Imran Khan’s Populism is Worse Than Populist Rhetoric Around the World



Rise of populism and social media have led to the degermation of political discourse in many countries around the world, Pakistan is no exception. However, as a former editor noted in a recent column “political discourse in Pakistan has degenerated to a point of no return, with the government, paradoxically, leading the race and widening the chasm between itself and the opposition. The divide now appears unbridgeable. It is a paradox because the party in power, it is assumed, always has the most to lose and, in the normal course, tries to find some common cause with the opposition to try and bring down the temperature. But here we take pride in defying the norm, no matter what the ultimate cost.”


Abbas Nasir noted his horror at hearing “Punjab government spokeswoman Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan’s holding forth on the death of Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif’s mother in London and using unbelievably uncalled for language. She was critical of the Sharifs, saying they used to order special aircraft to fly in harissa for themselves and “were now sending their mother as cargo”. I could not believe my ears so I listened to the clip a number of times. And yes, that is exactly what she said.”


In the words of Nasir, “Such unnecessarily inflammatory language by a government minister against the backdrop of spiking Covid-19 cases in the country, when some in the government say they want the opposition to abandon its mass contact campaign, can’t be helpful at all.

In fact, ever since the Covid-19 cases began to register an upturn with the start of the winter months in Pakistan, even those ministers who have called on the opposition to rethink its schedule of public meetings have not sounded earnest. This conclusion has not been plucked out of thin air but after careful observation of the common thread running through ministers’ statement. If there was an appeal to the opposition without the use of poisonous barbs I apologise, I missed it. All statements that I have heard have had the common refrain that the opposition won’t give up its campaign because it places the interests of its ‘chor, daku’ (thieves and robbers) leaders above those of the common Pakistani. Who’d say such statements were well-meaning and designed to serve the best interests of the common Pakistani and not provoke the opposition into continuing its campaign and enhance the risk of mass infections? Probably many in our polarised and split-down-the-middle country.”


Finally, as Nasir notes, “such inflammatory and provocative outpourings serve no cause other than to fuel confrontation and push the main political characters further and further away from one another. Surely, this can’t serve the cause of the people or country. External threats, the faltering economy and divisions within the country are threatening the well-being of our most vulnerable people. The time is right for a national reconciliation and to start afresh with a slate wiped clean.”