Thursday June 30, 2022

Reflections of an election

August 01, 2018

One of the major fallouts of the 21st century is how the internet, and by extension social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, have created an environment where every single opinion will find some followers, regardless of how absurd or outlandish it may be.

Khan won fair and square: 100 likes and 47 retweets. Khan is a pawn of the establishment: 47 likes and 100 retweets. It snows on Mars, 33 likes and retweets.

The truth, to the human mind, is always relative, to many things. First and foremost, is what one wants to believe – ie our cognitive biases. If we want Nawaz to win, and he does, then that’s what happened – fair and square. If we wanted Nawaz to lose, and he didn’t, well: something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Regardless, though, of what the press has been saying. Day after day, column after column, there have been reports of wrongdoings, in the lead up to the elections. Muzzling of the press. Detentions. Court cases. ‘It’s all agenda driven’, I was told. ‘They don’t want to see change in Pakistan.’ Well, okay, if you insist.

There have also been the usual lot of obfuscators, especially on TV. ‘Look how the jeep and the crane and the book won nothing!’ Sure. But maybe they weren’t in it to win it, as they say. Maybe, they had just been played to eat up the vote bank of a certain party. Who’s to know?

But here we are, the morning after the night before.

Khan’s speech on the day after the elections is being widely recognised. ‘The man spoke from the heart’ and ‘it wasn’t scripted’ are some of the usual captions one comes across. Yes, the speech made sense. Yes, it seemed extempore. But speeches, which are mere words, don’t run countries. Actions do. And over the course of the journey that has brought Khan to where he is now, he has technically taken positions on wrong sides.

Who in his right mind would oppose the women’s protection against violence bill? Who would oppose taking military action against militants, instead suggesting that they (the militants) be allowed to open up their political office? Who would release funds (to the tune of Rs575 million) to a madressah famous for its graduates, including the former head of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar? Who would bring into his party’s fold one of the founders of Pakistani jihad, and a co-signatory of Osama bin Laden’s international fatwa in 1998?

Defenders sum up Khan’s positions as ‘political necessity.’ That’s also fair. But in doing so, are they suggesting that when he comes to power, he will take an abrupt U-turn and set the course right? Are they banking on this? Sounds a bit like setting oneself up for disappointment.

Others take a different part. Instead of talking the hard talk, they point fingers elsewhere. ‘But what about the others, they aren’t any different.’ Yes. Absolutely not – especially when it comes to the PML-N. But this isn’t about them, is it? They have their crosses to bear, and our job was to remind them, to take them to task, to pressurise them. And that’s what we did.

Now, it’s Khan’s turn.

The PTI chief spoke about better relations with our immediate neighbors, Kabul and Delhi? Does Khan not realise that these two portions of our foreign policy are mostly not much of a part of the Foreign Ministry’s purview? Have never been. Probably will never be. He spoke of the benefit of trade between Pakistan and India. The word from Delhi is that this trade would primarily be in Pakistan’s favor, just because of the difference in the size of the markets. Will Pakistan ever take advantage of this? Or perhaps it would be better to ask: will we ever be allowed to take advantage of this proximity?

For decades, a significant portion of our meagre resources has been taken up by the anxiety over the ‘existential enemy’ at our borders. These are resources that could have been diverted to health, education and infrastructure. If some kind of working relationship with India was to occur, how would some budgets be defended? Would there be a will to take a pay cut, so to speak?

Internal security is another major problem. Yes, the situation has visibly improved, but as one former head of the FIA and Nacta once told me, it’s not because we have worked on the reasons for terrorism and fanaticism in the country, but because we have ramped up our security. Nacta and NAP are one of the cruelest jokes brought upon the nation. Pakistan is, in all senses of the word, a security state. Will Khan get to the root of terrorism and extremism?

Over the past two government terms, activists, politicians and general citizens have all taken a Nasa-grade microscope to every single action (and inaction), law, budget and whisper that the previous ruling party was responsible for. Will Khan be given the same treatment?

If yes, then it would only be par for the course. After all, your staunchest supporter ought to be your strongest critic too.

The writer is a freelance journalist.


Twitter: @aasimzkhan