A Pakistani man wearing face mask rides past a billboard with a picture of Prime Minister Imran Khan in Rawalpindi. Photo: AFP / Farooq Naeem

The famous English writer George Orwell in his masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four very rightly said, “The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.” 

In many developing countries, the common masses are so indoctrinated by the state that they hardly find time to compare their lives with those enjoyed in modern civilized nations. Such states make sure that from the education system to literature and from the news media to the political domain, everything is controlled and the masses are fed propaganda about being superior to others on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and nationality.

Patriotism and religion serve as opium for those societies deprived of critical thinking and the knowledge of modern civilization. This perhaps is the reason that the government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), selected to rule by the military establishment, has no clue that gradually the country is reaching a point where the damage done to society, political discourse and the economy will be irreparable.

The Covid-19 pandemic is still out of control and other than making speeches, the government and Prime Minister Imran Khan have done nothing in reality to save the lives of people and the economy.

On Thursday, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced that its foreign reserves had shrunk to US$9.96 billion, a drop of $146 million in one week. This is in spite of a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year, a $2.5 billion inflow of cash from China, and hefty loans from Arab Gulf states.

And the Imran Khan regime, as usual, blames the previous governments and simply lies to the people that the drain on the nation’s finances has been necessary to repay the loans of the previous governments, while the truth is that every elected government in Pakistan had to repay the loans taken by military dictators or the puppet regimes of the establishment.

Despite that, the previous governments led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were not only able to repay the loans taken by past regimes but were also able to launch infrastructure development projects and massive poverty-alleviation programs.

Since the PTI regime is another puppet of the establishment, it is not accountable to anyone. Prime Minister Imran Khan in a speech in the National Assembly on Thursday reflected his dictatorial and delusional mindset by first declaring Osama bin Laden a martyr and then by lying bluntly that his idea of opposing the Covid-19 lockdown is now being adopted by the entire world.

Terming bin Laden a martyr reflects the extremist vision of Khan and also his inability to understand that bin Laden while leading al-Qaeda killed more Pakistani civilians and troops than Americans. It perhaps only needed common sense not to categorize bin Laden as a martyr, but then common sense is very uncommon in Pakistan these days, especially in the ranks of the ruling party.

Though Khan’s special assistant on political communication, Shahbaz Gill, tried to control the damage by saying that the prime minister had not used the word “martyr” for bin Laden, millions of people had watched the National Assembly speech live, so even the spin masters with the help of the controlled section of the press cannot control the damage.

Now, this of course was not unintentional or a slip of tongue by Khan. Just recently progressive academics and writers like Pervaiz Hoodhboy, Mohammed Hanif and Ammar Ali Jan have been shown the door by the universities where they had been teaching. This seems to be an organized campaign to mold the minds of the people again toward right-wing religious views and to enslave them in the chains of patriotism and the self-interpreted doctrines of religion.

A hybrid regime in Pakistan normally thrives on patriotism and religious doctrines with the help of mullahs and extremist religious outfits.

The question is, are not 71 years of Pakistan’s political history enough to determine that indoctrinating the minds of successive generations through the educational curriculum with hyper-nationalism and self-interpreted religious doctrines have only brought ignorance and destruction to the country? Isn’t it a very simple fact that no direct or indirect military rule can steer the country out of its problems?

If sanity prevailed, the invisible forces should have understood that the likes of Hoodhboy, Hanif and Ammar Ali Jan can produce minds with knowledge and thinking skills that eventually will only help in the betterment of the country. The problem is the establishment does not want masses to think and to compare their liberties and standards of living with the developed nations of the world.

After all, an ignorant society fed the opium of patriotism and self-interpreted religious doctrines by an alliance of the mullahs and the military elite can ensure the rule of the establishment for a longer period. This is the reason a man like Imran Khan, who sadly has no vision and no knowledge of political or even geographical history of the world, has been imposed on the nation as prime minister, while those with genuine leadership ability are facing trials both in the media and in the courts.

However, despite this gloomy picture where the establishment is ruling through a puppet prime minister who knows nothing other than how to ask for charity from the masses and loves to praise himself, there are developments that are gradually making it difficult for the mighty establishment to control the proceedings.

The brave Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faiz Isa, despite the opposition of the establishment and the Khan-led government, was able to prevail in a full court hearing after a vague and ill-intentioned presidential reference was filed against him, quashing the reference and asking his spouse to present the money trail of her assets to the Federal Board of Revenue.

Isa’s symbolic win is a temporary blow to the hegemony of the establishment, and this is the reason that he is receiving threats against his life by unknown and mysterious people.

This shows how difficult it is to walk on the right path and against the wrong policies of the establishment just like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz did and paid a heavy price, while it is very easy for pawns like Khan just to say yes to everything desired by the forces who brought him to power by denying Sharif electoral victory.

Perhaps it is a very difficult time for everyone from academics to journalists and from politicians to judges who are not ready to accept the rotten narratives of the establishment and are showing dissent, but there is hope that the Khan-led hybrid regime is gradually losing the game and the architects of this political discourse are now thinking of a compromise.

But the question remains, do any of the country’s political leaders have the spine to stay firm and not compromise just for the sake of replacing Khan and becoming another puppet? If the PML-N and PPP can hold their nerve, the delusional mindset of Imran Khan and the gradual weakening of his backers can turn the tables in favor of democratic forces.

Even if the political elite cannot do it, the evolutionary process of real change is about to take place, as now at least those capable of critical thinking are challenging the narratives of the deep state.

As the famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz said, “Certainly we, too, shall see that day that has been promised to us when these high mountains of tyranny and oppression turn to fluff and evaporate.”

Many political pundits were proved wrong when Isa prevailed over the invisible forces and they still are trying to give it a spin, but in reality, not only Isa but also the opposition has an upper hand in the game of power. It is only a matter of time until the invisible forces will have to accept defeat and make a respectable retreat.

As far as Imran Khan is concerned, perhaps he will be remembered in history as another puppet of the establishment who along with his backers brought the country to the brink of an abyss.

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