Overseas Pakistanis Cheering Fascism Need A Reality Check
Pakistani diaspora in the US are living in a relatively fair society and think that the same type of society can be created in Pakistan through force. What they don’t understand is that the US has evolved over centuries through a democratic process and checks and balances, writes Raza Raja.
A few weeks ago, I commented on Facebook, lamenting the state of Pakistani economy and constantly diminishing media freedom as well as increase in stifling of dissent even on social media. One of my cousins, a die-hard PTI supporter, opposed me vehemently. He did not have much to say regarding my specific objections, rather his main thrust was that I had no right to speak and criticize PTI’s government as I was not living in Pakistan.
The irony was that the same cousin absolutely had no qualms when others from the Pakistani diaspora in the past had criticized Nawaz and Zardari regimes and their “corruption”. Somehow, the taunt that “you are not living in Pakistan” seems to be reserved for those who criticize PTI, which happens to be his favorite party.
My cousin, who like me belongs to Pakistan’s urban middle/upper middle class, is not unique. An overwhelming number from that class mirror the same sentiments when it comes to Pakistani diaspora. They have a love hate relationship with overseas Pakistanis. They “hate” them for not living in Pakistan and yet secretly want to emulate them. That hate is amplified when overseas Pakistanis criticize something which is dearer to them and transforms into “respect” when the same lot endorses their political point of view.
Right now, many seem to be in that “respect” mode due to the rousing welcome which Imran Khan received in the US capital. The reception took place in Washington DC and to be honest cannot affect their lives in anyways, but it has not precluded their extreme jubilation.
“See what a great leader he is!”. “Did Nawaz or Zardari ever drew such mammoth crowds?” “I am so proud to finally have such a leader who can make waves in the international arena”. “Overseas Pakistani rock!”
Constant comparisons with Nawaz Sharif’s visit are also being made and just because the former PM had read from a chit during his meeting with then President Obama, Imran Khan is being hailed as a diplomatic genius as he did not use any notes. Social media is swarmed with pictures such as these
The rousing reception and the meeting with Trump has rejuvenated the PTI supporters and allowed them to hit back at critics. It does not matter, at least for now, that economy is sinking, and dissent is being blatantly curbed. It does not matter that PTI has backtracked on literally every pre-election promise, the fact that he was greeted like a rockstar in another country is somehow “performance” in the eyes of his supporters. Some of PTI supporters have even posted pictures of Melania Trump smiling at Imran and labeled THAT as an achievement.
But why did Imran Khan receive such a rousing welcome? This brings us to the Pakistani diaspora. The fact is that Imran Khan has long been popular with the overseas community and in fact his popularity abroad actually precedes his political “rise” since 2011.
Whereas in Pakistan, Imran Khan is a very divisive figure as many hate him also, but in the overseas community, he is overwhelmingly popular.
During my 8 years in the US, I have talked to many overseas Pakistani, particularly those permanently residing here and their rationale for supporting Imran only revolves around two issues: 1) Imran makes them feel “proud” 2). Perceived corruption of the old political elite.
Image matters even more for the overseas Pakistanis as since they don’t live in Pakistan therefore, they want to be politically represented by someone charismatic and “impressive”. In other words, they don’t want be “ashamed” that they are from Pakistan. Imran Khan fits the bill as he is handsome, an international celebrity due to his sporting and philanthropic achievements and can speak perfect English.
Another huge factor is that overseas community is largely drawn from the Pakistani urban middle class and therefore has the same mindset.
More importantly since they are not living in Pakistan, they simply don’t feel the downside of the way PTI was brought into power and the party’s sheer incompetence in governance. The economic misery which has intensified after PTI took charge, does not matter to them as they don’t face its impact.
They “care” about Pakistan but are not invested in the same way, as those who are residing in Pakistan. Whereas many who live in Pakistan understand the merit of PML (N) and PPP, in the eyes of the diaspora community, perhaps even more than PTI’s domestic supporters, old political elite is thoroughly reprehensible and therefore should be put behind bars.
Perhaps, that is why, they cheered when Imran Khan openly declared that he would withdraw air-conditioning facilities from Nawaz Sharif. The fact, that Nawaz Sharif is in jail after a thoroughly objectionable process and is a political prisoner, does not even register in their heads.
They don’t care about “due process” and “fair trial” because they have that wrapped urban middle-class mindset worsened by the fact that they don’t have any material stake in Pakistan.
But perhaps the biggest problem with the US based diaspora is that they are living in a relatively fair and merit-based society and think that the same type of society can be created in Pakistan, only through force because in their heads ordinary masses are “idiots” willing to sell themselves over a plate of Biryani. Most of them do not understand the way USA has evolved over centuries through a democratic process and checks and balances have become institutionalized and hence normalized.
They don’t understand that creation of this kind of society needs patience and support of basic due process and media freedom. Yes, the process is messy and at times may yield unwanted results, but the solution is not replacing it with a quasi-fascist rule.
I am not one of those who think that overseas Pakistanis don’t have a right to criticize what is happening in Pakistan. To be honest, they are an asset to Pakistan as their remittances play a very important role in bridging at least some part of current account deficit.
Having said so, I do expect them to support the same basic liberties which they enjoy in USA and other western countries. Cheering fascism, is frankly not the way to go.
The author is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. His research interests are the political economy of development, civil-military relations, and political Islam.
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