The slogan of Naya Pakistan brought with it a new rule — to break all the rules of decency.
Our politicians must pay good attention to the age-old proverb: What goes around comes around.
Back in 2014, the leader of the ‘party of protest’, the cricket celeb Imran Khan, made Islamabad’s Red Zone (the city’s political and diplomatic enclave) resemble an India-Pakistan match from his time.
As he lived in a shipping container and converted it into a stage for months on end, a new precedent was set in Pakistani politics. Unfiltered abuse was hurled at opponents in language unheard of before.
The skipper urged his fielders to grab Nawaz Sharif by the collar and drag him out of the PM house. He made jokes about parliamentarians wetting their pants because of the imminent threat of violence from his party workers. He pledged to set fire from Karachi to Peshawar.
Since the celeb was courting me at the time, I made him promise me that he would control his abusive language.
He agreed, but to my horror, I saw the government ministers copying his style of name-calling and insults. I knew a couple of the leading voices in this trend socially and had found them to be extremely decent gentlemen otherwise. I couldn’t understand why they were speaking this language, which had no place in our traditional political landscape.
I grew up in the eighties in Pakistan and even after a popular prime minister was hanged, I never heard such overt nastiness. Even the misogynistic attacks directed towards the heavily pregnant Benazir Bhutto as she walked into the assembly in the nineties were frowned upon. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML (N) conducted covert attacks but publicly disowned this behaviour.
But, of course, the slogan of ‘Naya Pakistan’ brought with it a new rule — to break all the rules of decency.
In the last couple of months, Pakistan interior minister Ahsan Iqbal was greeted in his hometown with a shoe. Last week, the foreign minister — the rather elderly Khwaja Asif — was, as he addressed an event, doused in ink by a religious fanatic who had not forgiven the government for the alleged blasphemous attempt to change the wording of the oath that an election candidate has to take in the country.
And then, the very next day, despite the cover of his protocol, Nawaz Sharif was attacked with a shoe at the Madrassa Naeemia, where he had been invited.
I am pretty depressed by this disturbing trend of physical attacks directed at some of the most heavily guarded, top figures in our politics. I was so upset that I decided to not look at news for the rest of the day.
By the end of the day, I found my phone flooded with yet another video of another assault from close proximity. This time the victim was the man who started it all.
Standing in the home constituency of the much-feared Faislabadi politician Rana Sanaullah, Imran had roared that very day. He had declared that the law minister and the fellow minister for power were both dacoits. This time, Imran vowed to drag the Punjabi heavyweight Rana by his imposing moustache into Adiala jail.
But at that very event, a man came close enough to the loud-mouthed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader to not only hit him with a shoe but also slap him twice across the face, according to some reports.
The footage does show the perpetrator near the politician, who is waving to the crowds as he stands in the open door of a vehicle. Then there is a sudden frenzy as Imran is quickly forced back into the car while his supporters spring into action. The perpetrator opens the door of the vehicle and forces his way in. Several guards can be seen dragging the man out of the car and then beating him up.
One can never be sure of what actually happened.
However, the security breach and the madness of the perpetrators is a chilling reality. How could this be happening? And what would happen next, I wonder. This is a country that witnessed the governor of Punjab being shot by his own guard in broad daylight. This is a country where girls are shot at point blank in their school buses. This nation is still haunted by the footage of Benazir Bhutto being killed in front of her loving crowds.
We are a country facing the humiliation of being grey-listed for a second time in recent years for failing to curb extremism. Our youth is jobless and most have been recruited by the leading parties to swear at each other uncontrollably on social media. This again is a trend regretfully started by Imran’s PTI and followed by PML (N).
Ridiculous amounts of money are being poured in by both parties into their social media cells. The result is untamed rage on Twitter & Facebook.
My friends from across the border always say they find Urdu very classy and romantic. It is the language of the nawabs, oozing formality, decorum and timeless elegance. But the leaders of present-day Pakistan are far from being classy or promoters of decorum. Their language is full of hate and the rhetoric incites violence.
The result is what happened to Imran Khan. This is not just an assault. It is a tight slap across the face of those who have been pushing the boundaries in their desperation for power.
It is a warning of times to come. A time where no barrier will stop an angry young man and no guard will be able to protect anyone from a humiliatingly painful reminder that ‘what goes around comes around’.
My favourite proverb of all times is ‘nip it in the bud’. The sooner we let the voice of reason prevail over the madness that surrounds us, the better for all parties concerned.
Reham Khan is a journalist, child rights activist, and single parent in Pakistan.