POLITICAL polarisation is a hot topic being discussed, debated and circulated on multiple platforms in Pakistan these days. It is discernible on many fronts and has been impacting society in various ways.

With the result of intense radicalisation, socio-economic decline and burgeoning population, Pakistan has witnessed a mass diversity in political opinions. Nearly all levels of human life in society have been divided along political lines. Even family members are alienated by the expanse of political parties across all frontiers.

Families, communities and groups of people from different backgrounds have set about taking their own partisan political viewpoint while ignoring the fact that parties have given rise to such a divergence of political opinions that national interest is far from visible. No one seems to have any interest in democratic consolidation and to think in terms of strengthening the national interest.

In a country having a democratic setup, voters are true decision-makers and help elect their representatives in assemblies for their representation and public service delivery. By sharp contrast, Pakistan is split into a wide variety of parties forging the base of elite social class.

But the division within the elite class on the basis of political leanings has further compounded the problems of society. The obvious consequence is civil strife, public agitation, violence and national disunity.

Moreover, polarised news consumption causes diversification and leads to negative attitudes, thoughts and mass resentment. The public does not need to believe what is circulated on the media; rather, it needs to think rationally for the sake of the national interest. The negative role of the national mainstream media has fanned the flames of polarisation and political instability in the country.

Sadly, we are not competent enough to formulate long-term economic policies that may pay off in the long run. The untimely failure of policies acts as a driver of opposite reactions. Thus, polarisation is an unavoidable consequence, derailing the path of political development.

More importantly, religion is a tool that has been repeatedly used for various purposes. For instance, during the 1980s, the country’s foreign policy was aimed at serving the Western capitalist bloc, led by the United States (US), by partnering with it in the fight against the Soviet bloc in Afghanistan. The consequences of that decision to be a frontline partner in global bloc politics still haunt Pakistan in a variety of ways. It engendered numerous cracks and spawned divisions amongst people back then and continues to do that today.

When political polarisation becomes ossified, there are chances that democracy can be in jeopardy and political instability comes about naturally. With this, the erosion of public trust in institutions and prevalence of misinformation in society transpire.

In addition, political polarisation gives an impetus to camp mentality — ‘us versus them’ — which poses a threat to national cohesion and presents an altogether fractured image of the entire polity. We can then see policy inconsistency, biased appointment policies in the public sector and criminalisation of politics as the ripple effect of such an environment of political polarisation.

If Pakistan is to succeed in eliminating the scourge of political polarisation, the best way to respond to this challenge is to create ‘citizen assemblies’ to encourage meaningful contacts, to promote perceptive and perspective thinking, to subordinate the polluted sense of identity to bridge petty differences, to further the cause of proportional representation, to vote on the basis of policies and not for infividuals, and, lastly, to conduct direct referendums on specific issues.

Abdul Qadeer Seelro
Larkana

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

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