Treason season

Published April 11, 2022
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

ACCUSING all and sundry of treason has been a defining hallmark of Pakistani polity pretty much ever since Pakistan came into existence. From Fatima Jinnah on, a host of characters great and small have had their patriotism questioned and have been accused of being in league with foreign enemies (the list of said enemies changes over time) and thus a threat to Pakistan’s very existence. And now this hallowed tradition has been taken to the next level as the PTI government effectively declared the entire combined opposition to be part of a conspiracy by America to de-seat the prime minister.

The first salvo in this latest barrage was fired by none other than Imran Khan himself when he famously waved a piece of paper in a public rally, saying it contained details of what was effectively a regime change threat hurled by US official David Lu at Pakistan’s ambassador. The said ambassador, the story goes, duly sent a cable to his government containing the details of this conversation, which is being painted as the conspiracy that enabled the success of the no-confidence vote.

Editorial: Traitor vs traitor

Presented as supporting evidence are the meetings of US diplomatic staff, which were of course carried out in full public view, and one is certainly glad that — after telegraphing the conspiracy and then meeting local agents publicly — the Americans refrained from placing a billboard on Karachi’s I.I. Chundrigar Road with a 111-1-treason UAN number in case anyone wanted to join the toll-free conspiracy.

As for the cable and its contents, the National Security Committee condemned it for “undiplomatic language” and called it “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”, which was taken as proof positive of the conspiracy. Unfortunately for the overly credulous, in diplomatic language, ‘blatant interference’ stops far short of ‘conspiracy to engage in regime change’, and the decision to reply with a ‘strong démarche’ isn’t exactly a powerful response to what is being painted as an attempt to topple a government with foreign support.

It’s as brilliant as it is dangerous.

As for what the cable actually says, in private conversations, Foreign Office officials, serving and retired, express horror at what they call the politicisation of routine diplomatic conversation and fear that the damage done will take years to reverse. Military officials say much the same, again in private conversations. But since no one will come on the record, it becomes easy to dismiss such statements as being part of the conspiracy at worst or else the mewling of functionaries too used to slavery at the hands of foreign forces.

Read: 'Cablegate' lands foreign service in knotty predicament

Of course, given that people have been locked up/ disappeared for far less, it does beg the question as to why, if this is indeed so serious, our usually active security services have not rounded up people en masse. Are they too then part of the said conspiracy? On this note, it is worth a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records that a nation with the highest per capita rate of traitors in the known universe continues to survive, if not exactly thrive. For the religiously inclined, this is also a useful argument against atheism because this continued survival in the face of a majority traitor population is proof positive of divine intervention.

But with nothing coming into the public domain, what you believe about this conspiracy ends up becoming your truth, and given that Imran Khan is the master of simple and simplistic narratives that boil down complex situations into easily digestible sound bites to be eagerly consumed by the devoted masses, it is the treason narrative that is dominating.

After all, it combines the very attractive appeal of honour-based nationalism while also tapping into the ever-present (and quite justifiable) streak of anti-Americanism that is a staple in Pakistani polity. It also feeds our national ego, given that it places us once again smack in the middle as the targets of global machinations. Finally, it provides PTI supporters with the ultimate quick fix of not having to introspect on their party’s mistakes and missteps by blaming all their largely self-inflicted woes on a foreign conspiracy aided by local partners. To those, addicted as they are to magical thinking and magical solutions, this is nothing less than the fulfillment of a prophecy.

Politically, it’s as brilliant as it is dangerous and irresponsible in all other aspects. Because now we have open calls from the PTI podium to publicly hang these traitors. In the Sindh Assembly, effigies of the said traitors were hanged to the rousing cries of ‘God is Great’. Combine that with the increasingly frequent references to religious imagery and a cosmic, Lord of the Rings-style battle between absolute good and absolute evil, and you have a clear picture of what Khan will sell to the voters in the coming election season. Who knows, perhaps the quintillion promised jobs were actually meant to be for the manufacturers of rope and scaffolds?

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2022

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