The night of April 10, 2022 reinforced a sharp divide in the educated segment of society: between PTI supporters and the supporters of all other parties (referred to as “ghaddars” by the PTI-supporters). It is a fact that a vote of no confidence is a common practice in democratic setups across the globe. Yet the prevalence of this purely democratic procedure, which happens to be the third of its kind in Pakistan’s recorded history, garnered varied reactions within the educated community. As Karachi plays host to 10% of Pakistan’s population, this melting pot serves as the perfect sociocultural crucible for identifying the interplay of various elements that has created this deep societal divide. Consequently, it also serves as the potential breeding ground for rampant disinformation that has caused certain educated segments to question the notion of democracy; to the extent of labelling all other party followers as “ghaddars.”
I held detailed personalised interviews with 86 PTI-supporters residing in Karachi. The survey sampling strategy included 43 males and 43 females to ensure that the level of disinformation is captured across both genders. As PTI’s media strategy primarily targets the youth, the studied age bracket extended from 25 to 35 years. 41% of the respondents, the largest share, belonged to the age bracket: 30 to 32 years; while the second largest share (30%) was formed by the age bracket: 25 to 27 years. Only 9% of the respondents were between the ages of 33 and 35 years. In terms of educational background, all held undergraduate degrees from reputable institutions within Karachi: IBA or CBM. In terms of employment, all held middle management level to senior management level positions within the corporate sector. In terms of political choices, all were active subscribers of PTI social media pages and supported PTI despite Mr. Khan’s constitutional breaches. In terms of electoral significance, all were registered voters.
The exclusion criteria were formed by PTI supporters who fell into any of the following categories: 1) do not support PTI after Mr. Khan’s constitutional breaches; 2) do not subscribe to PTI social media pages; and 3) politically inactive/not registered voters or do not hold voter registration rights within Pakistan.
All participants consented to the interview and agreed to being surveyed upon the maintenance of anonymity. The survey included three main segments: 1) Recollection or awareness of relevant political information that has been displayed by multiple television media agencies on multiple occasions; 2) Appreciation or understanding of basic democratic and electoral procedures; 3) Reasons for extension of support to PTI with Mr. Khan at its helm.
While assessing political awareness of relevant facts, it was surprising to learn that 100% of the male participants and 86% of the female participants were unable to recall the news channels celebrating the burial of the doctrine of necessity or “nazriya-e-zarurat.” Moreover, none of the participants were aware of the fact that a Supreme Court verdict restored Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1993 after a delayed period of five weeks. Therefore, it was not shocking to view the participants’ posts on social media rallying for “fresh elections” after the unconstitutional dissolution of the National Assembly on the basis of “conspiracies” or questioning the apt role of the Judiciary’s availability in the middle of the night for preventing a constitutional crisis from destabilizing the nation yet again.
In their detailed explanations regarding their views on how democracy as a government structure is not meant for Pakistan, 84% of the participants expressed unfamiliarity with the fact that the VONC is a part of all democratic setups across the globe. The remaining 16% who claimed familiarity: (1) found this fact to be irrelevant with the current political scenario, or (2) support PTI despite possessing knowledge of this fact. Furthermore, 74% of the male respondents and 49% of the female respondents were unaware of the fact that the Mr. Khan’s VONC in 2022 happens to be the third VONC in Pakistan’s history. Hence, these respondents were in favour of thwarting the execution this VONC through a military coup to prevent the unceremonious ousting of Mr. Khan. Also, they strongly believe in the Presidential system called “Riyasat-e-Madinah” with a deep regard for “rule of law.” (#Emergency; #SurrenderBajwa, Twitter)
According to a recent report by PILDAT (Youth Monitor: April 2022 | PILDAT), low voter turnout has plagued our electoral system and it details how the youth is the biggest contributor to this abysmal turnout. Since PTI’s media strategy targets mainly the youth, the respondents felt otherwise when they were surveyed regarding their views on the electoral system. 72% of the male respondents believed that the poor and disenfranchised were responsible for the low voter turnout while 63% of the female respondents believed that women were the largest contributors. Conversely, the report by PILDAT highlights how the youth voter turnout is actually well below the percentage of total women voters. As per this report, one of the main reasons for low youth voter turnout is the disinterest of the Pakistani youth for participation in the democratic political process.
