Unprecedented or more of the same? | Special report


Critics allege that the politics of polarization, marked by elements of hatred and intolerance, has currently reached unprecedented heights. The main culprit, they say, is Imran Khan’s rhetoric. They argue that the tone and content of his political speech has plunged to a level never seen before. This, it is said, has created an uncertain, intolerant and hateful political environment. Bitter verbal clashes between government and opposition officials have increasingly taken the form of personal attacks – even libel and slander have become the norm, they say. They say Khan is using inappropriate words and slang which are below the prestige of members of parliament. His adversaries, while countering his abrasive language and his insulting remarks, are not left out. Many of them respond the same way. The government and the opposition no longer want to engage in reasoned debate. Instead, they prefer to demonize themselves. Extreme polarization and no commitment are the ultimate results.

Following their leaders, party workers and sympathizers also engage in similar duels. Not only do they deceive each other, but they also attempt to slander, slander and defame the leaders of their opponents. Polarization in the general population has reached such a degree that even marriages and family and personal relationships are said to be decided on the basis of political affiliation – for exampleKhan’s supporters can no longer marry supporters of his opponents and vice versa.

Commentators say political conduct may not have been polite in the past, but what is being highlighted now is unprecedented due to the following developments: 1) political language has taken on an excessively hard; 2) politicians attempt to demonize opponents rather than articulate their own political positions; 3) political common ground is gradually eliminated; and 4) the ethic of war has been injected into politics by an attitude that sees opponents as enemies to be eliminated rather than competed with.

This assessment merits further investigation. Is this polarization really unprecedented in the country’s history?

To answer this question, a historical account of political polarization in Pakistan is needed. The country’s history is replete with examples of political polarization; however, I will name only four. Almost all of the examples seemed unprecedented.

Following their leaders, party workers and sympathizers also engage in a similar duel. Not only do they mistreat each other, but they also attempt to slander, slander and defame the leaders of their opponents..

To begin with, the political polarization between Muslim leaders and their supporters is not new. It was prevalent even in pre-partition India (before the establishment of Pakistan), where some of its opponents used to label or dub Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, with titles like ” Kafir-i-Azam”, and Pakistan. with titles like ‘Palidistan’ and ‘Kafiristan’. Instead of criticizing Jinnah’s ideology or policies or engaging with him in reasoned debate, they used to issue decrees against him. They used to spread false information and present irrational arguments to prove that Jinnah was a “non-believer” (non-Muslim) and a “British agent”. They used to run campaigns to defame, slander and demonize Jinnah and make personal attacks on him.

Fatima Jinnah, also known as Madr-i-Millat (Mother of the Nation), suffered similar treatment from her opponents when she decided to run in the 1965 presidential election against the General Ayub Khan, the outgoing president. She was branded a traitor and an Indian agent. She was accused of working in tandem with the Indian spy agency RAW (the research and analysis wing) to dismantle Pakistan – for example, she reportedly offered her support to the Greater Pakhtunistan Movement, which was reportedly funded and supported by India. Under the guise, she was banned from addressing the nation on national television and radio. The allegations against her have never been proven. In my humble opinion, his adversaries were afraid of a defeat on his part; thus, serious efforts were made to demonize her through personal attacks.

Malicious campaigns and demonization campaigns were not limited to the Baba-i-Qaum and the Madr-i-Millat. These extended to all political opponents, regardless of religion and ethnicity. The political polarization between Bengalis and non-Bengalis was reflected in the 1970 general election. East Pakistanis voted for the Awami League (AL) while West Pakistanis voted for political parties based in the west wing.

The 1990s also marked an era of (extreme) political polarization, where four elected governments were returned without completing their terms. Earlier Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and later Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), both led by Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, embroiled Benazir Bhutto in politically motivated controversies. She was accused of being a “foreign agent” – sometimes an American agent and at other times an Indian agent. Retouched photos of her were launched from helicopters to demonize her and oust her from the political arena.

The current political polarization is by no means unprecedented. Pakistan’s history is replete with examples of extreme political polarization where political leaders have attempted to demonize one another. They did not engage with opponents in reasoned debate to secure political common ground. It is therefore unfair to accuse Imran Khan of unprecedented political misconduct; on the other hand, he cannot receive a voucher either. He is just as much a part of the current mess as his opponents.

The author holds a PhD in History from the University of Shanghai and is a RASTA Fellow at PIDE, Islamabad, and a Senior Lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad. He can be contacted at mazharabbasgondal87@gmail.com. He tweets at @MazharGondal87


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