By Rifaat Hamid Ghani
ONE could well think Pakistan is short of problematic issues, for the focal topic of unflagging heated discussion among politicians, anchors, analysts — ongoing from the closing week of October — is the perspective on something that happened at the close of February 2019.
The peg is what Ayaz Sadiq (the even-toned and even-handed Speaker of the House in the preceding PML(N) spell) had to say about an attitude towards it in Parliament on 28 October. Until tutored into thinking otherwise, I would have said ‘referred to’ February 2019 rather than ‘said about’ for he was just being childishly rude about a fellow parliamentarian, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, FM then and now, who he depicted as scared silly by possible developments back then. It was a cascade of unduly disparaging personal remarks in bad taste. It could have been ignored or condemned as such, instead of being officially exaggerated into serious aspersions on the part of the PML(N) upon military ability and attitude.
To most people who mislike a state of war and are apprehensive of false-flags of any colour, what Shah Mahmood was advocating – returning a pilot of one of the Indian air force’s planes downed making aggressive intrusion into Pakistan territory made sound de-escalatory sense, respected international convention, and in no way indicated loss of nerve or doubt as to Pakistan’s retaliatory defensive military capacities or ability to handle its obnoxious ever-hostile Indian neighbour.
We all know what ‘yellow journalism’ is, or what a ‘tabloid’ rubric contemptuously connotes. Stodgy senior citizens may not immerse themselves in the waves and band-lengths of social media, but even so they get an often indigestible feedback from print and electronic media of what is made viral. As even the electronic media is 24/7, Ayaz Sadiq’s unwarranted comment and the accusatory content of PTI’s interpretive counterthrust took public debate even further into waters already troubled by Nawaz Sharif’s virtual address at the PDM’s inaugural jalsa, and the speech and conduct of some other luminaries at and around the PDM’s second and third jalsas.
The sound and fury moved the ISPR into giving a measured definitive tight-lipped assessment of 2019’s February-into-March 2019’s happenings. The ISPR had the good sense to leave political partisanship and tactics out of its press conference and Ayaz Sadiq and Shah Mahmood to each other.
As things are, ‘Modi ka jo yaar hai ghaddaar hai ghaddaar hai’ is no longer just a catchy election jingle, it is being expanded into a doctrinal motto ‘Nْْawaz ka jo yaar hai ghaddاar hai ghaddar hai’. And snippets from the PDM’s jalsas, and PDM leaders’ utterances are hysterically being cited as evidence of traitorous intent or sedition at the very least. Objectively; is there the stuff of deliberate damage to state interest, or sustained conscious furtherance of the corrosive anti-Pakistan Indian viewpoint in what either/many/any of the regrettably polarized party-men is saying or perceiving? No.
But, if anyone is bent on creating a sociopolitical category – be it positive or negative in connotation – and ‘qualifying’ persons or causes of their choosing to fill it, they can: and then try to persuade people to share their views. To a certain extent that is what propaganda and psychological warfare (yes; the descriptive term was in use long before it was extended to hybrid warfare to include some actual weapons of destruction) is about. Whatever Nawaz Sharif’s white-gray-and-black-collar crimes may be, he has been elected and led his party three times as prime minister. Despite the best efforts of PTI spokespersons, and significant sectional disgust among the electorate, his party and vote-bank has not evaporated. Surely we do not wish to mean that anyone among us who is not sabre-rattling about relations with India; or even those who advocate or hope for better peaceful relations; or feel regional peace demands cooperation, are traitors to the country? The increasingly strident psychological warfare between the PDM alliance and the PTI and its coalition-partners within parliament; and competing manifestations of street-strength so as to win over the public mind, is an attack-mode that can boomerang. It has the potential to hit us all in a way that would make India for instance, very happy.
Certainly tearing the polity apart is not what protagonists are aiming at when targeting rivals and they owe it to the electorate to recalibrate their modes: How long can public figures heedlessly seek to inflame public opinion any which way without setting it alight? And conversely how long can ‘things’ be ignored without a situation becoming irretrievable and constituting emergency?
Imran Khan’s fastidious ethics forbid him from communicating and thereby implicitly acknowledging unclean politicians (in rival parties). Some of these figures lead a popularly elected and undeniably representative opposition. Under the existing democratic constitutional dispensation, fidelity to his oath of office demands deal(ing), negotiating and compromising with the peoples’ representatives, even when they do not hail and kowtow to him. If he cannot tolerate them he should quit his job as the country’s PM. Let him peddle his one-party ‘I am democracy’ policy and see if he can sell it to Pakistan’s politically savvy multitudes which are comprised of more than malleable youths and offshore expats yearning to vote.