No matter how desperate the wait or how long a line to get the US visa in front of the US consulates in Pakistan, toeing the US policy line by the leaders (civil/military) would mean doomsday with an unending storm of bashing by the masses. The same goes true with the anti-establishment sentiments in Pakistan over the past two decades. If you want the relevance and be in the limelight, the easiest way to climb the ladder of success and popularity in Pakistan is to adopt an anti-American and anti-Establishment mantra.
The strategic construct of State with Society in Pakistan is rather a complex phenomenon especially in view of state building and nation building processes. The dilemma of partition in 1947, with no Pakistani society and non-existence of state apparatus led to adopting the British legacy of politics of patronage, a time tested and stable political order. Here the power structure revolved around the ability of landlords to engage the subordinate classes that supported the government.
No sooner the state of Pakistan came out of its infancy, the political landscape saw a paradigm shift in its construct during the 1960-70’s where politics of patronage was replaced by the politics of class (revolutionist) as a result of capital inflows and urbanisation. Here industrial labour, student unions and middle class came to forefront under the auspicious of socialist ideology.
The politics of class, however, was short-lived when it was further replaced by Antonio Gramsci’s politics of common sense during the 1980’s era. For Gramsci, “common sense” was the inconsistence, incoherent set of generally held assumptions and beliefs common to any given society.
Here, lower strata of the society are also the stakeholder. Zia, in order to counter the industrial class struggle of the 60’s era provided space to politico-religious parties in the power structure through street and mohalla mosque culture. Four decades after Zia, Pakistani political panorama remained a hybrid of politics of patronage and politics of the common sense by PML(N) and PPP.
Political tectonic plates in Pakistan are again shifting, where long-term aftershocks are predicted. The poor and the educated uneducated, devoid of critical thinking skills are galvanised by anti-America and anti-Establishment rhetoric. PTI’s jingoism with anti-Establishment and anti-US sloganeering no doubt has given a new life to Khan’s all time low popularity by the end of his nearly 4 years stint in power.
More than the PTI’s dismissal the resentment among the masses is over the homecoming of the previous regime that was charged with corruption and nepotism. The bitterness over PDM has been cashed well by PTI leadership though with little knowledge of its linkages with the geo-political, geo-strategic and geo-economic realities of the contemporary international system. PTI’s leadership dreams for a utopian world which is far from reality. It’s a dream shown to the people of Pakistan knowing fully well that such utopia remains a utopia.
PTI’s continuous bickering and unwarranted mudslinging the state institutions including establishment has pushed Khan’s popularity graph sky-high, but the leadership is blinded towards the immense damage that this strategy has caused in the foreign policy and national security domain. I hear my friends raising their hopes high and calling the Haqeeqe Azadi March a “defining moment” for Pakistan, without understanding the consequences of the defining moment in a nation’s history.
When in power, PTI’s political manipulation of opposition with the assistance of the establishment was all justified. Even the blind could see the political engineering in 2018 to bring PTI in power. The title of “LADLA” has its history where PTI’s government was unprecedently supported by the establishment throughout its over 3.5 years tenure. PTI’s stint in power is marred with incompetence, ignorance, and an autocratic mindset. Even PTI’s stanch supporters were disappointed to the core with party’s poor performance, confused handling and procrastination of government affairs. PTI’s popularity graph dropped rock bottom in the face of governing the ungovernable but PDM’s comeback came to its rescue.
The core of Pakistan’s political structure is transiting from politics of patronage and common sense towards politics of radicalism and radicalism means destabilisation. Here instigating the youth and masses against state institutions, institutional heads and centre of gravity of the country will have disastrous ramifications.
PTI’s leadership repeated bashing of the state institutions especially the establishment with derogatory remarks forces me to walk through the memory lane and unpack the annals of history where, I am reminded of Adolf Hitler and his rise to power in Germany after the humiliation in WW-I. In Germany, the transformation from democracy to dictatorship was in the backdrop of political instability and economic depression where people saw hope in the charismatic personality of Adolf Hitler, their Messiah, their Saviour. The fiery orator harped upon the German Nationalism with “Lebensraum” a living space for the great German race. The Germans could not anticipate what was in the offing.
