Pakistan’s democracy is threatened as violence rears its ugly head again. The country’s political climate has been marred by controversy and conflict for many years, but the events of May 9th, 2023, have brought it to a new level of instability. The sounds of shattering glass and the blazing roar of flames filled the air as Imran Khan was taken into custody by the Rangers, a paramilitary force under the authority of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The arrest was declared legal by Islamabad high court.
In the wake of Imran Khan’s arrest, his supporters erupted into a frenzy of activity, causing damage to military buildings and setting them ablaze. Several incidents took place, including the burning of the house of Lahore’s Corps Commander, Askari Plaza Lahore, PMLN Secretariat Lahore, motorway Swat, a PAF base in Mianwali, where even a dummy plane was set on fire and many other state buildings.
The PTI supporters attacked and stoned the Army officers and attacked the police. The violence rose as they vandalised Peshawar Cantonment and the KP provincial assembly.
This is not a peaceful political demonstration but a horrendous display of unrestrained aggression that defies all explanation.
Political arrests are expected in Pakistan. One must remember how Imran Khan held all his political opponents in continuous detention by hooking them into false cases and politically victimising them. In the past, political leaders have faced similar situations and dealt with them peacefully, preserving democracy and establishing their innocence through the legal process. Today marks a new chapter in history as, for the first time since the creation of Pakistan, a Corps Commander’s house was vandalised and set ablaze, leaving a damaging image in the international media. The absence of law and order, as witnessed today with the vandalisation and arson of a corps commander’s house, shatters the very foundation of our nation and leaves a devastating image in the eyes of the world. It is a bitter pill to swallow that our own state appears powerless in the face of chaos and destruction, handing victory to those seeking to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation and give India a reason to gloat in the media.
These violent protests following the arrest of Imran Khan raise serious concerns about the stability of Pakistan and the spread of fascism, both on the streets, and in the digital world. In addition, PTI must face the state’s criticism for disregarding the rule of law, democracy, and national security, escaping its past attack on PTV in 2014. However, it is essential to consider all sides of the story and the situation’s complexities.
Nonetheless, the spread of digital fascism, where political ideology is used to justify violence and aggression online, adds another layer of concern about how today’s digital media is instrumentalised to incite violence in Pakistan. Eventually, the government was compelled to take down social media today.
The way digital media is used to incite violence after Imran Khan’s arrest has become a matter of national security. As per sky news, the military officers were ordered to stay in the unit and on low profile because of the violent crowd charged by igniting social media posts. PTI activists successfully spread false information, intimidated the state institutions, and controlled the false narrative that Imran Khan was illegally arrested. By exploiting political ideology to perpetuate censorship, aggression, and manipulation online, their tactic resulted in widespread violence in the country. Because Fascism uses political ideology to justify violent and destructive actions against the state, it is essential to recognise and prevent its spread to preserve democracy, as fascism and democracy cannot coexist.
Therefore, today’s situation in Pakistan raises questions beyond the state’s control spread of fascism. It is essential to consider all perspectives and address any attempts to undermine democratic values, both in the physical and digital realms. There is a global consensus that the rise of fascism has been a persistent threat to democracy and human rights throughout history. In the early 20th century, leaders like Italy’s Benito Mussolini and Germany’s Adolf Hitler emerged as prominent figures in the fascist movement. Today, fascist political parties exist in various countries, including Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, and France’s National Front. These parties have been accused of promoting xenophobic and racist ideologies, using hate speech, and engaging in violent activities. The desire for power and control, a sense of crisis or threat to the nation, and the manipulation of public opinion through fear and insecurity can all contribute to the rise of fascism.
However, it’s important to note that populism can also be a force for democracy, as it can mobilise ordinary people and challenge the power of elites.
To prevent the rise of fascism, it is crucial to evaluate political leaders and parties based on evidence and avoid making unsupported claims or generalizations.
In South Asia, including Pakistan and India, fascism threatens democracy and human rights. To protect these values, it is necessary to identify the characteristics of fascism, promote media literacy and critical thinking, strengthen democratic institutions, and support civil society organizations.
Last week, the world witnessed India’s foreign minister’s aggressive behaviour towards Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was also subjected to trolling by Pakistan’s PTI party.
Political parties in South Asia, including the BJP in India and the PTI in Pakistan, require extensive and unbiased study to understand their ideologies and actions.
It must be concerning for all political parties how PTI has invested heavily in social media campaigns to promote its message and intimidate its opponents, using bots and fake accounts to spread false information and attack their opponents. I am also their victim. They falsely accused me of endangering Imran Khan’s life on Twitter recently. This was part of a more extensive campaign in March, where they spread false claims about my support for state brutality and authoritarianism through over 150,000 tweets. This campaign endangered my life and intimidated those associated with me, leading to the deactivation of their Twitter accounts. I was forced to seek help from the police and file criminal cases of harassment and defamation. PTI’s actions highlight the dangerous trend of fascism in their ideology and actions, affecting me and others who have been falsely accused and intimidated. It remains a concern for our well-being until action is taken to stop it. The attacks by PTI are not limited to journalists and political opponents but also senior military and police officers. Imran Khan kept accusing General Faisal Naseer, and PTI accounts circulated photos of his family on social media today. Last month, Imran’s nephew shared a judge’s image on social media, causing the judge to feel so intimidated that he sought a transfer. Yet, the state of Pakistan has failed to take action to stop this propaganda. The proliferation of these incidents highlights the dangerous trend of fascism evident in the ideology and activities of the PTI, affecting individuals and society at large. Steps must be taken to address and prevent the spread of such dangerous ideologies. The growth of the internet and social media in Pakistan highlights the need to recognise and address the challenges posed by digital fascism, especially considering today’s events. The consequences of ignoring these challenges could be devastating for the future of Pakistani democracy and the well-being of its citizens.
In conclusion, the rise of fascism in Pakistan poses a significant threat to democracy and human rights that may destroy the whole socio-political structure of Pakistan. The recent events where PTI supporters burned state buildings and the government failed to protect them highlight the issue’s urgency to save Pakistan from collapsing as a state. To tackle this issue, the Shahbaz Sharif government must take practical measures to prevent the rise of fascism and protect democracy and human rights, which is currently failing. This includes strengthening the rule of law, ensuring the sovereignty of the Parliament, strengthening the judiciary by appointing senior-most judges, tackling judicial corruption effectively, and providing security to those at risk of violence and intimidation. It is not a joke that a judge’s and a senior military officer’s family photos are shared on media. PTI Fawad’s Chaudhry openly threatens the officers and journalists of making their lists to face the consequences of dissenting with PTI. The government must also take decisive and robust action against individuals and groups who have engaged in hate speech and incited violence today and hold them accountable for their actions through proper legal channels and consequences.
Lastly, the government must support and protect us, the journalists, officers, and media outlets promoting literacy and critical thinking. This can be done through effective policing, education and awareness programs and by providing support and resources to civil society organisations that promote these values. It is never too late for the government to take action to prevent the rise of fascism and protect democracy and human rights in Pakistan. The future of democracy and human rights in Pakistan depends on the PDM government’s commitment to taking strong and decisive action against fascism.