Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif (center left) sits in a car as he heads back to Kot Lakpat Jail in Lahore on May 7, 2019, after the expiry of his bail. Photo: AFP / Ali Murtaza

Propaganda in modern times is designed to manipulate the subconscious of the masses in a way that does not look like organized propaganda. As Russian chess master and democracy advocate Garry Kasparov has said, “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

The same has been the case with Pakistan, where the consent of the masses to choose rulers is manipulated in such a way that most people not only easily fall prey to it but never question why it has always been the elected leaders on the receiving end and why the military establishment despite manufacturing the consent and political and social discourse is above any accountability.

The sloganeering about of “accountability” and “corrupt rulers” was used effectively by the backers of Imran Khan to bring him to power, and the organized propaganda was backed by the most of the media houses in Pakistan.

The current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regime after coming to power started a witch-hunt in the name of accountability and used that as a premise to send its political opponents to jail. Even former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who can easily be termed the most civilized and honest politician in the country, was sent to jail on a charge of importing expensive liquified natural gas from Qatar, without any evidence against him. The same happened to Ahsan Iqbal and other opposition leaders who were only detained after they became vocal against the politics of the PTI government.

Recently the Islamabad High Court granted bail to both Abbasi and Iqbal, and this means that neither the judiciary nor the invisible forces are in a mood to back the PTI’s witch-hunt any further. The PTI is also facing another challenge, as the reference it filed against the judgment of Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa has caused the regime embarrassment.

Isa is well known and respected in the legal fraternity for his honesty and fearless judicial verdicts in not only giving a tough time to the government, forcing it on to the back foot by asking former attorney general Anwar Mansoor Khan to resign, but the newly appointed attorney general has refused to represent the government in the proceedings against Isa. 

Justice Isa in his defense has also accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of concealing wealth through an offshore company. Interestingly, a founding member of PTI, Akbar S Babar, who is also a petitioner against his own party in the foreign funding case, has already accused Khan of hiding wealth through offshore companies.

However, the propaganda machinery of the government and its backers is so strong that neither has the foreign-funding case against Khan ever been discussed on a regular basis on the mainstream media nor has his offshore company Niazi Services Ltd ever been discussed by the majority of the media houses.

Likewise, his sister Aleema Khan concealed her assets but was never investigated by the anti-graft body, nor was an assets-beyond-means case lodged. But again, this issue was never highlighted in the press the way the cases against Sharif and other political leaders were.

This reflects the power of misinformation, the control on the media by the invisible forces and their ability to shape opinions without any threat or challenge. Meanwhile elected representatives have to go to jail or into exile for alleged crimes either never proved in the court or because of the controversial verdicts, mostly dictated by the invisible forces.

However, the political leaders have one way of battling the propaganda and power of the establishment and its puppet, and that is going to jail instead of compromising, and shaping counter-narratives against the manufactured consent and fabricated allegations against them. That is what Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has done, as the likes of Abbasi, Ahsan and Rana Sanaullah preferred to fight against the oppression of Khan’s regime and its backers.

Now when almost every one of them is free and not a single charge of corruption against them has been proven in the court, and Ishaq Dar, the former finance minister, has been approached by the powers that be to bail them out for the upcoming budget of the country by giving his input, one thing is clear and evident, that the witch-hunt propaganda of Khan and his backers has been busted.

This itself can be termed as a good achievement in a country like Pakistan where the propaganda of the establishment is usually hard to defeat and where every other institution of the government and almost the entire press works at the behest of the powers that be. It is a sign that gradually the counter-narrative against the unconstitutional role of the establishment is getting stronger with each passing day.

However, it will take years of effort from the main political parties to force the establishment back to its constitutional role of protecting the geographical boundaries of the country. On the other hand, Khan, who thrives on the politics of hatred and maligning his political opponents, is facing the heat at the moment. The accountability witch-hunt has backfired, the economy is in shambles and he has no solution other than repeating one-dimensional speeches focused on undermining Sharif.

This is the reason that the Punjab provincial government has not extended bail for Sharif, who is in London for the treatment of his heart disease. Khan and his cabinet members, as usual, are ridiculing the illness of Sharif and mocking him on electronic and digital media, and this non-serious attitude is clearly indicating that the winds of change are now being felt by the PTI regime.

It takes no genius to find out that Sharif was jailed by the courts at the behest of the invisible forces and the fate of the extension of his bail will remain indirectly in the hands of the powers that be, and not in Khan’s control. If somehow Sharif and the invisible forces do not reach a consensus and he is not granted a bail extension, he will come back to Pakistan and go to prison: This has been confirmed by a source in London who wished not to be named.

So only an inept government like the PTI regime can be happy about the return of Sharif, who at any given time can easily topple its government in Punjab, which already is weak and facing a revolt within. On the other hand, the invisible forces will never want him to come back unless they can’t reach an agreement with Sharif on how to move forward on the power chessboard.

If Sharif comes back it will give him the chance to gain more sympathy in his fort of Punjab as he will be coming back from London to go to prison for a crime he never committed. The scandal when Judge Arshad Malik confessed in a video that he had convicted Sharif on the pressure of invisible forces already damaged the credibility of PTI and its backers.

In another scenario, if Sharif is granted an extension of his bail by the courts, this will put PTI under immense pressure, as it will clearly show that the negotiations between the PML-N and the establishment are heading in the right direction.

Fabricated theories and even organized propaganda have a very short life, and that is what we are seeing in Pakistan right now as the PML-N, which just a few weeks back was facing the wrath of the establishment, is now getting relief after relief.

For Khan and other puppets like him who believe in coming to power through the politics of hatred, lies and propaganda and on the shoulders of undemocratic forces, this is a lesson that genuine political leadership can never be routed through fascist measures and by manufacturing the consent of the masses. Especially when the person assuming power knows nothing else than to blame his political opponents for the failures of his own government and is not ready to learn the trade and skills of governance and power politics.

As Abraham Lincoln is believed to have said, “You can fool all the people some of the time but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.” 

Imad Zafar is a columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.