Last Saturday Pakistan saw one of its biggest ever strikes by traders and merchants, protesting against the government’s decision to enhance its tax base. The incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has promised the International Monetary Fund that it will grow its tax base and thereby increase government revenue. For any government, it is a point of concern when, across the socio-economic spectrum, no one is happy with its intentions or performance. However, Prime Minister Imran Khan, as usual, is busy setting up his political opponents with his focus remaining on the victimization of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari.
While the country is in grave economic turmoil and polarization in Pakistani society has reached its peak, instead of addressing the crises, the prime minister is busy settling scores with political opponents on Twitter. In a recent tweet he referred to Sharif as “Sicilian Mafia” and asserted that a leaked video of a judge claiming he was blackmailed by people in high places was fake.
In response, Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz accused Khan of himself being part of the Sicilian Mafia, and claimed that Khan was using government institutions to remain in power and to victimize his opponents. Khan’s PTI is a one-man show. A former celebrity and a blue-eyed boy of the establishment, Imran Khan enjoys a cult right-wing following. The party depends on a vote base built on a generation raised on hating neighboring countries and fed with the delusion that Pakistan remains a threat to the whole world. The same generation believes in religious superiority and thinks that being contradicted warrants execution. This has brought social polarization to a peak in Pakistan, a nation that was already struggling to cope with religious extremism. All of which has given birth to a new form of extremism that is gradually weakening Pakistan’s already fragile social fabric.
Sharif remains the biggest threat to both the establishment and Imran Khan as the former enjoys diehard voter support in the province of Punjab. His daughter Maryam Nawaz has successfully created a vibrant support base for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Punjab and in the Hazara belt, and this means that an already intolerant society is further politically divided while intolerance is also gradually seeping into the nation’s political fabric.
For the generation that has been a target of establishment propaganda, Imran Khan remains Pakistan’s last hope. Meanwhile, growing numbers of anti-establishment citizens are siding with Maryam. The hatred between the two political camps is reaching boiling point and no one likes to be contradicted or criticized for his political affiliations or ideologies.
The military establishment’s power and control over state resources and institutions is immense. This means creating a counter-narrative has always been the toughest of jobs for the many political parties that have tried. However, thanks to Maryam Nawaz, the status quo is now being challenged and, despite curbs on the media, even the establishment is coming under fire from the public.
The question remains: Who actually is Pakistan’s mafia godfather? Not Sharif, who was put behind bars in 1999 when General Pervez Musharraf staged a military coup to oust him from power. When Sharif assumed power for the third time in 2013, from Day 1 of his tenure he was challenged by the establishment and by news channels under its control, every one of them attacking him as a corrupt traitor. Then he was thrown out of office while his party was still in power, and subsequently banned from holding public office and sentenced to 10 more years in jail. The decision that disqualified Sharif from public office remains one of the weakest and most flawed judgments in the already controversial history of Pakistan’s judiciary. Common sense dictates that Sharif is not the godfather.
It is an open secret that there is only one power in Pakistan that creates artificial political leaders, dethrones popular leaders and blackmails the courts and influences other institutions to support its own lustful game of power. The mighty military establishment of Pakistan. The recent video of Judge Arshad Malik confessing to being blackmailed by the powers that be is only one glimpse of the brutal face of the country’s deep state.
From the Panama Papers to Dawn leaks, the military establishment has manipulated every single institution for its own vested interests. Along the way it has demonstrated zero concern that in the process it was giving birth to millions of people as devoted to extremism as the Taliban. Now a generation that has grown up with establishment propaganda over the last decade might be thought of as a new version of the Taliban.
Unlike the Taliban, they are educated, eat at McDonald’s, love to wear denim and designer clothes, but hate the US and the West because they have been taught that they are the enemy. They hate Pakistan’s neighbors, India and Afghanistan, and this makes them believe they are perfect patriots. The same people love to raise slogans and voice protests on behalf of Palestinians’ and Kashmiris’ rights, but always forget the rights of people in Balochistan and Pakistan’s own tribal belt.
For them, the Taliban have defeated the US, and this means ultimate victory for the religion and politics of Muslims. For this generation, any journalist dissenting from their views or criticizing Imran Khan or the establishment is either a traitor or corrupt, taking bribes from Sharif or Zardari for their protection. Abusing journalists and dissenting voices is no longer seen as a crime, and this tendency to violence takes the country toward a new kind of extremism where even educated people encourage violence against dissenting political leaders and journalists, and state fascism is legitimized by this brainless generation as a necessity.
Soon the establishment will realize that by creating polarization in the country and giving birth to a segment of society that is extremist in nature, it has foisted another huge problem on Pakistan. It is no longer a question of whether Sharif comes back to power or whether Khan remains in power. The question right now is how the state will deal with a brainwashed generation.
Perhaps sitting in his cell in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, Sharif will be smiling at being called a godfather and a Sicilian mafia figure. After all, no one knows better than he that lurking in the shadows is the deep state that is the real godfather of Pakistan. Sharif at least has been able to expose them, and despite their power, his vote bank remains intact. How much longer will the generations in Pakistan remain brainwashed and denied the basic skills of critical thinking and logic needed to understand the modern world?
For this segment of society is a ticking bomb, and when it explodes it will destroy society itself.