Pakistan’s Current ‘Hybrid’ Regime Is The Antithesis Of Democracy
“Don’t drag the army into politics!” Do these words ring a bell? These were spoken either by DG ISPR in June 2018, or this was key army leadership speaking to civilian politicians (perfect oxymoron doesn’t exist) in a backstage meeting last week. To most of us, this command sounds chutzpadik, even ludicrous.
We live in a post-truth era where the vernacular is essentially Orwellian. The truth does not exist, and there are only versions of truth — your version with its own facts and mine with alternate facts. This new propaganda technique called the Firehose of Falsehoods is perfected by Russian premier (read as Dictator) Vladimir Putin. The invasion of Ukraine provides the perfect exemplar of this technique. After annexing Crimea, Russian forces invaded Ukraine. When asked about Russian military presence in Ukraine on February 28, 2014, Putin retorted that “we have no intention to invade Ukraine,” while in reality, the troops had already been sent on the 24th of the same month.
On March 4, Putin said that the troops were local Ukrainians “dressed up as Russian soldiers”. The locals, however, jokingly called the troops “little green men” who spoke Russian and popped out of nowhere. The photographed movements of soldiers told a lie to Putin’s claims and after a few weeks, Putin himself said that the soldiers were indeed Russians. The cacophony of narratives was employed not because Putin thought the international press would believe him, but to assault the factuality. Truth is anathematic to fascist regimes like that of Putin.
Although a good majority of Russians believe in whatever propaganda their news channels and political technologists (Apropos of the Russian cacophemism our ‘lifafa’ is hands-down a better term than political technologists) peddle, the ultimate goal is to destroy the liberal democracies of the world by this phantasmagorical onslaught on facts and figures.
Merely saying that don’t drag us into politics only pays lip service to the same post-truth environment that the military has created in this country. Over one and a half-decade ago, Nawab Akbar Bugti, a veteran politician was slain under the pretense of imposing ‘writ of the state’ in Balochistan. The high command thought they could solve the problem with violent force, however, to their surprise they saw local Balochis rising up against a regime that had kept them deprived of their inalienable rights.
The post-truth had it that after these self-interested Sardars are taken out, peace will return to the region. What happened in 2005 was tantamount to the ethnic cleansing of the entire tribes and reverberations continue to this day. One cannot escape the responsibility for their actions, rather than deflecting grievances of politicians by such half-baked whataboutery. The military needs to own up to its past mistakes, and stop excursions into the civilian domain.
In recent years, the establishment has doubled down on suppressing its detractors. The geometric increase in abducting and torturing journalists and rights activists, stifling of free speech and press, blacking out from the TV screens of those who don’t dance to their tunes, and using bots on social media to cow the critics are relatively new techniques.
These phenomena are also recent in the sense that they are not obfuscated, but rather vehement. The veil has been lifted. Fascism has seeped into nooks and corners of the country. Books by Mh. Hanif and Sohail Warraich have been seized. An art exhibit called “Killing Fields of Karachi” at Karachi Biennale was struck down. The fascism would have been more insidious had the current regime been competent. We may not think of our current system as fascistic, but that might be just our self-delusion. Enforced disappearances and the fact that the state has gotten away with them for so long are alone reason enough to shatter the bubble we live in.
The enablers and loyalists of this regime tell us that the current system of our governance is hybrid civil-military governance. Although a phrase such as ‘hybrid civil-military’ is a perfect example of double-speak it also tells us the of the veracity of empty gestures like, “Don’t drag us into politics.” For over 30 years, the military has bewielded ‘democracy’ in this country, the moxie to say “Don’t drag us” is befuddling. The regime has learned the use of the Firehose of Falsehoods whereby they lie but often tinkering their lies with cliches so when they are questioned about the lies they can turn to cliches and vice versa.
Although PM Imran Khan said that he won’t spare the sugar mafia if someone asked him as to what happened of his claim of going after the mafia, he would say the mafia is all-powerful and bringing it down will take time. After-all he called it mafia for a reason. Mafia is a cliche, and going after them is a lie. The PM also recently said in an interview that Pakistani media is freer than its British counterpart. Ground realities reflected by surveys released by International media watchdogs reflect a different picture, and the PM of course knows this but he probably also knows the power and influence of blatant lies. This is how one Vox commentator summed up the reasons behind a populist’s compulsion to lie by comparing a populist to a bully whose aim is “[to] degrade you by forcing you to argue with the obvious.”