Quality of discourse

Updated 20 Nov 2019


THE last few weeks have been tense for Pakistan.

The ferment in the political situation manifested itself in the JUI-F dharna and its corresponding turbulence on the ground and on the negotiating table. This tumult coincided with the bail of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the ensuing legal tug-of-war unleashed by the indemnity bond issue. Most people involved in these unfolding developments had strained nerves and frayed tempers. Stress does take its toll.

Stress, however, should not find expression in individuals whose every word has ramifications far beyond those within physical hearing distance.

We do not know if it was stress or something else that provoked Prime Minister Imran Khan to let loose on the opposition in his speech on Monday, but whatever it was it did no favour to a leader who is expected to hold his composure no matter how testing the times. Mr Khan, inaugurating a motorway project, was expected to talk about his government’s performance, which he did at the start of his speech.

But then he went into a higher gear, lashing out at all his political opponents and repeating that he would spare no one.

He reserved the harshest words for Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Perhaps the most unfortunate part of his tirade was his mocking of Mr Bhutto-Zardari by mimicking his Urdu accent. This act elicited guffaws from a partisan audience, but it left a sour taste in the mouth of most people.

The belligerence polluting our political landscape seems to have been injected with fresh toxins in these last few weeks.

The prime minister may have had his reasons for such renewed hostility, and many of these reasons may be valid. But the tone, tenor and choice of words to express this hostility were unfortunate.

During the time when he was on the container in 2014, Mr Khan used to resort to fiery and flammable rhetoric to attack his opponents. Oftentimes, his grandiloquence would splash out of the domain of acceptable decency but many would overlook this as the pronouncements of a man roaming the political wilderness.

Today, Mr Khan is the prime minister of Pakistan. This job requires him to be more circumspect in what he says, where he says it and how he says it. The high office he occupies demands from him a certain level of civility, propriety and dignity.

Mimicking an opponent and making fun of how he speaks does not fall within the parameters of such demands of his office.

Mr Khan may want to review this approach and help our national discourse recover some of its lost decorum.

Political differences are part and parcel of any elected dispensation. But Pakistan needs the rhetorical temperature to climb down a few degrees so that our politics does not boil over into a hate-war.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2019