| Welcome to Global Village Space

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Why neutrality is no longer an option for the Pakistani establishment?

Imran khan has successfully built this narrative that he is a victim of regime change orchestrated by the masters in the west. PML-N, JUI-F, and PPP are merely following orders. Whether this regime change is indigenous or backed by foreign powers like the United States is besides the point. Public perception matters in the global information age, and Imran Khan has successfully built this perception.

Despite rising inflation and commodity and patrol prices, many have been surprised by the large responsive crowds attending Imran Khan’s rallies. Something has turbo-charged Imran Khan, and it is worth analyzing what has happened.

There has been a sudden rise in Imran khan’s popularity and soft power. In the global information age, the narrative wins over facts. Recognizing the power of narratives, President Eisenhower established United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1953after World War II. Our neighbors have repeatedly proven this by their disinformation campaign against Pakistan.

Read more: India slams Pakistan for extending invitation to Kashmiri leader for OIC

The battle of narratives

Imran khan has successfully built this narrative that he is a victim of regime change orchestrated by the masters in the west. PML-N, JUI-F, and PPP are merely following orders. Whether this regime change is indigenous or backed by foreign powers like the United States is besides the point. Public perception matters in the global information age, and Imran Khan has successfully built this perception.

This perception exists on the streets, but it is also discussed by the political talk show hosts; YouTubers and propagated by Imran Khan’s advisors.

Pakistan has vast anti-Americanism, and large sections of the population do not see the west favorably, particularly the US and Europe. American romance with India in the form of strategic partnership and India’s treatment of Pakistan globally has fueled this sentiment even further.

Read more: Pakistan and its geopolitical turmoil

Add China-US rivalry and foolish regional American policies to the list

These have led to rising anti-west sentiment, and Imran Khan capitalizes on this. A recent letter by the EU diplomats requesting Pakistan’s condemnation of Russia against Ukraine helped build this even further. Moreover, the UN’s designation of March 15th as a day to combat Islamophobia fits well into Imran khan’s narrative. All this has fueled Imrankhan’s resurgence and soft power. Pakistan’s military establishment cannot ignore this rise and its narrative.

The public has forgotten the traumatic inflation or poor governance, or poor team selection by Imran Khan. One must analyze “Power” and the different actors in this political chessboard.

Power is the ability to get what you want. You can get what you want by force or pay someone or resort to coercion. This is hard power. It is fair to say PTI does not enjoy much hard power.

Soft power is the power of attraction; you make yourself so attractive that people do what you want them to do. It is much harder to gather but is essential and complementary to hard power. You need both to prevail in the long run. Soft power is a potent means of getting desired outcomes.

Read more: Tumultuous years of existence: How Pakistan is caught up in various conflicts?

Here lies Imran khan’s strength

Pakistan’s military establishment is primarily a hard power player. The opposition parties have been working continuously to corrode their soft power in the public eye by their narrative of encroachment into the political arena. It has some soft power but not a lot. Let’s analyze the other players in this equation. JUI-F and its Ansar-ul-Islam don’t have any soft power which can be channeled to counter Imran khan.

Similarly, PML-N’s narrative of better governance is being effectively neutralized by the narrative built by Imran khan. PPP’s poor treatment of Sindh has corroded its soft and hard power. But this is a chessboard with different power centers in a multi-dimensional political game.

A military establishment siding with a US-backed regime change in the public eye will be toxic to their image. The establishment’s notion that we can do as we wish might be relevant in 1999 when Gen. Musharraf took over, but it is certainly not the case in 2022. Moreover, its attractiveness as its sole savior of Pakistan will come under attack by the un-ceremonial exit of Imran khan. Costs for ignoring Imran khan’s rising soft power might be too much to bear.

ISPR’s presser that we are neutral is unhelpful

In this global information age, words matter as they shape narratives. Neutrality is not a strategy at this juncture, and neutrality is not an option.

The establishment’s decision to isolate itself from vast sections of the Pakistani population aged 20-45 who believe in Imran khan’s narrative in the current geopolitical environment with bombs and Brahmos missile landing in our backyard is fatalistic. Imran khan has successfully built this perception that foreign powers back this regime change, and it is gathering strength. Ignoring this paradigm shift among the masses will prove unwise regardless of how badly Imran khan has governed.

Read more: No-trust move: HRW urges Pakistan’s govt to respect democratic process

Pakistan’s establishment must act quickly& decisively and diffuse this current political crisis in the greater national interest. Imran khan’s refusal to learn from his mistakes will provide many more opportunities to dislodge him. Therefore, Imran khan’s exit at this juncture and under these circumstances is not in the national interest and will dent the establishment’s soft power even further.

 

The author is a Physician residing in the United States and a Faculty member at Brown University in Rhode Island. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.