BY condemning in advance those who will be voting against him on Sunday as willing accomplices in an international conspiracy, Prime Minister Imran Khan has cemented his narrative for his upcoming election campaign. He knows that he is not going to survive, but, through a lengthy primetime address heavy on sermon and nationalist zeal, he has ensured that he will remain relevant to a broad cross-section of the electorate easily swayed by emotion and deeply invested in conspiracy theories.
He knows that publicly appealing to the better nature of his opponents is unlikely to win him any votes; yet, by premising his emotive appeal on upholding the dream of an independent Pakistan, he has cleverly framed going against him as akin to going against the founding fathers themselves. He has also, once again, built himself up as a lone fighter for Pakistan’s cause — the only voice to stand against tyranny when American drones were raining death on Pakistani soil. Now, he tells his supporters, he is being targeted for not kneeling to foreign powers’ demands to surrender Pakistan’s sovereignty.
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He has asked why he should be punished for wanting Pakistan to be treated as an equal and not a servile partner while painting his opponents as willing sell-outs because they are so compromised by their corrupt deeds. This is shrewd messaging, built on the trope of a lone warrior fighting against insurmountable odds and it is clear the embattled prime minister hopes to turn public sympathies to his side once he goes down in parliament.
With his campaign strategy set, one hopes that the prime minister will let go of his ‘cable-gate’ ploy. He has already made a highly irresponsible mistake by letting slip that the cable originated in America after being advised by all the officials who matter to tread with care.
The National Security Committee, after being apprised of the contents of the diplomatic cable in question, had issued a reasonably worded statement that ought to have mollified the indignant premier and given him a graceful way out of a serious diplomatic mess. The committee had also assured that Pakistan would raise the matter through a “strong demarche”, “in keeping with diplomatic norms”. This is the sane, measured response one hoped to have initially seen.
It is worth asking why taking the letter to the NSC was not the first thing to have crossed the Foreign Office’s mind. If it was clear that a line had been crossed, why was this unveiled through a prop at a political event? Who advised the prime minister that this was the best strategy to take? The prime minister also owes it to the Pakistani people to reveal who he believes are the internal elements facilitating this alleged conspiracy against the country. It cannot only be the politicians at fault.
Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2022