Populism has been associated with Pakistan twice in the seven decades span it weathered; the rhetoric Pakistan Peoples Party offered after Ayub Khan’s ouster and the discourse Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf provided with its booming Azadi March in 2014. Strangely enough, this label has never been respected for the inevitable classification it holds in the right-wing and left-wing populism. As the ICREA Research Professor, Santiago Zabala states, ‘We will remember 2016 not only for the return of populism, but also for the blindness of those who could not see the difference between left-wing and right-wing populism’. 

This implies that the misconstrued ideology is not confined to merely our nation but the West has succumbed to the failure of this distinction too, particularly prior to Donald Trump’s induction in the American politics. Trumps rhetoric has been exclusively linked to paleo-conservatism; an ultra conservative form of right-wing populism. This kind of the supposedly proliferated populism centers around right-wing ideologies; not the rightist misinterpretation popular in Pakistan but the original phenomenon which emerged after the General Estates seating during the French revolution, characterized by social order and hierarchy and inclining towards the free market and capitalism thereby honoring the status quo. As President Trump rekindled the hypocritical American sentiments that had been maneuvered with mastery by his diplomatic predecessors, the American arena resonated with right-wing populism. It is mandatory to mention the Western enthusiasm at this ideological shift that has materialized as a conspicuous element just recently. This is manifested in legal provisions, media projections and political and social outburst against mass immigration from primarily Islamic countries, the budding Euroscepticism and developments such as the impending Brexit. 

So among all these infrastructural ideologies, both theoretical and currently practiced, where does Pakistan lie? Are the citizens of Pakistan socially evolved enough to acknowledge the crisis we dwell on and offer feasible paradigms? A negative answer would be the worst example of disparaging our own nation a positive one would be too much of a pat on the back. While Pakistan claims to have broken free of the glum shackles of periodic dictatorship, it embraces democracy as the ‘popular voice’, or is it populism, that it mistakes for the utopian notion of deal democratic governance? 

Political philosopher, Chantal Mouffe puts it as, ‘a necessary dimension of democratic politics’ which has long been overlooked due to the incessant infatuation with not democracy itself but its idealistic nation. Pakistan, along with the post Second World War nations have been ensnared by the idea of and nationalism and individualistic identities that are breeding grounds for concepts like democracy. While it is rendered as the ultimate infallible system there are two express things that are blatantly looked over, Primarily, ‘framed democracy’ is misconstrued as democracy. Framed democracy stems from the concept of moralization of politics, whereby democracy is perceived as an ethical parameter that sifts ‘right’ from ‘wrong’, the latter being any idea contrary to partisan policies of a democratic society. A practical demonstration of this idea is seen in Tony Blair’s New Labour policies, as observed by Anthony Giddens. Such moralization labels democracy as a fixed occurrence governed by the ideals of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ thereby ‘fabricating’ paradigms’ and ‘framing’ democracy and the utopian concept of democracy is lost altogether. 

Secondly, this democracy closes all avenues towards alternative systems and holds itself as the secret of supreme success which goes against the inherent principles democracy is supposedly governed by; freedom of consideration of substitutes. Either as a result of diplomatic pressure or own beliefs, Pakistan upholds the ideal of democracy, at least apparently, while it resorts to framed democracy and arguably right-wing populism. Ironically, this ideal also constitutes a revulsion towards any alternatives and displays vehemence at any criticism of the flawed system of democracy which has engineered a successful break-away from the global fraternity and inculcated the notions of nationalism, one of the parent ideologies of all those born as a consequence of the Second World War. 

Thu misinterpretation isn’t an exclusive national feature in Pakistan: it is nonetheless, a cornerstone for exploitation employed very frequently to deviate eves from matters that require them. 


Lahore, April 11.