From Hitler, I am reminded of another factor of paramount importance in state business i.e., the mindset of the leaders. Leaders’ mental makeover is the prime mover for the party which sets the course for the nation / state. Populism or populist leadership is a contested idea with no clear definition. Robert R. Barr is of the opinion that some leaders take advantage of the political instability through an anti-establishment rhetoric (establishment is referred to the elites). As per Barr, political actors gain support through an ‘us versus them’ debate, a contest between the rulers and ruled.
Canovan, another political scholar argues that the core message of populism is that power resides with corrupt politicians and an unrepresentative elite where people have been left out.
Weberian analytical tools must be applied with a view to study the leadership and its style. In the Weberian context, a populist leader attracts the masses through his anti-elitist rhetoric also known as “politics of resentment” where the corner stone lies on widespread use of disinformation and manipulation of resentments while promoting quick fixes to the problems. This mass disinformation and manipulation cannot be undertaken without the help of social media.
Weber focuses on charismatic leaders and their radical mindset, their narcissism, nepotism, demagogy, and unpredictability. As per him, all these facets of a leader give fillip to the movement and yet it weakens their organisational effectiveness. Populist leaders are charismatic, they promise the most, they use effective methods of propaganda and therefore they wreck the established political order but most important is that they seldom deliver on their vows and promises as their actions resist political and economic growth. Such leaders and movements not only weaken the political system of the state but also erodes other state institutions and rule of law where state administration is replaced by clientelism, and rule of law replaced by the whimsical decisions of the leader.
In the Pakistani context, Bhutto’s shift towards politics of class with open opposition against FM Ayub Khan soon gave him immense popularity among the masses. With an autocratic mindset he also aspired for absolute power, an inherent problem with an autocratic mindset and an exclusive instead of an inclusive approach. Bhutto with his self-styled power-hungry mindset became a dictator in civvies. His quest for absolute power led him in an uncompromising situation with power sharing crisis that led to war of liberation in the Eastern Wing.
With the shifting paradigms one must ask these critical questions as to where PTI’s self-styled autocratic mindset is leading the nation and state? With an anti-US, anti-Establishment mantra they have attracted the mass support for the movement, but would this strategy yield fruitful results for the state and society in the long run? Would polarising the already polarised society be of any help? How has creating one political crisis after another helped the state?
Cancellation of the visits by two most important heads of states i.e., the Chinese Premier and Saudi Crown Prince and the economic cost attached to these visits is a case in point. If the world history is of some use than a deeper study would reveal that absolute power brings arrogance, and a feudalistic, autocratic mind is fraught with arrogance of power.
PTI’s Hobbesian philosophy of absolute power has damaged Pakistan on the foreign policy front where our Arab allies were offended in an effort to hold the Islamic Summit in Malaysia in collaboration with Erdogan, our immediate neighbours, Iranians were offended when we participated in a joint military exercise in Azerbaijan with Turkey. On the question of PTI’s poor performance during their stint in power, they have host of excuses including lack of a 2/3 majority.
History is a witness that absolute power not only corrupts but leads to disasters, Adolf Hitler transformed Germany from a democratic system to dictatorship and then plunged Germany into a bloody war with devastating consequences, Bhutto’s hunger for absolute power resulted in the disintegration of Pakistan.
PTI’s shift towards politics of radicalism is based on direct confrontation with the state institutions including defamation campaign against senior officials and institutional heads. PTI’s young tigers as they are referred, who are being trained will soon haunt Pakistani society in the years to come. Our political leaders have a great responsibility towards building the political nursery of the state where instead of hate, vandalisation and radicalization they should nurture its political system based on “politics of rational”. Fuming radicalisation among already radicalised youth will permanently fracture the fabric of our society.
Pakistan can only emerge as a strong state and nation when these sociocultural tendencies of intolerance, exclusiveness, nepotism, extreme views, and violence that have corrupted the national fabric must be transformed as a nation and state building effort towards inclusiveness, tolerance, enlightenment, and co-existence. The political nursery must foster critical thinking skills, inclusiveness and respecting the opposing ideas among the future generations of Pakistan.
The writer is a freelance columnist who specialises in peace and conflict studies.