Friday September 29, 2023

Imran’s populist slogans radicalising youth

May 29, 2023

Imran Khan has been accused of radicalising young people in Pakistan for political purposes. His speeches and the use of organised disinformation campaigns by PTI have had a severe impact on the youth of the country.

According to a 2019 Pew Research Centre study, 72pc of Pakistani youth believe using violence against civilians is acceptable to further political objectives. This is a significant increase from the 58pc who held the same view in 2013.

The events of May 9 have further highlighted the impact of Imran Khan's incendiary language. He has been accused of contributing to the radicalisation of young PTI members who were motivated by mob mentality and attacked government symbols.

A highly respected journalist based in Washington, Raza Rumi, uncovered a deeply concerning trend in Pakistani politics. Specifically, he has exposed Imran Khan's use of disinformation to indoctrinate the youth. Rumi's investigation was prompted by the events of May 9, when PTI crowds attacked state installations.

He discovered this violence was preceded by a disinformation campaign designed to stoke fear and anger among young people. This is a dangerous tactic that has been used by authoritarian regimes throughout history to manipulate and control their citizens.

During a cultural event in New York City on May 10, Rumi was approached by several overseas Pakistanis who expressed concern about Imran Khan's safety. Despite assuring them that such fears were unfounded, many of them showed him tweets, WhatsApp messages and fake images that purported to show IK being tortured. This is a clear example of how disinformation can be used to manipulate young supporters' emotions and beliefs.

Imran Khan's straightforward speeches, which were spread on social media and other platforms, have inspired young people to verbally and physically abuse political adversaries. His claim that all opponents are thieves has encouraged impressionable followers to look for easy fixes. For example, his radicalised supporters chanting slogans in front of Nawaz Sharif's London home is a regular feature.

He has used the weaponisation of young men and women as a powerful form of blackmail against his rivals and even the top brass of the Army. Imran Khan has effortlessly defeated his opponents with the lethal weapon of PTI's SMT teams trolling and disinformation strategy.

The latest police arrest of suspected arsonists of May 9 vandalism were cleverly exploited by the PTI mounting a massive disinformation campaign. Imran Khan accused the police of rape and man handling of his detained female workers. This forced the Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah to address a press conference in the middle of night. He said: "The country's agencies intercepted a conversation, revealing disturbing plots and planned actions, including a raid on the PTI leader's house and a staged rape. He said the objective was to "falsely implicate law enforcement institutions in the crime, aiming to internationalise the issue".

There was an abundance of disinformation circulating. On May 28, the police took to Twitter to alert its members of a coordinated smear campaign by online trolls associated with the PTI. The trolls were making baseless accusations against the government and law enforcement agencies, claiming that they had assaulted arsonists who were detained during the PTI's May 9 attacks. It is worth noting the tweet did not explicitly mention Imran or the PTI. This situation highlighted the prevalence of disinformation in today's society, particularly in the realm of politics.

He even pushed his supporters to sacrifice their lives for his cause during a conversation on a Twitter platform called space that is primarily used by young people. He proclaimed that "death is better than life," implying that they should protest and may be prepared to die for the PTI's political goals.

Imran Khan has been known to frequently criticise the West, particularly the United States, in his speeches. He advocates for his own interpretation of Jihad against what he perceives as the West's unique way of life. His references to "Haqiqi Azadi" or true freedom from servitude and enslavement demonstrate his disdain for Western values. However, he has also faced criticism for allegedly encouraging sectarian strife within Pakistan.

In 2017, Imran received backlash for proposing the establishment of Taliban offices in Peshawar, leading to him being referred to as "Taliban Khan." Despite these controversies, his simplistic solutions and narrative have resonated with the youth in Pakistan.

Ahmed Quraishi, another respected journalist in Islamabad, made a troubling claim about Imran Khan's behaviour. According to Quraishi, Imran has been encouraging violence among Pakistanis since 2010, a full year before his debut as the Ken Doll in a show that was supposed to cleanse the country's politics. This revelation was deeply concerning, as it suggested that Imran has been promoting a culture of violence for over a decade.

The consequences of Imran's actions have been severe. In April 2022, his behaviour nearly sparked a civil war and created fresh divisions within Pakistan. This was a worrying development, as Pakistan was already a country that is deeply divided along ethnic, religious and political lines. Imran's actions have only served to exacerbate these divisions and make the situation even more volatile.

Although there are many factors that contribute to the rise of extremism among the youth in Pakistan, it is undeniable that the political rhetoric of Imran Khan has had a significant impact. His words have the potential to incite conflict, destabilise the nation and harm the economy. This is a proposition the PTI has always rejected.

However, socioeconomic inequality, unemployment, poverty and a lack of education also play a role in fueling reaction in young minds. Ultimately, it is clear Imran's words incite hatred and are a contributing factor to the country's current state of political turmoil. For his critics, it is imperative that Imran be held accountable for his words, and that the government takes decisive action to address the underlying causes of extremism in the country. Only then can Pakistan hope to build a stable and prosperous future for its citizens.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a Balochistan politician and a former media and strategic communications advisor to GOB. He tweets @jan_Achakzai