By Imran Kamyana
Published in Asian Marxist Review May 1st 2022
The semi-fascist regime of the Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI)—founded in 1996 by the Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan—came to a dramatic end in the early hours of April 10th after remaining in power for almost four years. Despite their imminent defeat in the no confidence motion presented by the opposition in the parliament, Imran and his clique of sycophants and supporters remained obstinate, unabashed, and arrogant—which speaks volumes about the real nature of the PTI. Such bullying and effrontery have rarely been observed in the history of bourgeois politics of Pakistan, and most probably the whole world. It clearly shows that the PTI is not a traditional bourgeois party, but a political phenomenon of the petty bourgeoisie, led by an upstart, vulgar and very reactionary section of the bourgeoisie, which can better be characterized as “lumpen bourgeoisie”, having deep fascist tendencies.
They dragged the circumstances to such a level that ultimately the state had to intervene through the army and judiciary and kick them out almost at a gun point. However, the extraordinary confidence of Imran Khan and his stooges at the time of intense pressures was not without a reason. It is now an open secret that they had the support of a minority but powerful section of the deep state. Imran Khan’s bullying and arrogance and the demonization of powerful state institutions by the social media wing of the PTI, one of the most effective and intriguing in the world, despite their ouster from power clearly shows that the support of these very reactionary sections of the state continues behind the scenes. Now, the PTI is trying to create as much of a mess for the new coalition government as possible by all legal, semi-legal and illegitimate means. The offices of the country’s president and governor of Punjab (the core province of the country), both still held by the PTI, are making every effort, mostly in an unconstitutional and undemocratic manner, to prevent the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PMLN) chief minister-elect Hamza Shahbaz from taking the oath of office and taking over the province officially. Hamza Shahbaz is the son of Shahbaz Sharif, the prime minister of the new coalition government, popular as a disciplined and strict administrator—who also is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, the founder of the PMLN. Nawaz’s daughter Maryam Nawaz is an emerging leader of the party, most likely to replace him in the future.
This is one of the deepest state and political crises in the history of Pakistan, which is the manifestation of deep contradictions not only in the deep state but also in the society at large—of which we are witnessing only the initial stages. There may be many more phases to come.
It is no exaggeration to say that the almost four years of PTI’s stint in power was one of the darkest periods of this country, which only drove society backwards—and in the absence of a mass revolutionary upsurge, its reactionary political, social, and cultural ramifications will continue to haunt Pakistan. Imran Khan’s so called “New Pakistan” was a nightmare for the working masses. The petty initiatives and reforms which were still possible in the confines of the present system, regardless of the organic crisis of Pakistani capitalism, this incompetent government of lumpens proved itself utterly incapable of carrying out. After witnessing his government’s complete failure in the first one and half year in power, Imran Khan resorted to the worst kind of religiosity and national chauvinism, which even Zia Ul Haq—the US backed military dictator who hanged left-wing populist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after deposing his regime through a coup and initiated the Islamization project in Pakistan in late 70s—did not dare to use. This is also because Imran Khan’s reactionary phenomenon enjoys deeper social support than that of Zia-Ul-Haq. Unlike the 1980s, Imran Khan was not confronted with substantial class resistance. There was a massive onslaught of neo-liberal capitalism with unprecedented price hikes, unemployment, privatization, and other related formulas. Generally, such a rise in commodity prices, which occurred during the four years of Imran Khan’s rule, occurs in a span of fifteen to twenty years. Hence the poverty in an already poverty-stricken country skyrocketed. On the other hand, freedom of expression and press were curtailed mercilessly. Repressive laws like the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) Ordinance were imposed. The PECA Ordinance of February 2022 outlawed the online “defamation” of government authorities, including the military and judiciary, imposing severe criminal penalties on journalists and human rights defenders.
Attacks on journalists had become frequent. Reactionary contents were infused in the curriculum. TV channels were imbued with conservative and fanatical dramas and programs. New state institutions and authorities were established to promote religious bigotry. Even a new “university” was built to promote “Sufism” (a kind of Islamic mysticism). Rape was officially declared to be the result of pornography and the fault of women wearing indecent clothing. Internally and externally, Imran Khan’s government took the Taliban’s policies to new heights, which even Jamat-e-Islami (the traditional Islamist party of the country) could not imagine doing. Religiosity, nonscientific reasoning, indolence and conservatism were officially promoted in the name of spiritualism and Sufism. The frequent recourse to the worst kind of reactionary religious discourse in every speech had become a modus operandi of Imran Khan as the country’s prime minister. Similarly, the use of vulgar and abusive language and “double entendres” by PTI stalwarts had become a norm. Actually, such measures of keeping masses of the people mentally and emotionally numb have become inevitable for certain sections of the state to perpetuate their class interests. The recent spike in heart wrenching incidents of mob lynching by religious goons and the rape and murder of women and children was not without a reason. These are the manifestations of deepening social crisis which, in the absence of a revolutionary alternative on the political horizon, is being reflected in the phenomenon of PTI. Had Imran Khan remained in power he would not only have strangled every progressive tendency in the country but would have also plunged the society into further Talibanization. While leaving, however, he dealt such blows to the discipline, structure, foreign relations, and image of the state which have no precedent in the checkered history of Pakistan. If, due to the internal contradictions of the state, Imran Khan gets off scot-free, he would continue to imbue society with his poisonous rhetoric. The imbalance in the system caused by Nawaz Sharif’s ouster by the military through the judiciary in 2017 has still not been corrected. Imran Khan has further deepened this instability.
Mentally, psychologically, and politically Imran Khan is a fascist who represents a semi-fascist tendency based on the arrogance, adamancy and egoism of the middle class, and who is supported by the worst kind of reactionary, perverse, and cruel elements of the state and the society, submerged in black economy. In many aspects the Imran Khan phenomenon resembles that of Donald Trump in the US and Narendra Modi in India. What would be the psychological and spiritual conditions of a man, whose past actions and statements have turned into his worst enemy and continue to haunt his politics. It is not without a reason that he is called “U-turn Khan” by his opponents. The supporters of the PTI are the class of people who would go to any length and extent, including the violence and repression, to impose their filthy counter-revolutionary norms and ideology whenever they get the opportunity. Any sympathy on the part of revolutionaries for them is poisonous for the working class and the revolutionary cause.
However, in such situations many progressives also get stuck in a dilemma and consider a more aggressive revolutionary stance against this section of the ruling class a support to the other section. It is true that both sections belong to the ruling class and are the enemies of the working class. However, we must differentiate between a dacoit (roving gangs of robbers) who only loots and the other one who not only snatches money but also kills while leaving. It doesn’t mean that we should start supporting the former or prefer the former over the latter. We must fight to free the working class from all the factions of the ruling class. However, we must also consider these questions for each of the above two cases: What are the ramifications of coming to power of one or the other faction of the ruling class on the social consciousness of the working class? What political and cultural tendencies would dominate the society in general? And above all, would the conditions for revolutionary work improve or deteriorate?
Furthermore, we must keep this in mind that if a certain section of the ruling class seems less harmful it is not out of benevolence. It is basically certain political and economic interests which determine their behavior. In certain circumstances, if such interests create a helpful environment for our revolutionary work, we must avail this to the full. However, there is another dialectical conundrum. The historical conditions which promoted the rise of the PTI were actually created by all the traditional parties of this country who are now in coalition against it. On the one hand, it is the historical failure of the so-called liberal or semi-liberal bourgeoisie represented by PMLN who could not develop a modern, healthy, and democratic capitalist society due to their historic backwardness and belatedness. They failed to crush or control the conservative sections of the state and bring the state under their dominance. On the other hand, the continuous betrayals, corruptions, and opportunisms of the leadership of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the traditional left-wing party which has now swung way too far to the right, caused it to degenerate to its historical low and rendered it into a political tool for the system, incapable of providing any hope or revolutionary way out to the working class. The rise of a third political force was inevitable in such conditions. In the absence of a revolutionary alternative on the political horizon, PTI arose as the political expression of an ugly, upstart, urban white-collar middle class in the backdrop of an overt and covert state support, and engulfed some sections of the traditional support base of PMLN, i.e., petty bourgeois traders and businesses, and also some layers of working class which used to be the support base of the Peoples Party. Although in general, the working class rejected this new phenomenon from the start. PTI is a kind of suicide bombing on the fabrics of this society by the reactionary middle class followers of a narcissist, arrogant, mentally ill but “handsome” personality, Imran Khan, a playboy-cum-cricketer turned into a messiah, who knows everything but anything. This phenomenon aims to wipe out the last vestiges of democratic freedoms and progressive thought from Pakistani society. The youth of the above-mentioned middle class is on the forefront of this campaign. They seem incapable of any sound thinking, reasoning and analyses. “Politically dumb” would undoubtedly be an appropriate expression for them. However, in a society where student politics is made a crime, student unions are banned for decades, dominant politics is bereft of ideology, and textbooks are filled with reactionary filth, the resulting product would definitely be this creature. These are the crimes of the same political elite who are showing off as “democrats” these days against the PTI.
