Increased use of rhetoric to define politics and international relations is becoming a norm in Pakistan. The political arena is now full of political leaders who seem to believe that rhetoric can win popularity even if it bears no resemblance to reality. These rigid attitudes also earn praise from some in the media who confuse inflexibility with being principled. Short-term gain in popularity notwithstanding, such positions have complex and potentially disastrous implications for the country’s future.
The slogans of “nationalism,” “national honour” “pride” and “dignity” have been overused by the permanent state establishment and the political forces propped up by it since the birth of Pakistan. The state and its apparatus continued to tell ordinary Pakistanis to surrender our fundamental rights because patriotism demanded that The argument of patriotism and national pride has been used so much that anyone raising any questions about the state’s way of treating it subjects has been consistently labelled as “unpatriotic.” Offering alternative views of Pakistan’s foreign policy or questioning a specific interpretation of religion for political ends has attracted a similar response.
Ironically this argument is invoked with greater fervour when military generals overthrow elected governments and start ruling the country by decree. Interestingly in the last months of his eight years of absolute power when President Musharraf was besieged from all sides and appeared to be losing the political, some smart-aleck beneficiaries of his regime started projecting him as the last of the Mohicans standing against an onslaught of American influence. This argument clearly did not work with the general public since the good general had been closely associated with US policies in the region. His opponents, too, were unlikely to j confront the world’s sole superpower though some continue to play the anti-American card publicly while negotiating with US officials in private to gain cheap popularity.
Using rhetoric may be an option for those who have never been part of any government structure but it is doubly incredible when those who have led a government, and know its limitations, resort to rhetoric merely to score points. Such meaningless point-scoring for sort-term applause from favourably disposed columnists erodes the stature of Pakistani leaders. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has always been advised by his advisers to use the politics of rhetoric and aggression as a sure-fire way of garnering public support. He has been very successful at this and of course some claims now show him with 80 per cent public approval. On the issue of the judges and President Musharraf, his party is leading the charge and since it is a large party, the number of people it can field to generate noise and raise rhetoric is also very large.
On another level the PML-N leadership must realize that their return to Pakistan and their participation in the elections were made possible only because major world powers pushed Musharraf into letting the two major political forces in the country contest the election and their leadership to return to Pakistan. Relatively fair and free elections were also possible only because of international pressure. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had spent months travelling all over the world to convince the international community into pushing the Pakistan army and General Musharraf towards the return of democracy to Pakistan.
Some elements, again given to theatrics, argue that the lawyers’ movement made the elections possible. The truth is that after the November 3, 2007 the then protesting forces, including the lawyers’ movement and civil society, did not present a major challenge to the state apparatus. It was international factors, and the diplomacy of Ms Bhutto that forced Musharraf’s hand.