The great irony affecting democracy and political parties around the globe and particularly in Pakistan is that they never learn from their mistakes. In Pakistan, we have seen time and again that political leaders and dissenting voices have been termed traitors and enemies of the state. The vague definitions of “traitor” and “patriotism” obviously are in the hands of the powerful establishment.
The real monopoly of contempt of the state lies with both the military establishment and the judiciary, while the mullahs have hegemony over accusing anyone who does not believe in their self-created religious interpretations and doctrines of blasphemy. It has been the main problem with Pakistan that the masses are kept ignorant deliberately by this troika of forces to sell fake propaganda in a bid to retain a firm grip on power.
We have seen it time and again, and now we are seeing it again. Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit to Iran in a joint statement with the Iranian authorities said terrorists had been using Pakistani soil to mount attacks on Iran, and he would make sure it would never happen again during his tenure.
On the surface, this statement looks normal, as the people living in Pakistan know how the figureheads of banned outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Lashkar-e-Tayaba roam freely in luxurious vehicles with armed men guarding them. The problem, however, is that what Khan said in Iran, Benazir Bhutto also said back in the 1990s, and Nawaz Sharif in his last term in office repeated it time and again. The only difference is that both Bhutto and Sharif were termed traitors for their statements, while Imran Khan has been forgiven, as he is the blue-eyed boy of the establishment.
Benazir Bhutto was condemned as a “friend of Rajiv Gandhi” when he was prime minister of India, while Sharif was later denigrated as a friend of Narendra Modi, the current prime minister. Yet Imran Khan and General Pervez Musharraf were hailed as heroes for their efforts to offer dialogue for the revival of peace with India and to point out the presence of the non-state actors on their own back yard.
The double standard of declaring elected prime ministers or dissident journalists and media houses like Dawn traitors for their views on removing banned outfits from Pakistani soil while, to the contrary, the establishment’s men like Musharraf and Khan are allowed to say the same things has created a society that is living in self-denial and that strongly believes that it is surrounded by conspiracies from all over the globe. This delusional state of mind of the masses helps the establishment and the mullahs to keep enjoying the unchallengeable status of sacred cows.
On the other hand, the politicians and their parties have not learned any lessons from this old game of accusing dissenters of treachery and blasphemy. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party in spite the fact that it was labeled as a traitor in the 1990s kept calling Sharif a traitor for his initiative to start a dialogue with India and his close ties with Modi. Now Bilawal has been termed a traitor by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government as he speaks against the presence of non-state actors in Pakistan.
If this is not enough, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which was recently victimized by fabricated allegations of treachery and blasphemy, is doing the same by highlighting that Imran Khan, by confessing on foreign soil that terrorists had used Pakistan to launch attacks on Iran, has committed treason, and the PML-N leadership is raising questions on Khan’s patriotism.
Since both the establishment and the mullahs know that political parties in order to settle scores with each other can go to any extent, they add more fuel to the fire and at the end, it is only politicians and dissidents who are termed, traitors and blasphemers.
It is strange that the military dictators who abrogated the constitution and imposed martial law in the country have never been termed traitors, and no one has questioned their loyalty toward the country. If only the political elite could understand that this accusation game is meant to hurt them and that it will always keep the establishment and mullahs in power, most of the problems of Pakistan could be solved.
Another example of victimizing dissenters was the recent move of the PTI government to make a review petition to the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) against the decisions by Justice Qazi Faez Isa in the case of the infamous Faizabad sit-in by Tehreek-e-Labbaik that was staged in 2017. Isa is an exception in a judiciary whose past has been tainted with controversial decisions and validating martial law in the country. The invisible forces never liked him, as even during the toxic period of ex-chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who allegedly conspired with the invisible forces to topple Sharif and bring Khan to power, Isa was able to maintain his impartiality and render judgments on their merit without being influenced by or afraid of the powers that be.
In his judgment in the Faizabad sit-in case, Isa accused the law-enforcement agencies of negligence and openly stated that they were involved in curbing the media. That decision did not sit well with the invisible forces, so a character-assassination campaign was started against Isa. But since Isa has never taken any favors to reach the rank of an SC judge, nor has his name ever been linked to any scandal, the weapon used to defame him and make him controversial is the same, and that spreading doubt on his loyalty to the state.
These two recent incidents explain very well that neither the political elite nor the masses are ready to learn the lessons of the past. A country that lost its eastern part just because it refused to listen to the demands of the population of East Pakistan and declared its popular leader a traitor, and a country that even tried to tarnish the image of Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the founding father of the nation, terming her a traitor and in the process laying the foundation for the separation of East Pakistan, cannot afford to move in the same circle by terming each and every dissident a traitor or a blasphemer.
This dangerous game is a bigger issue than the economic crisis for Pakistan, and until this is stopped, the social and political fabric of the country will never prevail and without social and political stability there can be no economic prosperity and growth.