Amid this whole fiasco, however, Imran Khan’s great success consists in getting the unprecedented price-hike, unemployment, corruption, and mismanagement of his government overshadowed by the so-called US conspiracy against his government. It is an irony that he handed over the State Bank (the country’s central bank) to the IMF in his imperialist pandering and still claims to be an “anti-imperialist”. It is probable that Imran Khan’s alleged patron’s (then chief of the country’s main spy agency—ISI) visit to Kabul right after Taliban’s coming to power and brandishing the cup of tea to the media might have proved the last straw on camel’s back. It might be one of the major reasons of his coming under a cloud. However, it was not merely an issue of foreign policy misadventure or diplomatic blunder. Imran Khan had become a liability for his mentors and had brought the country’s economy, politics, and the whole system to the brink. The establishment, at least a major and decisive part of it, had to get rid of him or they themselves were doomed. But one thing that is clear is that this whole experiment of ‘hybrid regime’, which started in 2018 and which was in the making for many years before that, has become a severe headache for the country’s establishment. It is proving to be a strenuous and damaging task to wind it all up.
There is not an iota of progressiveness in the so-called “anti-imperialist” rhetoric of the PTI. Sometimes the anti-imperialist rhetoric of fascism is more reactionary, malicious, and exploitative than the imperialist submissiveness of liberalism. This is nothing more than poisonous project of imposing a religious, national, and racist chauvinism on the masses. For this class of people Hitler was the greatest “anti-imperialist”, who inscribed one of the darkest chapters of human history. Their opposition to hereditary politics has no content of progressiveness either. It is merely an expression of their jealousy of the ruling elite. They want to become them, and when they fail, they indulge in worst kind of enmity. For example, when they ‘suffer’ from the security protocols of the ruling elite on the roads, their fragile but inflated and swollen egos get hurt. Their sympathy for poor sections of society is out of the worst kind of pity and mercy, instead of any solidarity. The working classes have quite different perspectives of these things.
It is being reported that one of the reasons for Imran Khan’s anti-US rhetoric is the imminent disclosure of a huge money laundering scandal from America. He is already preparing for its fallout.
Now, the question is about the future events in which the question of the future of the PTI itself is the essential one. There are many factors to consider in this respect. The foremost among them is the internal contradictions of the deep state and the performance and measures of the newly formed coalition government. It is probable that attempts might be made in the coming days to dislodge important supporters of Imran Khan from key state institutions. This can backfire. Imran Khan still yields sizable support in the middle layers of powerful state institutions, particularly the military. Perhaps it is the reason the ruling faction is compelled to let Imran Khan get off scot-free for the moment. They might be thinking to punish or sideline him gradually. One of the key factors in this entire scenario would be the extent of economic relief to the masses delivered by the new government, which is under huge pressure. However, they have very few options. On the one hand, Imran Khan would go to any length in impertinence and impudence and take advantage of every austerity measure of the government. On the other hand, there is the IMF. And then there are pressures from below, from the working masses. Shahbaz Sharif is on the hot seat. The economy is in ruins with historic deficits and debts. First the Corona pandemic and now the Ukraine war has plunged the world economy into a deeper crisis. Imran Khan had devalued the currency to such a level that the effects of global inflation on the country have doubled. The economic conditions are far more terrible than when the PMLN left the government in 2018. The new finance minister Miftah Ismail has categorically stated in his press conference that all the agreements with world financial institutions, including the IMF, would be respected. This means that even in the best-case scenario (in which they may succeed in convincing the IMF to review certain conditions), the masses of the people would not get any meaningful relief. For the moment, they have succeeded somehow in retaining the petroleum prices, but if the Ukraine war drags on or exacerbates (of which there is a huge probability), the prices might shoot up many times, which could fuel an unprecedented crisis.