While explaining the concept of “citizenship,” the respondents detailed the trials and tribulations they underwent while obtaining their CNICs from NADRA. Moreover, all strongly claimed that obtaining a foreign passport is an attractive prospect for them as the Pakistani state has not provided them with any benefits. When questioned about the presence of the abovementioned trials and tribulations for obtaining a NICOP, they believed that it would be a necessity for the following reasons: (1) for the provision of financial support to their families in Pakistan; (2) for purchasing property within Pakistan. All insisted that their families would continue to reside in Pakistan even if they chose to re-locate for the foreign passport that they desire. Therefore, when surveyed regarding their views on the voting rights of the Pakistani diaspora (Overseas Pakistanis), 100% of the respondents vehemently supported it because of the foreign-generated financial contributions meant for the recipient Pakistani resident families.
The exclusion of PTI supporters who do not continue to support Mr. Khan after his constitutional breaches was meant to capture a specific target audience for the third and last segment of this survey. In this section, all of them claimed that they would cease to extend their support to PTI if Mr. Khan were to exit, for any reason. They were also surveyed using a multiple-choice question with the following answer choices regarding the main reason for extension of their support to PTI: (1) the image and quality of Mr. Khan’s international representation; (2) support to PTI is based on a process of elimination due to the poor performances of other parties; and (3) Mr. Khan’s anti-corruption narrative against other parties. 100% of the respondents selected Mr. Khan’s anti-corruption narrative against other parties as their main reason for extension of support to PTI.
The astonishing results of this survey executed within the educated factions of Pakistan identify indoctrination of a societal segment with deficiencies in three main education sectors: (1) Pakistan Studies; (2) Law and Constitution; and (3) Democracy. Moreover, the salient inferences that can be clearly drawn from this survey include:
- Absolutism: the answers provided reflect the respondents’ absolutism that has been reinforced through PTI’s social media hub of disinformation – replete with half-truths and inaccurate narratives that are spreading undemocratic norms amongst the literate segment of a democratic nation. The absolutism of Mr. Khan’s support matches the autocratic party structure of PTI where the entire party support hinges on Mr. Khan’s existence.
- Selective knowledge and memory: an alternative narrative of facts regarding Pakistan history has been presented to this segment and they remain unaware of relevant historical facts, like the burial of the doctrine of necessity.
- Support for autocratic power structures: the entire party structure of PTI is dependent on Mr. Khan’s role at the helm. As popular voter base will cease to extend support to the party in his absence, the undying support of this societal segment is evidence to its hero worship of Mr. Khan.
- Undemocratic tendencies in thought patterns: questioning and criticising the democratic role of state institutions, military, and judiciary upon the maintenance of the democratic concept of “institutional neutrality.”
- Limited concept of citizenship: citizens are not interested in participating in the democratic process and are unaware of their rights as indigenous citizens of a democracy. In fact, they are comfortable with the idea of affording voting rights to the Pakistani diaspora solely based on its financial contributions.
- Anti-corruption narrative: largely employed by Mr. Khan to generate societal divide, as through this narrative, he can ceaselessly spread undemocratic norms in society whilst claiming expertise in “Western democracy.”
- Limited constitutional sanctity: Mr. Khan’s image and narrative of integrity persists and remains untarnished amongst this segment of society despite his grave constitutional breaches. It suggests that Mr. Khan’s constitutional violation is being perceived as a “necessary evil” instead of a brazen crime by this segment.
- Conflation of integrity and financial accountability: As per the respondents, Mr. Khan continues to possess integrity despite his crimes. It seems that in their views, they are restricting the quality of integrity to financial accountability; possibly due to poor economic conditions as the state cannot provide benefits to its citizens amidst high defence expenditures – a state where a significant portion of the educated segment aspires for the life of the NICOP-holding, Pakistani diaspora (Overseas Pakistani) with significant property holdings in Pakistan.