How Imran plays it up

October 02, 2022

This was the week of audio ‘leaks’, aside from the political victory of Maryam Nawaz in a court of law on Thursday. Her conviction in the Avenfield apartments reference by an...

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This was the week of audio ‘leaks’, aside from the political victory of Maryam Nawaz in a court of law on Thursday. Her conviction in the Avenfield apartments reference by an accountability court in July 2018 was set aside by the Islamabad High Court.

So, is the tide now beginning to turn against Imran Khan? And this question had become valid a day earlier, on Wednesday, when an audio clip of conversation between former prime minister Imran Khan and his principal secretary Azam Khan was revealed. It was related to the ‘cipher’ that Imran Khan used so zealously to push his ‘foreign conspiracy’ narrative.

Two days later, on Friday, there was a sequel to the first ‘cipher’ leak and this time we had four voices to hear, those purportedly of Imran Khan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umer and Azam Khan. There is a discussion on the ‘foreign conspiracy’ issue related to the diplomatic ‘cipher’.

The stage for these leaks of large significance was set by multiple audio leaks of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s conversations in the premises of the PM House, raising serious questions about national security. It prompted high-level deliberations and the implementation of a new standard operating procedure to ‘debug’ the PM House.

As would be expected, the plot thickened when the federal cabinet was informed on Friday that the copy of the diplomatic ‘cipher’ that Imran Khan had alleged to have contained details of the US government’s threat to oust him from power was ‘missing’ from the records kept in the PM House. A statement issued after the meeting declared that the “theft” of the diplomatic records is an “unforgivable crime” and violation of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

Against this backdrop, there is great suspense and bewilderment about possible new revelations that may include not just audio but also video clips that some mysterious dark forces may have in their possession. There are hints about some highly salacious material being there.

Anyhow, the two leaks that apparently implicate Imran Khan in whipping up the ‘foreign conspiracy’ plot to seek political advantage deserve particular attention. At one level, these and the other leaks constitute a serious national security breach. At another, the very thought that an incumbent prime minister and the leader of a prominent political party would want to ‘play’ with highly sensitive, confidential issues of national importance is truly forbidden.

In the leaked conversations, an intention emerges to turn the ‘cipher’ into a foreign conspiracy. The idea was to not name the country – the United States of America – but this name leaked out of Imran Khan’s own mouth in a public rally. “We only have to play it up” was how the PTI leader had put it.

Playing with it is what Imran Khan does the best. He is indefatigable in his pursuit of victory, whether by hook or by crook. Facts or truth must not come in his way. The passion that he invests in his mission enhances his charisma in the eyes of his ardent followers who, likewise, are not very willing to see or to think. This is exactly how a cult takes root.

Now, I began with a reference to the leaks that are sprouting and apparently revealing some secrets. But let us also look at the secrets that are hiding in plain sight. One such secret is the PTI’s well-designed strategy to promote among its followers an ‘us-versus-them’ mindset. And ‘they’ – primarily the Sharif family and Zardari and other leaders of PML-N and PPP – are downright evil and must be hated and, not entirely in a proverbial sense, thrown out of the playing field.

You may approach a social scientist to learn about how this fascistic trend may find nourishment in a low political culture at a time of crisis. Then, also ask the experts about what happens to a society afflicted with this kind of populist passion. A lot of evidence is already available to us to demonstrate PTI supporters’ utter lack of civility in casting despicable aspersions on mainly PML-N leaders and critics of Imran Khan.

There is this latest incident when federal information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb was heckled by PTI supporters in London. It happened on Monday at a coffee shop and it could be the focus of this column. A video that became viral showed Marriyum buying her drink/soda and sipping it while a group shouted ‘chorni’, ‘chorni’. But the minister kept her cool and calmly answered questions.

While there is a pattern of such hooliganism by PTI activists, like that encounter with Ahsan Iqbal, I wonder how sober and civilized admirers of Imran Khan had felt after watching the Marriyum Aurangzeb video. Would they condone the behaviour of those rude Insafians, as PTI leaders routinely do, or have sympathy for a lady who gracefully braved that verbal attack?

In fact, the PTI leadership has encouraged such conduct and it seems to be a well-thought-out plan to intimidate the opposition and speak about the main political adversaries in terms that are derogatory. Throwing mud at specific individuals is a business that is taken seriously by PTI tacticians. In this undertaking too, Imran Khan leads from the front. He does this with a flourish.

It is possible that a protest against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his delegation at the sacred Masjid-e-Nabvi in late April had the blessings of some PTI leaders. Slogans were raised against Pakistani ministers and parliamentarians.

There is speculation about the existence of audio clips in which Imran Khan had advised his spokespersons to go after such and such persons. Shahbaz Gill did it so well and Fawad Chaudhry periodically excels in this art. Yes, the PML-N and the PPP have their own, say, loudmouths but they cannot match the PTI practitioners. And I cannot even dare to mention how female media persons who are critical of PTI are trolled in the dark alleys of social media.

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: ghazi_salahuddin

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