Yasmeen Aftab Ali;
The one thing that former PM Khan has achieved after the no-confidence motion in Parliament and subsequent ouster from government is calling out the Army, something no one had dared before.
There has been a feeling in a given segment of the society of Army overreach in areas beyond their scope of jurisdiction. The opposing narrative is that due to the gaps in leadership leading to issues political leadership could not handle, Army had to intervene. This is a debate in itself, and for another day.
Former PM Pakistan has built a narrative that may or may not be completely true or may only be partially true, but the perception created is that it is true by great number of people. Perception can be at times more real than the reality itself.
PTI used social media brilliantly. It understood the power of platforms like Twitter, Face book, Tik-Tok and others for throwing brief but powerful messages. This intelligent use overcame any message the mainstream media was giving. PTI hit millions of young people. Those hooked to these social platforms and a smartphone. There was adulation for Khan as a cricket hero. They genuinely believed in his power to bring positive change. This was especially true in a backdrop where the existing political parties were unable to snap out of their culture of appointing cronies and relatives. There were political opportunists who joined PTI realizing the future political potential of the party. Even when PTI went in for the 2018 elections, they had become a mix of people clambering up the PTI bandwagon and the party became exactly what it opposed in other parties. Interestingly, one large section of segment that supported PTI came from the armed forces, mostly from those who had retired.
Upon coming in power, PTI and the military had an enviably harmonious relationship. PTI would throw barbs at its opponents, in particular the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), for castigating the party for their anti-Army diatribe. The positions today have reversed.
With the ouster of PTI from power, the wave of sympathy for the party has made it immensely popular among the masses. The narratives by PTI that have changed with changing political textures has been accepted by its supporters without question including any U turns made. The leaking of audios that went viral in social media and discussed threadbare in mainstream media has given a pause to the more mature section of the party’s supporters. But the ‘Khan phenomenon’ has undoubtedly created cracks externally as well as within family structures. The wave of support, based on what is seen as a sympatric one is also seen as one that is anti-Army. It is also viewed as one that opposes corruption. Khan’s near four years in power that economically took the country to a worse position is ignored by his supporters. Maybe, not even fully understood by them.
PTI has surged ahead with its anti-Army rhetoric but denied it as one. Khan’s consistent attacks on ‘neutrals’ has charged his followers on social media to resort to unsavory and vitriolic attacks (reference twitter) upon anyone not a supporter of Khan. Initially achieving power with support from the ‘neutrals’, to quote Khan’s term, later, PTI became a political force to be dealt with on its own. With this, must come responsibility. It cannot use the power it wields to inadvertently damage Pakistan. This is bound to happen if people are galvanized to stand against the armed forces. Yes, there must be accountability of every institution. However, the institution cannot be maligned for a handful of people. Every political party/politician has at some point used the Army to enter the power corridors. The anti-Army narrative can offer short term benefits to the party, but the long-term damages will be more lasting. The political toxic atmosphere is not only creating an unstable situation within Pakistan but also sending out a global message that an investment of any nature in Pakistan is untenable at this point in time. To maintain a continuous confrontational stance of creating a wide chasm between the people and the Army, will only offer advantage to Pakistan’s enemies. It is not mature politics.
[The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: email@example.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9]