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Guilty Conscience of Populism: Challenging State’s Writ

OpinionGuilty Conscience of Populism: Challenging State’s Writ
By: Sarmad Shahbaz

What you sow, shall you reap. The saying fits perfectly in defining the current political developments of Pakistan. So is it 1958? Or perhaps 1971? Was it reminiscence of 77, or 1999? Well, let us be exactly sure that it is 2023, a buildup of nasty populism, excessive demagoguery, challenging state’s writ, and prevalence of foul fanaticism.

Yesteryear has been a pinnacle of tumultuous politics in Pakistan. Most of its credit goes to the blue-eyed boy of the establishment which has turned out to be a kamikaze for its originator. In this tailspin, one thing which reminds me of the famous saying of Friedrich Nietzsche, the controversial German philologist, “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule”. In Pakistan, insanity is ruled in both cases.

For understanding the context, it is pivotal to note the birth of tragedy, i.e., the Populist Party narrative of Khan’s PTI. Based on a one-man-show, PTI came into the limelight in the mid-90s and climbed the higher ranks until the 2010s, whereby summiting Pakistan’s politics in 2018. Khan eventually became the hyped prime minister and his cross-bread party got the reign of power, gratified by the people in the power corridors. But, while climbing over Pakistan’s politics, most of the original members of PTI left the process. Famous names include Akbar S. Babar and Wajihuddin Ahmed.

Khan’s attaining of power in 2018 was an induced miracle by the blessings of the all-powerful in Pakistan. However, soon, the tables turned due to the non-serious attitude of PTI towards its relation with the military & civil establishment, hit & trail approaches to leading the nation of 230 Million people, and its adamant attitude to other political stakeholders. All these cracks got sore and widened with an irrational confrontation of PTI with international powers and direct influence on the working of the Army, which protects the borders and serves the country in any given circumstance. Adding fuel to the fire, PTI got ruled by the lady-Rasputins and their spell which made Khan even more impractical. Thus, the party was hijacked by the charismatic egoist and his sycophants, who did not have spine to bear the establishment’s wrath after PTI’s forced divorce due to Khan’s continuous U-turns and blunders.

Khan stood selfishly, proclaiming that it is
Either my way or the Highway

These events were severely turned and twisted since the ‘valid, legal, and lawful’ disqualification of the former Prime Minister. Until the D-Day of 09th May, PTI remained somewhat survived with the establishment’s ventilator, with the establishment’s non-intervention policies and appreciable view on free & fair democracy. However, May 9th exposed the thankless side of PTI whose strategic mob, enraged flatterers, and compromised supporters stormed into military and civilian centers, ransacking and arsoning them, just based on their political leader was arrested.

Though arrest’s subject remains debatable but have not we seen other political leaders being arrested and facing the music in our more than seven decades of history? Yes, we have and they have stayed in jails for years. The difference between them and the extremely emotional PTI fan base is that they did not take populism as a weapon against their own country. They stood with the principles of democracy. None of them propelled the masses to attack its own military & civilian bodies, let alone dismantle the statues and acknowledges of people who gave life for this land. Indeed, the month of May got painted black with the smoke and dust arising from the directionless so-called ‘revolution’ of PTI supporters. It turned out to be a damp squib. 

Analyzing the foundational reason for such mass-scale mob engagement has one plain understanding: Egoistic Populism. Put literally, Khan stood selfishly proclaiming that it is either my way (Khan’s way) or the highway (dead end, as they say so). What Khan and his spine-less, small-spirited, and fearful political core team did not understand was that a flower may proceed with the seed, but it is the seed that precedes the flower’s existence. They must not consider themselves above the writ of the state. Standing side-by-side has been long past. Dialogue and negotiation were opened but like every megalomaniac, Khan took it on its nerve, continuing foolishly. The guilty conscience of populism keeps burdening a populist while it confronted the state’s supremacy.

Conclusively, it is important to know that no one lies above the state. There have been many cases to subvert democracy in Pakistan. None denies the checkered history of Pakistan. But, even being damaged, Pakistan has been on the verge of recovery through its political consensus, military maintenance, and civilian supremacy. This recovery was hindered by extreme-natured populism politics which divided people in herds. The country is at the cross-roads of socio-political, economic, cultural decadence and religious fanaticism. These ills must be controlled sensibly, which requires the same trajectory of political and establishmentarian accord. The country is left with no other option.


The writer is a Pakistan-based journalist, politico-economic commentator and social critic. He can be reached out at @SarmadShahbaz01

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