Tuesday September 26, 2023

Under assault – from within

August 12, 2022

For all the years that Pakistan has been independent, we lived in fear of being attacked by our traditional rivals: India in the east and Afghanistan along our western border. We never thought that there were enemies within who were far more lethal than all our external adversaries put together. At an operational level, these internal forces may also have had the patronage and support of external actors.

While the internal forces may have remained busy through the years to destabilize Pakistan and reap its dividends to advance their power plans, the intensity and venom with which they have been operating in the last few years has no parallel. These years coincide with the advent in power of Imran Khan and the corrective policies which he incorporated with regard to holding everyone to account, more so those who have been in positions of power in one capacity or another. He also changed the policy direction which was traditionally followed in the country.

Instead of remaining beholden to perpetuating the interests of status-quo individuals in seats of power, the state and its inherent interests became the priority of this fundamental policy review. Policies were no longer formulated to cater to the interests of an individual or of powerful cartels. The collective interest of the state and its people became the principal driver of the new approach.

This policy review also envisaged freeing Pakistan from the unseemly grip of the US and linking it with regional power centres to bring economic and strategic advantage. This disturbed those for whom loyalty to US interests has been a cardinal factor of their belief system.

This multi-directional shift in policy adversely impacted the interests of the traditional status-quo mafias and cartels. Not willing to accept its consequences, a vitriolic campaign was unleashed against Imran Khan immediately after his taking office as the prime minister of the country which kept accentuating with time, becoming ever more venomous in intent and purpose. He was accused of a host of things he had absolutely nothing to do with. Long marches were conducted and ceaseless propaganda was orchestrated to tarnish his image and nullify his multifaceted achievements. To date, he remains the only leader who, as a private citizen, contributed enormously to Pakistan in the key fields of cancer treatment, education and public welfare. For these purposes, he did not take loans from banks that he could later default on, or scavenge the national exchequer. He went to the people, requesting them to extend support to complete these projects. The rest is history.

In their venom, the cartels tried to render even this immense humanitarian work controversial. A grand coalition of the corrupt was put together to ensure his removal from the seat of power so that, once again, they could return to their ways of pillaging the country to fill their personal coffers. Those who were dismissed and rendered ineligible by the apex court for holding public offices for their grievous crimes and who had since been pouring invectives at institutions were espoused as friends in this desperate plan to topple a democratically-elected government. Personnel of the notorious crime syndicate comprising convicts, alleged criminals and absconders were given a carte blanche charge to accomplish the gory task.

This game plan aims at discrediting Khan through a concerted campaign involving state institutions, and the state administrative machinery with its fascist fangs out. This campaign broadly aims at vilifying Khan to damage his stature, targeting key party members to build pressure, and restricting social media effectiveness. The ultimate objectives of the campaign span spreading fear among the people, particularly those who are supporters of the party, scuttling the PTI and having Khan declared ineligible for holding public office.

This is a game plan which has been played with cyclic monotony in the country: take on as partners the previous enemies to remove a new enemy. This is the core reason why roots of democracy have never flourished in the country. The fundamental need the crime syndicate has taken on Khan at this juncture is because he would not wilt under pressure to do things which he considers inimical to the interests of the state and its people who not only elected him as the leader, but whose support has been the pillar of his ascendance ever since he was illegally and unconstitutionally ousted from office. Hundreds of thousands of people surge to his rallies whenever he gives out a call. This scares those that are used to working from behind drawn curtains with their faces camouflaged. But, it is also a reality that their actions stand exposed in the court of the people.

At a different level, there are attempts to build pressure on the PTI governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). For a while, Punjab was also handed over to the crime syndicate in an abysmally illegal and unconstitutional manner, which has since been reversed after the humiliating defeat inflicted upon them by the PTI in the recently-held by-elections in the heart of their political power base. This has got them scared and they are scurrying around looking for additional support to have the mission accomplished.

In KP, the incursion of the Taliban fighters is ringing alarm bells. They are threatening to dictate things in the coming days and weeks at the cost of the KP government’s suzerainty. How they come around and who their drivers are to, once again, make inroads into areas they had long been ousted from remains a secret – but not quite so. It is all part of the same sinister plan to build pressure from multiple directions on the PTI governments with intent to weaken them and force them to knuckle under.

The reality is that Khan has become a challenge for the status-quo touts and their international sponsors and promoters. They have the support of the entire state machinery and its fascist tactics, but their seats of power are becoming increasingly wobbly for their comfort. That is why they are striking Khan’s political citadel from all directions. But no matter how much they try, Khan will surprise them by bouncing back ever more powerfully. Pakistan is under assault from within. Violence and anarchy loom. There is only one peaceful way to salvation: announcing transparent, free and fair elections immediately.

The writer is a political and security strategist and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad. He tweets @RaoofHasan