Sunday October 01, 2023

Politics of false narratives

May 07, 2022

Imran Khan lacks the credentials of a visionary leader who has an unswerving commitment to prioritize national interests. But he surely is a master in carving out false narratives and using them to his advantage at the cost of political stability in the country.

After the 2013 general election when his party did not fare well, he came out with the narrative that the elections were rigged and that ‘35 punctures’ facilitated by the then caretaker chief minister of Punjab Najam Sethi played a pivotal role in the victory of the PML-N. He also demanded the formation of a judicial commission to probe the issue of rigging. He also staged a long sit-in at Islamabad supported by Tahirul Qadri. The attack on PTV and parliament building created a crisis situation. All the parliamentary parties in the house thwarted the attempts to destabilize the country and the PML-N government survived.

Imran had to eat dust when the judicial commission formed on his demand to investigate rigging allegations, came up with the conclusion that it had found no evidence to support his claims. Talking to a private TV channel after this he admitted that his narrative of 35 punctures was only ‘political talk’. I am amazed at his audacity not to express any remorse for agitating a deliberately carved false narrative to pursue his political objectives, a move which kept the country in political turmoil until the haze was cleared by the judicial commission.

The country finds itself in a similar situation at the moment. In the backdrop of the constitutional step by the opposition to move a no-confidence motion against him and the successful culmination of the process, courtesy the intervention of the apex court, Imran Khan has come up with a conspiracy theory – allegedly the US hatched a plot to oust him from power with the connivance of the PDM parties. The reasons, per him, are that he had said ‘absolutely no’ to the US request for bases in Pakistan and did not toe the American line on the Ukraine conflict. Imran and his cohorts have also cast aspersions at the judiciary, besides accusing the establishment of facilitating the process by staying apolitical. He is vociferously agitating his new narrative and also plans to march on Islamabad like he did previously. He is demanding fresh elections and also a judicial commission to hold a probe into the ‘international conspiracy’ behind his downfall.

It is pertinent to point out that the National Security Council in its two meetings did not buy the idea of conspiracy. The DG ISPR in a presser categorically denied that the military leadership subscribed to the conspiracy claim. He also unequivocally rejected the contention that the US had asked for military bases in Pakistan. In light of the foregoing irrefutable revelations, the conspiracy narrative stands nullified.

But Imran Khan refuses to budge from his false narrative of conspiracy. The coalition government has announced plans to form an inquiry commission to clear the haze. However, the PTI has immediately rejected the suggestion, saying it would accept only a commission formed by the independent judiciary which should then hold open proceedings. The statement clearly implies that the judiciary is not independent at the moment. That makes matters really complicated and worrisome.

The question is: who will decide about the independence of the judiciary under the present circumstances? The PTI will go to any extent to put pressure on the government to announce immediate elections. That proposition is not likely to be accepted by the government which holds the view that elections without electoral reforms would be meaningless. That sounds quite reasonable as elections held without reforms and under the supervision of the chief election commissioner, who the PTI has been targeting, would not resolve the political crisis.

Regrettably, we have seen the president and the governor of Punjab failing to perform their constitutional obligations by refusing to administer the oath of office to the prime minister and the chief minister of Punjab respectively. The court has three times directed the governor to perform his constitutional duty but he not only refused to abide by the court orders but also has not accepted the legitimacy of the elections for chief minister of Punjab which were held in pursuance of the LHC order.

Is it not ironic that, while the PTI holds the establishment responsible for Imran’s removal as prime minister, the governor of Punjab has now asked the COAS to play his role in the implementation of the constitutional framework of Punjab and to restore the confidence of the people in the federal and provincial governments? Either the governor is ignorant of the fact that the army chief has no role in the implementation of the constitutional framework or he is deliberately trying to seek an intervention, probably entertaining the thought that if the PTI is not ruling the roost no one else can be allowed to have that privilege. Surely the request would not have been made without a nod of approval from Imran Khan. According to constitutional experts, the move is tantamount to sabotaging the constitution. The question is: if a party does not believe in the sanctity of the constitution, remains defiant of court orders and established democratic norms, how can it be entrusted to run affairs of the state? False narratives and narrow political agendas invariably have a destabilizing impact.

Things at the moment look very ominous. There is every likelihood of the march on Islamabad taking an ugly turn. PTI leaders and former interior minister Sheikh Rasheed are on record to have hinted at that possibility. I think the PTI has to look beyond its narrow political agenda and think in terms of bringing stability to the country. That is only possible through a dialogue between all the political entities with the aim of carrying out electoral reforms enjoying consensus of all stakeholders. Holding elections without it would further exacerbate political crisis and polarization, inimical to national interests.

Politics must be done in conformity with international democratic norms and within the confines of the constitution. Imran and his party are better advised to remain part of parliament, play the role of a true and strong opposition and contribute towards reforming the electoral system that enjoys the consensus of all stakeholders during the term of the current mandate of the assembly. Then let the people be the judge.

Imran needs to look into his political strategy and be mindful of the fact that the people around him also have many skeletons in their cupboards and he cannot bring the revolution that he contemplates to trigger with the support of people with a soiled reputation. He has to be part of the system and work for its reform. The country needs incremental progression towards its destination rather than a revolution fraught with destructive thrust.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at: