Farooq Haider Khan exclusive picture for Asia Times
Farooq Haider Khan, the popular prime minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, has been targeted by the establishment. Photo: Supplied by Imad Zafar / Asia Times

The famous German scholar Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own.”

In the modern age when the world has become a global village, there are still nations that are living in medieval times and are not ready to abandon the shields of treason allegations. Pakistan, of course, is one of those nations where treason charges are used frequently against dissenting voices by the government and military establishment and where appeals to nationalism and patriotism are used to keep the people living in a fantasy.

On Monday, a first information report was filed by a person in Lahore against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his close aides. The FIR accused Sharif and his colleagues of sedition and inciting people against such institutions as the army and the judiciary.

Given the way Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz are taking on the establishment, there never was any doubt that a treason case would soon be launched against them. However, no one could have anticipated that the prime minister of the Pakistani side of Kashmir, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Raja Farooq Haider Khan, would also be nominated in the FIR along with Sharif and Maryam.

Anyone who is familiar with the politics of Pakistan can easily tell that no ordinary person can file an FIR against popular leaders like Sharif, Maryam and Haider. The government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and its backers who are stuck in a dead-end street in a panic mode have pressed the wrong button at the wrong time.

First, accusing the leadership of Punjab of sedition means that both the establishment and the PTI government know that Punjab, the largest province in the country, is still the fort of Sharif, and in sheer panic, they have started accusing not only leaders but journalists and common people from Punjab of treason.

In fact, Bashir Memon, the ex-director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), in an interview revealed that Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted him to book Maryam Nawaz and her team on terrorism charges and also to pursue corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif and members of his family. This clearly indicates how far the current hybrid regime can go to punish dissenting voices and political opponents.

This is an alarming situation, as the other provinces of the country besides Punjab already have no soft corner for the unconstitutional role of the military establishment. Furthermore, accusing the AJK prime minister of sedition has hurt the Kashmiris who are already betrayed by the surrender of the establishment on the annexation of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir by New Delhi.

Only minds deprived of common sense and vision could have tried to portray Sharif and his aides as traitors, but then we are talking about a military elite that did not learn any lessons from the fall of Dhaka.

An organized media campaign has been initiated against Sharif and he is being portrayed as an agent of India, and many touts of the government and establishment working in the guise of journalists are fooling the people that Sharif has been meeting with an Indian military attaché in London, while a few cabinet ministers are accusing Maryam Nawaz of meeting with an Indian in Lahore.

Historically speaking, the treason and religious cards are the last weapons of the establishment, and they have nearly always had the desired result. However, there was one incident when the establishment failed to outsmart a popularly elected leader with this ploy.

That was when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took on then-dictator General Ayub Khan and then his successor General Yahya Khan. From declaring him a traitor to arresting thousands of his supporters on treason charges, the establishment was not able to suppress the narrative and popularity of Mujib.

In the general elections of 1970 when Mujib won almost all the seats in the National Assembly from East Pakistan, he was deprived of his mandate. As a result, East Pakistan was separated after the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 and became the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Many believe that Dhaka was lost as a result of the war between India and Pakistan. However, the truth of the matter is that it was lost the day the most popular leader of East Pakistan, Mujib, was made an enemy by the establishment of that era, and then by denying his electoral mandate the establishment laid the foundation of the fall of East Pakistan.

Nearly four decades have past since the fall of Dhaka, but nothing has been learned by the establishment. One lesson that is very easy to learn is that no amount of oppression can crush a popular leadership and that respect can never be won through force or by using the shield of treason allegations.

The opposition parties, especially Sharif’s, are talking about the supremacy of the constitution and accountability for all. His demand to form a truth commission should have been welcomed by the powers that be, but then that could have brought many of the bigwigs of the establishment to account. So they have decided to crush Sharif and other dissident voices by terming them traitors.

The problem is that by trying to portray Sharif as a traitor and accusing him of being an agent of India the establishment is playing a very dangerous game. The more Sharif is pushed into a territory where Mujib was once pushed, the more it will become hard for Sharif and his vote bank to accept the hegemony of the deep state, and that will only worsen the political turmoil.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, working as a puppet for the establishment, is perhaps the most suitable person to protect the corporate and political interests of the military elite, but he is losing popularity with every passing day.

The spike in prices of sugar and medicines has broken the backs of the common masses. The continual increases in taxes and utility bills in a country where the state offers nothing to its citizens is damaging Khan and his backers.

So at a time when people are finding it difficult even to survive, no one cares about treason charges or the euphoria of hypernationalism. The bigwigs in the establishment are only making the country a laughing stock by indirectly using the controlled press and PTI government to term the leaders of the opposition and journalists traitors.

It seems that soon the number of traitors in the country will surpass the number of patriots. The question is, what will this hybrid regime achieve by oppressing the dissenting voices? Not a single dictator in the past has ever survived by suppressing freedom of speech or by arresting popular leaders and calling them security threats.

No amount of propaganda and the large numbers of yellow journalists and spin wizards were able to save Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Pervez Musharraf.

This indirect martial law too will not be sustainable for long, but the question is how long these dirty games will be played by the shrewd men of the establishment. How long and how much more damage to the country will it take to make the establishment realize that its constitutional role is to safeguard the geographical borders of the country, not to deny the mandate of political leaders or to produce traitors and propagandists?

If in the 21st century the powers that be are still interested in repeating the unsuccessful formula of suppressing dissident voices, then for sure Pakistan is traveling back to the era of Ayub Khan when Mujib was denied his mandate, and we have seen what happened in the end. Ayub is history now and no one remembers him with good words; the same will be the case with the current lot in the establishment when they retire.

This time, however, history needs to be corrected, and whenever political forces win a decisive battle they should form a truth commission so the public can know that those who were termed traitors actually were a threat to the dictators and the hegemony of the establishment, not to the country.

From Sheikh Mujib to Nawaz Sharif, it has been a tale of elected leaders being humiliated and denied justice at the expense of the country’s progress. This useless journey of moving in circles instead of going forward should be stopped before it gets too late to repair the damage done to the country by the undemocratic forces.

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.