The worst-case scenario in Pakistan would be like that of Sri Lanka. The enthronement of Shahbaz Sharif as the prime minister indicates that, in the absence of any extraordinary events, the general elections would be held on the appointed time next year (or even a few months after that). The coalition government will try to postpone the crisis and drag on till the new elections. In the meanwhile, an important appointment, among many others, will be taking place in November this year: the country’s powerful army chief. It was against the backdrop of this key appointment that the opposition hastily dislodged Imran Khan while Imran Khan wanted to remain in power till that time by hook or by crook (and now he wants an early election to come back to power before November). In any case, this government is a very temporary and artificial political setup, which can’t necessarily remain as stable as it seems now in the near future. During this period, Imran Khan would seek to create a mass movement against the government and try to give them a hard time through protests, sit-ins, marches, aggressive speeches, and statements. He will also use his president to create every possible hurdle for the government. There is another probability that Imran Khan might be entangled in a lot of lawsuits by the government. The scandals of massive corruption during his regime, which came into power on an anti-corruption rhetoric, have already begun to surface. His sex scandals may also emerge in the days to come.
There is also news that the government is planning to try Imran Khan, his president, one of his governors, and the deputy speaker of the parliament during his time in government for violating the constitution. This would be the case of “high treason” which can land them in deep waters. He may also be wiped out from the political horizon by other means. The upcoming decision of a foreign funding lawsuit by the Election Commission is a sword of Damocles hanging on his head. This lawsuit may end up in banning the PTI altogether and disqualifying all its members. In this way the government may buy some time. But one thing is clear: Imran Khan has more or less burned all his bridges to power by his measures in the last couple of months and especially in his last days in the government. His fig leaf of an alleged “US conspiracy” behind his ouster has destroyed the political careers of the likes of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, his foreign minister, along with him. He is neither acceptable to serious strategists of the state nor to Americans now. After being ousted from power he is closing any remaining doors towards a constitutional and democratic ascent to power again. His coming to power again would require an electoral rigging on a scale far wider than the one we witnessed in 2018, when the state stole elections for him. It can also be any other chaotic and bloody conflagration which can always be expected in societies like Pakistan, particularly in the current scenario of rifts within the deep state. If it happens, he would resort to his typical dictatorial and fascist actions to crush all the dissenting voices and take the economic and political repression to new heights. This would be an unprecedented disaster for Pakistani society. However, the decline and disintegration of PTI would speed up if they remain out of power for long. There is always a limit to protests and verbal agitations. His middle-class supporters inside and outside of the country are furious and agitated for the moment as he has freshly been ousted from the power. It would be very difficult for him to drag this momentum as the time goes by.
However, for the time being, they would continue to embark on vulgar, filthy, and fallacious campaigns through their social media networks, which were once promoted and built by the state itself, and tens of millions of rupees are still being poured on them. PTI’s social media wing is an unimaginably huge and disgusting fraud. A sizable section of corporate media is also supportive of Imran Khan. Another probability is that PTI might be dragged on as a small pressure group for a longer period. However, if it is crushed or dies its own death, still the circumstances which gave birth to it would remain. It would be resurrected in another reactionary and fascist form, even without Imran Khan. All the developments in this system would eventually go against the working class until it is passive, atomized and unorganized. This democracy and economy of the bourgeoisie is incapable of abolishing the conditions which give birth to such political and religious fascist tendencies. This historical task can only be performed by the working class. The upcoming changes and transformations in the socio-economic conditions can shake the working class to its core. Under capitalism, they are only granted the right to get robbed by the changing faces of this system. However, when the working masses awaken from their slumber, they would perform the historic task of snatching everything away from the ruling class.