Monday May 27, 2024

A haunting legacy

By Mazhar Abbas Gondal
May 09, 2022

Imran Khan’s ouster from the Prime Minister’s Office has given birth to a number of speculations and controversies – ranging from alleged US role in the vote of no-confidence to his parting of ways with the Pakistani establishment. This is evident from Imran’s speeches and statements, social media campaigns by PTI workers and supporters, and mass rallies within and outside the country. Though his fall has been the talk of the town, his legacy has hardly been talked about.

It is believed that rulers are judged by history for the contributions they make to their countries or the legacies they leave behind. In Pakistan’s 75-year history, each one of our rulers has left behind some kind of legacy – good, bad, or contested.

Like other Pakistani leaders, Imran has also left behind a legacy that can be divided into two parts – before and after being elected as PM. Before being elected PM in 2018, he had already set a legacy which is unparalleled in the history of the country for two reasons. First, he single-handedly built two world-class cancer hospitals and a university without being part of any government. Second, he successfully built the narrative on corruption by sensitizing the people that the previous regimes of the PPP and the PML-N were massively corrupt, and he was the only clean politician around. And that he would rid the country of corrupt rulers – something he could not do even after ruling the country for around four years.

After sensing he would be voted out of office, Imran built the narrative that foreign powers intervene for regime change in weak states like Pakistan, which, looking at the pages of history, cannot be ruled out. And so he started accusing the US of hatching a conspiracy, by offering money to the opposition members in the National Assembly, to oust him from the office through a vote of no-confidence. He further alleged that the American officials met Pakistani diplomats and stated that if the motion succeeds, Pakistan will benefit and if it fails, the country will have to face severe consequences. Taking advantage of this, he started accusing the combined opposition of treason and, subsequently, started labelling them as traitors and American agents.

Terming opponents as foreign – mainly American, Indian or Israeli – agents is not new in Pakistan. There are a host of political leaders such as Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Fatima Jinnah, Ghulam Murtaza Shah Syed, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Akbar Bugti, and Benazir Bhutto who were labelled as foreign agents and anti-Pakistan.

However, there is not a single example where the whole opposition (roughly comprising more than 170 members) was accused of treason under Article 5 of the 1973 constitution. The intervention of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan settled this issue by upholding the constitution and saving the whole opposition from being declared as traitors. Despite this, Imran went on chanting slogans in his public rallies that the opposition was traitorous to the country because they had conspired with the US to topple his government since he stood for an independent Pakistan. This propaganda campaign is still being carried out by him and his social media team – for example, Twitter trends against the then opposition (and now the newly sworn in government) are still on top.

Carrying forward this propaganda, Imran is poisoning his supporters and followers against members of the opposition and their families – taking this political struggle to the level of personal enmity. For example, he is publicly inciting people against his rivals. As a result, some of his political rivals have had to face public wrath. For instance, those from parties that are the PTI’s political rivals have had to face abuse while visiting public places for dining or shopping with their families or friends, and end up being provoked into responding. This results in violent clashes at public places. This way, he is cultivating and igniting social and political polarization.

Subsequently, society is being polarized to a point of no return. Through his hate speeches, he is nurturing and spreading a culture of division among people – pro-IK (patriots and sane) and anti-IK (traitors and insane). He is causing hatred based on social and political division and driving us to a point from which reversibility is impossible.

Coupled with this, he is training his followers and supporters to disrespect the institutions, the constitution, and public office-holders if they are not working in his favour. For example, the deputy speaker of the NA, allegedly on his directions, blocked the motion by ruling it as a foreign conspiracy. Subsequently, Imran wrote to the president of Pakistan, who comes from his party, to dissolve the National Assembly, to which he responded firmly.

The opposition challenged the ruling in the SC, which reversed it by declaring it as unconstitutional, reinstated the National Assembly, and directed it to conduct the voting of no-confidence. Instead of complying with the orders of the court, Imran and other PTI leaders started delaying the voting process by making lame excuses one after the other. Somehow, the speaker of the National Assembly resigned nearly at midnight by declaring that he would prefer to remain loyal to his party leader rather than the House, handing over the charge to Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N to complete the process of voting, which was done successfully and peacefully.

In short, Imran defied a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power, disrespected institutions, and belittled the constitution – a legacy that will haunt democracy and the country for a long time. Moreover, he and his team started a malicious propaganda campaign against judges and their families. This legacy will neither serve democracy nor the country. The effects could be seen in the elections for the chief minister of Punjab where PTI members instead of participating in the election attacked their rivals.

The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University and is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad. He tweets at @MazharGondal87 and can be reached at: