Societal polarisation and Pakistan’s future | The Express Tribune


The rise of nationalism, racism and religious extremism at the start of the 21st century is a by-product of globalization. As nation states are permeated by transnational economics and societal trends, narratives based on racial, ethnic and religious divisions have become practical catalysts for achieving political gains, but at the cost of national unity. In very recent history, Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric has permeated violence in American society by inspiring white supremacism exploiting age-old prejudices rooted in American society. The hateful rhetoric drew in plenty, broadening his electoral support, as societal fractures deepened with rising violence against non-whites. Not only that, Trump has introduced the notion of fairness based on the self-conceived standards that suit him best, implicitly denying any prospect of dissent.

Those who disagreed were doomed to be unpatriotic and unforgivable. Societal and political divisions under the guise of “America First” worked well for his politics. Since independence, national unity in Pakistan has remained hostage to linguistic, sectarian and ethnic divisions and other nationalist movements. Linguistic dissections exacerbated by political and societal injustices suffered by Bengalis culminated in the separation of East Pakistan in 1971, while other lingering fissures continued to haunt the country’s national cohesion and progress, but remained limited regions and at different times. Remaining oblivious to the rise of militancy and extremism, an unintended consequence of Pakistan’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan,

it was only the ferocious Talibanization of the Swat Valley and the gruesome carnage of the Army Public School that rocked a nation unmoved and indecisive decision-making. In Pakistan, ideologies, religion, ethnic and provincial identities have shaped the political landscape. In the past, the tenor of political rivalry had been intense, but not to the point of being irreconcilable. However, that has changed lately into deep-rooted animosity. The post-2014 witnessed a new entity, dynamically transforming politics by aggressively animating the narrative against opponents because of corruption, whose political legacy was based on dynastic continuation and religious worship, rather than on the pursuit of a progressive Pakistan. It appealed to young people and the middle class who were quite tired of redundant rhetoric and decades-old bad governance.

The educated class and the youth praised this political dynamism, reflecting a greater awareness among the masses. To that end, everything was good for the country. In the months to come, this political following turned into a blind faith in management’s narratives, unquestionable even by facts. The media has been overused to demonize differences of opinion. As it continued, the discourse became intense and personalized, mixed with animosity and hatred. At the same time, social media has turned violent and wild, transgressing established values. All of this has instilled intolerance and violence in political behavior. Even educated people have rigidified their preconceptions at the expense of facts and reasoning. Personal tastes have overshadowed the sense of right or wrong, detrimental to societal integrity.

As social media has been weaponized, for purposes of intimidation and to achieve desired results, it has turned to military, judicial and other state institutions, thereby intentionally blurring very precise lines. The recent derogatory attacks on the martyrs of the army had been simply reckless and disgusting without precedent elsewhere in the world. Simply, the task of enemy agencies has been unwittingly taken over by our own people in misinformation, creating societal divisions and stoking hatred. Despite the political ascendancy through violent behaviors and intense narratives, our national unity, political stability, institutional sanctity and progress of the country have become a victim of this political opportunism.

To some extent, Trump’s political style resonates with Pakistan. America could still afford Trump’s divisive policy because of its nearly inexhaustible natural resources as well as strong constitutional, societal and economic fundamentals. But Pakistan – facing daunting economic, governance, educational, societal and security challenges – can ill afford self-serving political adventurism, to the detriment of the nation’s future. The most damaging aspect of this societal polarization is the erosion of youth capital, which forms 63% of our overall population. While Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world at 58%, after Honduras and Bangladesh, our youth are already grappling with lack of targeted education, unemployment, pronounced moral decline and other social ills. At present, it is one of the biggest challenges for impoverished Pakistan to channel this part of the population.

On the contrary, directing disenchanted young people towards hatred, violence and against national institutions for mere political gain is simply devastating. It is high time for politicians, policy makers and others to emerge from the deep political battles to help Pakistan out of the mess of our own creation. Ego, personal tastes and political imperatives must give way to social harmony, political stability and national interests. In this, a broader political rapprochement is essential to save the society from further alienation, requiring much-needed measures to heal the fractured social structure and preserve the youth for a progressive Pakistan, rather than using them as political fodder. Pakistan, with an exploding population and shrinking natural resources, needs to develop its economic fundamentals and gain economic relevance.

Economic recovery and the establishment of sustainable economic foundations must take precedence over everything else. Pakistan’s friends and donors have long been tired of our perpetually dysfunctional economy. A mere geostrategic situation would not help Pakistan for long to avoid becoming baggage, even for our strongest supporter, China. The CPEC is only a “force multiplier”, it must have a force to multiply, which is currently lacking. The massive infrastructure created under this program should be geared towards revenue generation rather than optically attractive businesses. In the longer term, Pakistan’s economy cannot sustain remittances, IMF programs and other tax handouts sought at the expense of the country’s self-respect.

The electoral oriented politics and populist measures introduced during the Zia era should be avoided to articulate the national strategy based on economic independence, true independence in today’s world. At the same time, it is imperative to reject any idea of ​​tweaking the Constitution for the benefit of a particular political entity, of changing the system of parliamentary government, or of bringing in technocrats for national recovery as advocated by some. We have already wasted seven decades on such adventurism dating back to the era of intrigue played by the Iskander Mirza-Ayub Khan duo. Constitutional amendments, if necessary, should only be incorporated to strengthen the federation and its functionality. There is no doubt that our progress and our future rests on the continuation of the system based on rules and laws, as guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as on saving this nation from societal polarization.

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