Fear tactics

Published May 24, 2023

IT is a familiar story. A political party, thinking it can take on the country’s all-powerful establishment, crosses a red line and quickly finds itself losing a ruthless, one-sided war of attrition. One by one, its leaders are picked out and isolated. They may find themselves being summoned by powerful officials. Others are picked up in unmarked vehicles.

Those in hiding learn their families are facing harassment. Ominous phone calls from untraceable numbers and blackmail are par for the course. There is no respite, and the unspoken message, hardened over years and years of such forces operating with complete impunity, is that no one — no judge, no lawyer, no rights organisation — is coming to help. The only way out is to do exactly what you are told.

Shireen Mazari’s departure from both party and politics yesterday would have come as a major blow to the PTI. Ms Mazari said she is in poor health, and that the recent loss of her husband has taken a heavy toll on her family. It is a huge hit nonetheless. It is the core of political parties that provides stability in the face of efforts to break it.

The loss of second- and third-tier leaders can be overcome, but an important lieutenant breaking ranks may prove deeply demoralising for a party. Perhaps the PTI should take comfort in knowing that it is not the first to suffer such humiliation at the hands of the state.

The PML-N recently suffered the same before the 2018 general election; earlier, at the turn of the century, an entire party, the PML-Q, was carved out from its ranks, yet it survived and thrived.

While it nurses its wounds, the PTI’s present experiences should give rise to some empathy within its ranks for political opponents. Mr Khan’s party may finally appreciate the need for a Charter of Democracy.

Lastly, it has been greatly disappointing to note that some supporters of the PDM have been exulting in the manner in which the PTI is being cut to size. In Pakistani politics, what goes around, comes around — and, if history is any indication, what we are seeing going around today is not going to take too long to come around to bite those celebrating.

Already this government has ceded so much space to unelected forces that it will be extremely difficult for anyone to wrest back control. The country is in the depths of economic, social and political despair, and more misery awaits.

The ruling parties should ask themselves: will it be easier or more difficult to fix Pakistan’s many crises with the citizenry continuing to grow increasingly resentful over being disenfranchised by the state? They may find the answer to be a rather sobering one.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2023

Opinion

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