SHEIKH Rashid Ahmed, the bombastic head of the Awami Muslim League, has become the latest leader to be dragged in front of a camera to convince the public that PTI chairman Imran Khan deserves to be penalised by the state for his actions. The practice has become so commonplace that an Islamabad High Court judge once recommended to a PTI leader facing victimisation that he address a press conference and be rid of his legal troubles. It is evident that the establishment wants the citizenry to accept that Mr Khan is persona non grata in Pakistani politics. However, Pakistan’s history has shown that deliberate attempts — especially by forces that have nothing to do with electoral politics — to sideline a political party and its leaders will not necessarily sway public opinion and may, in fact, complicate the challenge for these forces. The state’s crude attempts to silence dissent and turn people away from popular leaders in the past has had quite the opposite effect in several cases. In the present instance, whisking away politicians and anchors, then lying about their whereabouts in court, only to have them magically reappear on TV, is not a viable strategy, and is only widening the gap between the people and the state.
Many PTI leaders and sympathisers have already publicly distanced themselves from Mr Khan. But while the PTI chairman’s self-centredness, considerable ego and flawed understanding of politics obviously did not help him or his party, the general consensus seems to be that most of those who abandoned him did not do so of their own volition. Additionally, while only fair elections can provide a decisive answer, Mr Khan continues to be a popular politician for many potential voters. For this reason, there are few who are ready to take the statements of the reappearing PTI politicians at face value. Through these pages, this publication has reminded those making the decisions at the top that popular leaders — hailing from any political party — cannot be removed from the political equation based on forced arithmetic. As long as Pakistan remains a democracy, it is the people who will decide politicians’ fates with their votes. The state cannot reduce politics to a farce and expect people to believe its narrative. The establishment’s shenanigans have a long history, and the public now can see through its machinations.
Published in Dawn, October 23th, 2023