The conversation regarding Pakistan People Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s criticisms of the government has taken a dark turn quite suddenly. From being dismissed as a political newbie who is riding on the popularity of his surname, Bilawal has now become a “traitor” who is conspiring with enemy nations – all in the span of a few weeks. Calling politicians puppets of foreign powers is not an uncommon practice in Pakistan, however using such accusations as default counters to criticism is a problem. It is even more problematic when we consider what happens if this practice is taken to its extreme – as it has been in our neighboring country, India.

In the days following the Pulwama attack we saw how Indian media houses, especially those who were aligned with the government, descended on the opposition, critics and pacifists; accusing each and every one of being “anti-national” for questioning the state narrative. This frenzy became more pronounced following the exchange of airstrikes between the two nations – Indians who asked their government for proof of the clearly false claims they were making were accused of “singing the tune of Pakistan” and being in cahoots with Islamabad. The sorry spectacle – where life-long politicians and established journalists had to fight to prove their patriotism – was watched with caution by the world. We here in Pakistan pointed out these incidents and used them to demonstrate how much more mature, level-headed and rational we were compared to our Indian counterparts. However, as soon as the roles are reversed, we also seem to have descended into the same vicious obscurantism.

Bilawal’s criticism of our policies related to militancy does not make him a traitor – only a member of the opposition who is doing his job by pointing out the flaws in our governance. Even the most ardent self-proclaimed patriot cannot claim that Pakistan has no issues when it comes to proscribed organizations. After all, even the government agrees that a problem exists; if there were none why would it have taken leaders of these organizations into custody and seized their assets?

It is an odd stance for the government to take; the government is to be praised for acting against proscribed organizations, but if a member of the oppositions claims not enough is being done then he is acting on Indian direction.

More so that that calling opposition members traitors as a reflex is abhorrent practice – we detest it when India does it domestically, perhaps we should practice what we preach