Resisting fascism

Gambits that compromised Pakistan’s sovereignty came thick and fast during the 2018-22 government

By Engineer Khurram Dastgir-Khan
February 24, 2024
In this photo, taken on May 10, 2023, supporters of former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan clash with policemen during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Islamabad. — AFP

Parties that represent the seven out of ten votes polled on February 8 agreed this week to form the federal government. Amidst profound crises in the economy, foreign policy, and federalism, the new government faces another acute challenge: sustaining the republic. Three out of ten Pakistani voters have endorsed a party that conspired seditiously to stage an insurrection on May 9, 2023. Fascism is coming. How to resist it with strength and, eventually, defeat it?


February 22 furnished two instances that typify the fascist assault on democracy. A threat was released deliberately that the fascist-in-chief is contemplating writing a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stop the next loan facility to Pakistan. Second, the former commissioner who had, hours ago, made sensational allegations regarding elections in Rawalpindi Division retracted all and stated that his previous allegations were made on the instruction of a jailed fascist.

Anti-state tactics by fascists are not new. A conversation came to light in August 2022 between the provincial finance ministers of governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the former federal finance minister, who proposed that these provincial ministers refuse resources that the fascist government had agreed previously with the IMF. And in 2014, the IMF was a repeated topic of invective and threats from the dharna stage. Yet the same posse in government signed an anti-poor agreement with the same IMF in April 2019 that compromised Pakistan’s fiscal and legal sovereignty.

Gambits that compromised Pakistan’s sovereignty came thick and fast during the 2018-22 government. “Mr Modi’s government might actually be the best possible option for settling the Kashmir conflict”, said the fascist PM in a New York Times interview in April 2019. Two years later, he declared to a US entertainment channel that: “The moment there is a settlement on Kashmir…We will not need to have nuclear deterrents.”

The fascist response to Modi’s annexation of IIOJK in August 2019 was inept, indecisive, and intellectually bankrupt. The fascists’ policy response consisted of ritual condemnation, a one-time 30-minute stand-in, a song, one renamed road, and an old map rehashed.

Modi’s fascism cannot be defeated by Imrani fascism. They are birds of a feather. Overcoming fascism anywhere is a political, legal, communicational, and governance challenge. “It cannot be defeated by appeals to reason alone, or even by collective struggle alone,” Paul Mason writes in 'How to Stop Fascism'. “It has to be morally defeated, forced into logical disarray, encouraged to retreat to the ‘ordinary’ prejudices [such as] nationalism which – though distasteful – can each be reasoned with and contained.”

To defeat fascism morally is a tall order for the PMLN and PPP. Their past baggage is enormous, good as well as bad. Their voters are committed, yet aging and weary. Everything good these parties did, however, has been erased – canceled, to use current jargon – by the tremendous propaganda machine of the fascists using relentless lies, ceaseless negativity, and gushing emotionalism.

Voters infantilized, blunted, and incited by fascist TikTok and Facebook have no interest in reforming and re-building Pakistan. They do not care how and through which leader Pakistan overcame pervasive terrorism, load shedding, Karachi target-killing, and terrible inflation during 2013-18. The 18th Amendment and 9th National Finance Commission Award are made irrelevant for these young voters by propaganda.

This is not unprecedented. Nazi propaganda was decades ahead of its time in all contemporary media. Leni Riefenstahl’s documentaries of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, 'Triumph of the Will' and 'Olympia', are masterpieces decades ahead of their time, however repugnant their propaganda. Joseph Goebbels was the first minister for propaganda (1933-45) in the history of the world and immortalized himself by observing that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

In Pakistan’s case, legions of overseas contributors have since 2011 funded fascists’ sophisticated propaganda across all social media platforms. The fascists polled nearly one million less votes in 2024 compared to 2018. But in a society networked by 4G mobile internet, the number of domestic voters is less important than how many regardless of location are retweeting propaganda and who is posting ten times a day on Facebook groups, tweeting, and liking TikTok videos. The followers abroad are also the source of the pot of gold many Pakistani YouTubers have discovered at the end of the fascist rainbow.

This is the challenge. The fascists have endless money for media and legal challenges; possess the most sophisticated propaganda machine; have enthusiastic historically ignorant voters fuelled by hate and resentment; have divided and dissected all state institutions; and now have attracted some anti-establishment voters.

What to do? In a prescient insight, Hannah Arendt described fascism as a temporary alliance of the elite and the mob. The first task is to sever the economically affected middle class and the poor from the fascists by controlling inflation and reducing utility bills. The second task is to enforce laws diligently to bring the planners, abettors, and perpetrators of May 9 speedily to justice. Third is a robust legislative response through anti-fascist laws of the kind that Germany has. Fourth is a radical reformation of government to face 21st-century communication challenges.

But deeper than all of the above, the PMLN and PPP must rediscover and rejuvenate the Charter of Democracy, widen the space of constitutional government, empower the legislature and, most importantly, deliver a calm, unified, competent, and pro-poor government to the people of Pakistan.

The writer is a former member of the National Assembly. He tweets/posts kdastgirkhan