing experience. They have laid bare the hypocrisy of our political system, and the manner in which political leaders manipulate societal sentiment for personal aggrandizement. Seen through the prism of the past some years, these events have brought forth, with unprecedented clarity, an unmistakable fact: that our polity, its narrative, and its objectives, are bereft of moral underpinnings. In equal measure, they are also bereft of concern for the ‘mango people’, who foolishly continue to believe in the sanctity of our prevalent political system.

Over the past week or so, the already pugnacious narrative of opposition political parties, led by Nawaz Sharif in particular, has gone from being mildly corrosive to being completely belligerent. Having been an insider to the ‘system’ for more than 35 years, Nawaz Sharif has decided to say and reveal things that attack the very core of our State structure, and the manner in which it has functioned over the past many decades. It would be one thing if Nawaz Sharif—like Asghar Khan—had been a perpetual critic of this structure; however, over the past many decades, Nawaz Sharif, more than anyone else in our political history, has gained from ‘establishment’s’ interference in politics. In fact, he is the only major political leader against whom there exists a judgment of the honourable Supreme Court (in Asghar Khan’s case), declaring that he took money from the ISI for political purposes. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, he is trying to fashion himself as a symbol of resistance against the establishment.

Read more: Op-Ed: Opposition running ‘Democracy (Pvt) Ltd’ in the name of Democracy

Nawaz Sharif’s motives

It would be one thing if Nawaz Sharif merely took jibes at the establishment, as he has been doing so in the past. Recently, however, Nawaz Sharif has started to tow a line that has led many (including Prime Minister Imran Khan) to question his loyalty to the State of Pakistan, and wonder if he is acting at the behest of anti-Pakistan foreign elements.
Now, crazy as it sounds, we cannot dismiss such possibility out of hand, for the simple reason that the last Pakistani political leader who sat in London and made a statement against the Pakistani State (read: Altaf Hussain), is on record for taking money from and working with RAW operatives.

So, is Nawaz Sharif an Indian RAW agent? In all likelihood, no. He is not an ‘agent’. However, is he doing what RAW would want a former Prime Minister of Pakistan to do? Certainly, yes! Is he undermining the credibility and interests of the State of Pakistan? Yes, even if that is not what he wants to do. Does Nawaz Sharif understand the consequences (for Pakistan) of what he is doing? Well, as a ‘three-time Prime Minister’, he certainly does.

So, what is prompting Nawaz Sharif to ‘gamble’ on this hardline, without having much regard for the effect that this gamble will have for Pakistan’s State interests? Is he just principally against ‘establishment’s’ interference in political matters? Not really—evidenced from the fact that he had no trouble with such interference in 1990, 1993, 1997, or even 2013, when the establishment (of the time) supported his bid to political power. Does he really want a system in which ‘vote ko izzat’ becomes the mantra? Not really—otherwise he would be just as vociferous an opponent of other rigging/irregularities that have been a part of every election in Pakistan (including the ones that he has won). Does he want other institutions to not interfere in the electoral process? Not really—because he had no trouble with Iftikhar Chaudhary and Khalil Ramday interfering in the 2013 elections through their hand-picked returning officers.

Read more: Op-Ed: How history belies Nawaz Sharif’s ‘progressive’ politics

So what is the real issue here?

The issue is simple: Nawaz Sharif wants to get a safe passage out of his accountability woes, be declared eligible to contest elections again, and wants the ‘establishment’ to either be on his side, or out of the process completely.

And, if wishes were horses, that will be what we all wish for.

The truth is that the hypocrisy of our politics has become nauseating. It has become clear that there is no basic minimum truth or morality that underpins our polity or its narrative—so long as there is some way to ‘spin’ it. When Maryam Nawaz made a statement, about ‘no properties in Pakistan or abroad’, people swallowed it, and continued supporting her. When Nawaz Sharif made a speech on the floor of the Parliament, about his assets disclosure, only to renege it before the honourable Supreme Court as a ‘political speech’, supporters forgave him, and moved on. When fake trust deeds, written in a font that was not available at the time, were presented before the highest court, people (somehow) got over it. When Shehbaz Sharif claimed that he would drag Zardari through the streets, and later joined hands with him to defend against personal accountability, people made peace with it. When Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur claimed that they had no connection with Uzair Baloch, despite all evidence to the contrary, their supporters looked the other way. When Rao Anwar was caught red-handed, PPP denied links with him.

But the hypocrisy of our politics can no longer be hidden—even if we chose to make peace with it. Those who campaigned on ‘Imran-Zardari bhai bhai’, are now in bed with Asif Zardari and his coterie. Those who burnt the Baldia Factory, and later claimed charity in the name of the victims, are allies of the government still. Those who raised ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ slogans under Altaf Hussain, continue to be relevant in corridors of power. The fourteen martyrs of Model Town are still waiting for their culprits to be punished. Abid boxer, and his political patrons, remain unpunished. Hundreds of child molestation victims continue to be a non-issue in our political narrative.

Read more: Op-ed: Ishrat Husain’s new book provides logical answers to Pakistan’s governance dilemma

The truth is that this system of governance, of polity, of judicial oversight, of military patronage, is just not working. Politics and governance have no nexus with public issues anymore. It is a mudslinging contest, in which no one is clean. The only concern that brings politicians together is the protection of their personal fiefdoms; political speeches, electoral promises, ideological beliefs, and moral scruples, have no place in our politics.

Our political leaders and State institutions are failing to recognize a simple fact: that the people of this country can see through their hypocrisy. And in the process, people can also see through the abject betrayal of our constitutional democratic promise. This ‘system’ cannot go on for too long. It has outlived its utility and legitimacy. It needs to be replaced with a new system of better governance and fresh leadership. Otherwise, the people within the country—real custodians of constitutional authority—will have no choice but to tear down the corridors of power, and claim their pound of flesh.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at saad@post.harvard.edu, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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