Declining discourse

Editorial Board
Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

What happened on Sunday on the streets of London with Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb being accosted by PTI supporters cannot just be called heckling or harassment. Being followed by a mob of abusive hecklers would make the hardiest of political figures feel jittery. Not so Marriyum Aurangzeb who maintained dignity and composure on what could easily have become an incident of assault. This is not the first time Marriyum has been attacked like this by PTI trolls. Back in 2021, PTI supporters physically attacked her outside parliament lodges in Islamabad but she stood her ground. Dr Musadik Malik and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PML-N then came to her aid and a scuffle broke out. Earlier this year when Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited Saudi Arabia, Marriyum Aurangzeb and others were attacked at Masjid-e-Nabavi. And this is not just restricted to party supporters; we have seen PTI leaders – former PM Imran Khan included – time and again using abusive language against former prime ministers and even against judges and bureaucrats. This decline of discourse is alarming and should be a cause of concern for all interested in the future of democracy in Pakistan.

While Marriyum Aurangzeb has shown a lot of grace under pressure, at some point there has to be some accountability for such behaviour. The past three years we have seen with how much impunity the PTI indulged in online harassment of journalists who were critical of the PTI and political opponents. The way political polarization has been used by the PTI to justify violence and harassment in public is quite dangerous. Essentially, it is the responsibility of political leaders to train their followers in political discourse. There was a time when leaders of political parties would actually groom their members and supporters. There were study circles in which the basics of politics were discussed and a decorum was maintained for the sake of democracy and for healthy political activity. But there has been a steady decline in tolerance among political parties and their supporters in the country – and abroad. This has resulted in numerous incidents in which at public places a mob gathers and targets political leaders; this has happened at airports, restaurants, parks, and even across the seas targeting any Pakistani leader travelling abroad or simply enjoying a stroll or having a cup of coffee.

Imran Khan and his PTI have used allegations of corruption for over two decades now and more recently charges of a ‘foreign conspiracy’, and it seems that he and his followers are not going to change tack unless appropriate action is taken. Harassment is a criminal offence and a case can be filed in court. Moreover, in European countries this behaviour is intolerable. It is about time all our political leaders – most of all those belonging to the PTI – learnt a lesson or two in political discourse. There is no end to this madness if it isn’t nipped in the bud. It is the responsibility of political leaders to teach ethics, propriety and manners – at least with example. The onus lies on our political leadership. If they keep using violent language in their jalsas, tweets and keep encouraging their supporters to do whatever they want to opponents, it will lead to results that will be extremely dangerous for our society and the future of politics. In this, one hopes the PTI takes a step back. But will it?