Words as weapons…


Whatever intellectual development one finds in PML(N) is a move from a military mindset to an equally damning jihadi mindset. Where they previously dubbed their opponents as traitors, they now call them wajib-ul-qatal i.e. fit for execution. This is how Rana Sanaullah would like Babar Awan to be treated.

Under Ayub and during the 70’s and 80’s, military rulers had coined political terminology which was subsequently accepted not only by their supporters among the politicians but also sometime by its critics.

It was common to brand those fighting for democracy and provincial autonomy as traitors. To maintain that Pakistan was a multinational state was considered a subversive idea. According to the unrealistic narrative prepared by the establishments’ ideologues, Pakistanis constituted a single nation with one language and one religion and needed a government with a strong center. Thus those calling for the break up of the One Unit were looked at as enemy agents. So were those who pleaded that Bengalis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Balochis and Punjabis were separate nationalities who had lived in the area comprising Pakistan long before the new country was created. When demands were made for the preservation of the culture and languages spoken by the sons of the soil, they were rejected as being against patriotism.

It was maintained that pleas of the sort were being made at the behest of India and the Soviet Union. The demand for the change of the nomenclature of NWFP was looked at with concern and Afghanistan was supposed to be behind it. Anyone calling for developing friendly relations with the Soviet Union, India and Afghanistan was dubbed as a collaborator of the enemy.

As most of the leaders raising the issue of democratic rights and provincial autonomy belonged to East Pakistan or smaller provinces, the Punjabi-dominated establishment declared them fifth columnists without hesitation. The patriotic credentials of leaders like Suhrawardy, Bacha Khan, Wali Khan, GM Syed and Khair Bux Marri were thus questioned. They were declared as enemies of the state.

Creating anti-India hysteria suited the military rulers. This could help divert a big chunk of the budget to defence. Creating an anti-Soviet sentiment too benefited it. This brought in US aid. What is more, any military ruler could maintain he was being opposed not for his wrong policies but at the behest of Moscow and New Delhi.

Terms like enemy agent, ghaddaar, ‘anti state element’ and ‘security risk’ became a part and parcel of the political vocabulary of the right wing parties. They were popularised both by the state-controlled media and most of the privately owned newspapers with the honourable exception of the Pakistan Times and Imroze. Religious parties like JI who were wary of the advance of the communist influence also used the terms to discredit democrats, nationalists and the leftists in general.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also relied on the terminology of the establishment to discredit his political opponents. The reference sent to the Supreme Court in 1975 to seek a ban on the National Awami Party (NAP) is replete with the establishment’s buzz words. Besides other allegations, the PPP government alleged that the NAP was an ‘anti-state party’ and was busy in destroying Pakistan on the instigation of the Afghan government.

A special tribunal was formed to try Wali Khan and his fifty eight friends inside the Hyderabad jail for high treason. The stand taken by Attorney General Yahya Bakhtiar during the plea on the issue of nationalities was little different from that of the right wing and religious parties.

During much of the time of the tenures of the PPP and PML(N) in the 90s, the opponents continued to be belaboured with these well known terms. The PPP was often referred to by the PML(N) leadership as a security risk. There was change in the thinking only after the leadership of the two parties reviewed their mistakes during the seven year long exile. Subsequently, both the parties began avoiding recourse to such terminology.

Rana Sanaullah’s tirade against Babar Awan indicates a shift to an equally dangerous vocabulary. The term wajib-ul-qatl is frequently used by extremist sectarian outfits for Christians, Ahmadis and Shias. It has been used too often to incite people to kill members of religious minorities. The PML(N)’s law minister had earlier declared former Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer as wajib-ul-qatl.

The discredit goes to Rana Sanaullah to give currency in politics to a term used by extremists to incite people to commit murders. The way the party leadership had shunned the Ahmadis after the attack on their places of worship last year had led made many to doubt if the party had cut off its ties with the extremist religious outfits. Many would wonder if Rana Sanaullah is the only PML(N) leader with an extremist mindset.


The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.



  1. It is true that anyone who talks about peace with India is viewed by the establishment with suspicion. In order to save the country from ruinous defence expenditure the farsighted politicians should unite together in the pursuit of peace with India. After 63 years of belligerence there must be a middle ground that can be found on Kashmir issue. But military will try their best to keep this dispute alive for EVER.

  2. Pakistan is locked-up in its own cage at best. At worse, it's drowning
    in it's own blood.

    Top brass of PA and elite politicians, however, are doing well for

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