Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pakistan - Puncture wounds

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

The net result of Mr Imran Khan’s infantry advance with the media providing him a massive artillery cover has been a hyper-nationalist, demagogic chokehold on the national narrative.
“He will lie, sir, with such volubility that you would think truth were a fool” — Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well.

Perhaps even the most incorrigible of fibbers would have shied away from the camera’s glare after the complete edifice of his case against a fairly popular government, which he had built — in and with massive help from that very camera glare — in over a year, came crumbling down due to his utter failure to prove beyond reasonable doubt even a single aspersion he had cast. But not Mr Imran Khan. Instead of showing at least a modicum of remorse if not an outright apology, the chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) got right back on the electronic media and tried to up the ante by claiming that former caretaker chief minister of Punjab (CM) Najam Sethi had repaired “71, not 35 punctures” (i.e. rigged elections in as many constituencies) in the May 2013 elections, which Mr Khan had originally alleged but failed abysmally to substantiate. Mr Khan similarly failed to corroborate in front of the judicial commission his litany of allegations against the former Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the returning officers, the winning party, the PML-N, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) but had the nerve to restrain and chastise one of his own lieutenants, Dr Arif Alvi, when he seemed to regret the untruths that the PTI and its chief had been peddling.

Mr Imran Khan’s agitation and dharna (sit-in) against the May 2013 election results was not a one-off occurrence. He has virtually held the national discourse hostage to his pathological misrepresentations on issues that are beyond politics and pose an existential threat to our loved ones. His trajectory has mirrored the views of at least certain elements within the security establishment and his antics have served them well in attempts to destabilise the civilian dispensations elected in 2008 and 2013. Mr Khan started off as the establishment’s 12th man and has graduated over the past several years to their ‘B team’ in setting the tone and tenor of the national narrative in which he is helped massively by the electronic media and Urdu press. For example, when it suited the past military brass to preserve the jihadists who had a sanctuary in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), particularly North Waziristan, Mr Imran Khan was their cheerleader in singing paeans of the ‘austere and upright’ Taliban fighting the ‘evil’ US. Mr Khan’s services came extremely handy not only to paralyse the Pakistani polity and keep it from overtly asking the military to act decisively against the jihadists but also to try to keep US drones from taking out what Pakistan considered were the ‘good’ Taliban.

From leading marches against the highly effective drone strikes to demanding offices for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Mr Imran Khan — with full assistance from a rowdy and reactionary media — helped build the milieu permitting the then military leadership to drag its feet in neutralising the jihadists. The military operation has been underway in North Waziristan and sporadic US drone strikes are going on too but not a peep has been heard from Mr Imran Khan since he was apparently ordered to stand down in the wake of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar.

The agenda that Mr Imran Khan helped set has included jolting the civilian governments of the PML-N and the PPP before it. Recall that in his October 2011 speech in Lahore, Mr Khan was the first one to frame the former Pakistani ambassador, Professor Husain Haqqani, in the so-called Memogate controversy. While the dubious character Mansoor Ijaz had not named anyone at that time, Mr Imran Khan’s allegation — without proof, as is customary with his accusations — set in motion a series of events that diverted attention from the massive embarrassment that Osama bin Laden’s discovery in the vicinity of the country’s premier military academy that year had become for the establishment. The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan later observed that the findings of the judicial commission formed to probe Memogate could not incriminate anyone and the matter simply fizzled out. The fabricated Memogate, however, enabled the then security establishment to rattle the PPP government just like the 2014 dharna protests have done to the incumbent PML-N dispensation. The PML-N leadership has virtually abdicated the national security and foreign policies to the military establishment since it was chastised through the dharna.

Mr Imran Khan may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but is certainly a useful one for denigrating politics, ridiculing and castigating the politicians and thus depoliticising the masses while pretending to draw them into the political process. The tirades by the PTI chief against the MQM in a key by-election this past April have helped prepare the ground for the ongoing witch hunt against the MQM. The media, on its part, has been propping up shady characters from Zaid Zaman Hamid to Dr Tanveer Zamani in an effort to undermine traditional political forces. Not only did his accomplices in the media let Mr Imran Khan devour prime time for the last one year with non-issues and outright lies but also carefully steered clear of highlighting issues like blood-soaked Balochistan, the uprooted and displaced Pashtuns of FATA and sectarian monsters on the loose across the country. Piggybacked on a raucous, jingoistic media, Mr Khan — who wears his piety on his sleeve — has consistently helped tip the civil-military balance in favour of the latter, turning the political dial to an extreme and obscurantist right.

The net result of Mr Imran Khan’s infantry advance with the media providing him a massive artillery cover has been a hyper-nationalist, demagogic chokehold on the national narrative, leaving no room for dissent and creating an artificial desire for a ‘messiah’ or knight in shining armour at the expense of the political process and the very institution of parliament. It is not just Najam Sethi and other victims of his vitriol that Mr Khan owes an apology to but also the parliament of Pakistan whose gates his hordes tried to crash along with those of the charlatan cleric Dr Tahirul Qadri. The truth is not a fool but lying with such volubility sets the democratic discourse back by decades. Usually the truth does prevail but not necessarily always or fast enough. Indoctrination does work and leaves a stunted political growth in its wake. Mr Imran Khan’s ‘35 punctures’ fabrication has been resoundingly deflated but the repeated puncture wounds he and his cohorts in the media and the establishment have inflicted on Pakistan’s body politic will take time and a serious political effort to heal.