The Pakistani version of populism

The idea of populism is neither new nor is its use exclusive to Pakistan

However, all populist leaders spin their own distinct version of a populist narrative to harness public sentiment within a specific context and at a specific time

The current manifestation of populism within Pakistan is distinct from its earlier versions, especially that exercised by ZA Bhutto, who blended right-wing and left-wing rhetoric during the 1970s to propel himself to power, despite the loss of Bangladesh

Imran Khan’s populism is considered more divisive

To some extent, all politicians and political parties aim to articulate unique solutions to major public problems such as deprivation, insecurity or lackluster growth

However, populist leaders articulate narratives which purposefully create a corrosive political atmosphere

Hence, the phenomenon of populism is not only about the popularity of a given leader amongst ordinary citizens

Populist narratives are meant to trigger an emotional response and solicit support from the public feeling disgruntled with major political parties, the establishment, or even with given ethno-religious or minority groups

There can thus be varied versions of populism ranging from anti-elite populism to ethno-populism and religious populism

Some forms of populism are also an amalgam of these different elements

Most populist leaders focus little on delivering effective governance

Instead, they amplify and leverage public discontent towards real or perceived influential groups in the bid to secure power for themselves

Trump, for instance, had claimed that he would ‘drain the swamp’ despite being a beneficiary of the status quo himself, and he also often described American problems in xenophobic terms

Khan’s brand of populism blends elements of anti-elitism, anti-imperialism and disgruntlement with the establishment, while he himself is a product of these same forces

Khan promised to change Pakistan by taking power away from corrupt leaders, yet he had to woo many of the ‘electables’ who had formed the backbone of his opponent parties, to win elections

Once in power, Khan deflected attention away from his own government’s inadequacies and chose to pursue a very narrowly crafted accountability drive to undermine political rivals

He bemoaned the debt trap of international lending agencies, and the opaqueness of Chinese investments in Pakistan

Yet, he was quick to approach the IMF after assuming power, and he did nothing to alter the top-heavy implementation of CPEC projects

As a Prime Minister, Khan did pay attention to social welfare, health and environmental issues

Yet, these efforts were piecemeal and many other lofty promises of changing Pakistan for the better remained unrealised

His disastrous attempt to create a single national curriculum for schools threatened to increase myopia instead of alleviating inequalities within the education system

Like his predecessors, Khan also used the religion card to further his own ambitions

He aimed to selectively champion the cause of Muslim persecution in India, and in the West

Yet, he remained silent about the alleged Chinese persecution of Muslim Uyghurs and the persistent persecution of religious minorities within Pakistan itself

While he was recently very critical of the assault against journalists, and decried the brutal murder of Arshad Sharif, his own government had also severely clamped down on the media

Once his political opponents managed to orchestrate his ouster, Khan decided to use the ace card of growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan

He inflated the significance of a bilateral diplomatic exchange to portray it as evidence of an imperialist conspiracy which had overthrown him for his pursuit of independent foreign policies to bring back a corrupt and compliant government

Unfortunately, Pakistan, like many other countries in our region and beyond, faces a choice between imperfect leaders

Let’s see who comes to assume the helm of affairs after the next general elections, and whether this new leader will be able to do a better job of ensuring justice and inducing the much-needed tsunami of change, which ordinary citizens in the country are so desperate to witness

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2023

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Date:25-Feb-2023 Reference:View Original Link