Ousted Pakistani leader Imran Khan in a file photo. Image: Agencies

On January 6, 2021, outgoing US president Donald Trump delivered an inflammatory speech to his supporters, alleged election fraud, expostulating and provoking the fans to attack the Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory as the new president of the United States of America. Undoubtedly, Trump’s remarks were incendiary enough to fuel hatred in the country.

In the same way, Imran Khan’s ouster from the position of prime minister of Pakistan has led his party, the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), to undemocratic, abusive and violent reactions that must be termed ultra-conservatism.

The tolerant, peaceful, and democratic political environment of Pakistan is turning into reprehensible and furious turmoil that could bring the entire political hemisphere to the brink of personal enmity, and a revengeful and vulnerable state. 

Incendiary rhetoric of the PTI’s leadership, especially Imran Khan himself, is the principal source provoking party activists to behave in a mutinous way. He calls former prime minister Nawaz Sharif a thief, Asif Ali Zardari “Mr Ten percent,” and so forth.

To add more, he smears the entire PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) as foreign-sponsored agents. The no-confidence motion against Khan in Parliament was termed a “foreign conspiracy,” but the National Security Committee on April 22 nullified his allegation and released a press statement that no evidence of such a conspiracy had been found.

Many academic and scholarly research studies have concluded that subversive and hateful rhetoric of political leadership charges sentiments, creates an environment for political violence, threatens law and order, directs activists in a destructive way, and ultimately fuels hatred and fear among assailable political targets in the state. 

When the vote of no confidence in the National Assembly was moved against Imran Khan to remove him from the seat of chief executive of Pakistan, his party activists started behaving in a very abusive manner. Sindh House, the residence of members of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh in Islamabad, was attacked. The main gate of the house was forcibly broken by PTI activists, the mob chanting against dissident members and trying to assault them physically. 

Moreover, in Peshawar, the house of Noor Alam Khan, a dissident member of the PTI in the National Assembly, was attacked, but the timely arrival of police helped to save the family inside the house, and the protesters were dispersed.

Additionally, on April 12, when Noor Alam Khan was having iftar (the evening meal eaten by Muslims after the sun has gone down during Ramadan) with Pakistan People’s Party members of Parliament in a private hotel in Islamabad, an elderly person started calling him a “turncoat,” and abusive language was used. The situation turned into a scuffle in the buffet hall. 

In politics, this is pathetic. If the PTI leadership continues such hateful and incendiary language, accuses its opponents of a foreign conspiracy, calls the government imported, and questions the loyalty of opposition members, it will result in reciprocal political radicalism, which is unquestionably dangerous and could lead the state to the fringe of chaos. 

The use of abusive language, attacking homes of parliamentarians, texting and threatening members of Parliament are, in no way, democratic and political. The PTI leadership especially Imran Khan needs to be vigilant in his speeches. Without prior consideration and care, inflammatory words could create more troubling political scenarios. 

Generally, the speeches of leaders magnify extremism, and intensify violence in politics to a great extent. The leaders influence the activists. The directions of the leaders mobilize followers to become more violent, which threatens the rule of law significantly. There is no plain-spoken nexus between political rhetoric and violence, but the speeches and language used by the leaders correlate them. 

Generally, political rhetoric doesn’t change the attitudes of party supporters, but invigorates them to express, act and behave in a blatantly sentimental way. In the US, 54 cases of political violence were registered across the country in 2020 after Trump’s hateful speeches against his opponents. When it comes to Pakistan, the PTI’s current rhetoric and narrative are relevant in this context. 

In Pakistan, the threat of political violence is, regardless of a stable law-and-order situation, considerable. The hostile and vibrant use of language while blaming opponents has always been the primary option in politics to counter rivals.

The ardent use of religion, playing up patriotism, claiming “Naya Pakistan” (New Pakistan), and considerable support of in-service and ex-service military men have further intensified the PTI’s political rhetoric impugning the honor of the opposition, and questioning their loyalty with the state of Pakistan. 

In these scenarios, Imran Khan’s demand for general elections is categorically wrong. Pakistan has a history of electoral violence. The existing political environment is all-around charged with terrible sentiments and violence. Any move that favors premature elections will prove catastrophic and bloody.

Unfortunately, the majority of political leaders in Pakistan probably believe that their comments melt away right after concluding their speeches. This is an utter misperception. The leaders’ vibrant rhetoric against opponents or any particular institution deepens and magnifies diehard followers’ political thinking and commitments, which mostly results into political violence and chaos.

The role of mainstream media must not be ignored. Both the electronic and print media create, structure and depict state affairs significantly. Spreading violent rhetoric and video clips for more viewers and ratings is unethical and menacing. The vigilant role and professionalism of media is the prerequisite for political stability. 

Weighing and calculating the possible impacts of speech is the best way to avoid political chaos, violence and hostility. Political leadership must set principles for public speeches, which must be free from serious allegations, subversive rhetoric and provoking the sentiments of supporters. Those who intend to create an atmosphere of hatred and chaos must be censured and condemned. 

Rahim Nasar

Rahim Nasar, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst, a PhD scholar, writes on regional security, political and strategic affairs with special focus on Central and South Asia. He tweets on @RahimNasari