August 01, 2021

Pernicious polarization. Our society has now become mutually distrustful of ‘us versus them’ camps. You're either with the PTI or you're against it. Pernicious polarization is now...

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Pernicious polarization. Our society has now become mutually distrustful of ‘us versus them’ camps. You're either with the PTI or you're against it. Pernicious polarization is now destroying our social bonds. Individuals in our society have now started mixing up their political party affiliation with their social identity.

This is pernicious polarization. And this pernicious polarization is bound to invite nothing but disaster for Pakistan and its citizens. The real driver behind our pernicious polarization is the single political cleavage – all of the PTI’s opponents are corrupt. And this “single political cleavage is dominating an otherwise Pakistan’s pluralistic political life.” Can anyone please name a single leader who is currently looking beyond their nose? Can anyone please name a single leader who is involved in anything else other than safeguarding his or her own vote block for the next election?

All our leading politicians are right now in a pure self-referential power game. None of this has anything to do with the people who live in this country. All that the PTI promotes is a single political cleavage: demonization of all its political opponents. This single political cleavage “overrides all other commonalities to the point that it has boiled into a single divide which becomes entrenched and self-reinforcing”.

Pernicious polarization destroyed Zimbabwe. Learn from Zimbabwe where “pernicious polarization reinforced and entrenched itself, dragged the country into a downward spiral of anger and division for which there were no easy remedies.” Under pernicious polarization “it is common to see the winner exclude the loser from positions of power or using means to prevent the loser from becoming a threat in the future.” Pernicious polarization destroys governance.

Authors Jennifer McCoy and Murat Somer, in 'Toward a theory of pernicious polarization and how it harms democracies’, state: “Perniciously polarized societies often witness public controversies over factually provable questions. During this process, facts and moral truths increasingly lose their weight, as more people conform to the message of their own bloc. Social and political actors such as journalists, academics, and politicians either become engaged in partisan storytelling or else incur growing social, political and economic costs. Electorates lose confidence in public institutions. Support for norms and democracy declines.

"It becomes increasingly difficult for people to act in a morally principled fashion by appealing to the truth or acting in line with one’ values when it conflicts with one’s party interests. Once pernicious polarization takes hold, it takes on a life of its own, regardless of earlier intentions.” Pernicious polarization “arises when political entrepreneurs pursue their political objectives by using polarizing strategies, such as mobilizing voters with divisive demonizing discourse…”

Pernicious polarization destroyed Georgia by splitting the entire Georgian society into extremely hostile camps, resulting in wholesale institutional delegitimization. Our politicians are “delegitimizing their opponents. Instead of policy debates or issue-based discussion, politicians use personal attack and vilify opponents.” Pernicious polarization destroyed Hungary. Pernicious polarization destroyed Venezuela. Pernicious polarization destroyed Greece. Pernicious polarization destroyed the Philippines. Pernicious polarization destroyed Ecuador. Pernicious polarization destroyed Colombia. Pernicious polarization is now destroying Turkey.

Pakistan is a country surrounded by enemies. Then there’s the sinking economy and an extremely dangerous, full-blown regional turmoil. Divided we fall. Pakistan’s politics has now become extremely toxic, absolutely meaningless, totally irrelevant, nonsensical and outright absurd – and this is bound to court disaster. Elite polarization must be de-escalated or mass polarization will destroy us all. We must save Pakistan from pernicious polarization, before it causes irreparable harm.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: farrukh15hotmail.com Twitter: saleemfarrukh

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