Pakistani politics goes through cycles every few years – a politician and political party that was supported by the establishment is viewed as a threat, the leader and others are thrown in prison and denied bail, the political party is split, and another leader and political party are supported.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan remains in prison, but over the last few months many former supporters of Khan have publicly recanted their support to Imran Khan after months of pressure or prison. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the bombastic head of the Awami Muslim League, is the latest such politician to come on television to convince the Pakistani public that Imran deserves to be penalised for his actions. The military establishment wants all of us to accept that Imran is persona non grata in Pakistani politics.
However, as an editorial in Dawn noted, “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.”
The Dawn warned “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.”