Of all the things that Pakistan has banned in the past – from YouTube to Facebook – the latest is the most bizarre. This time, a word has become public enemy. And the word is ‘selected’.
Actually, it all began last August when Imran Khan came to power with his Naya Pakistan slogan.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in the opening session of parliament cheekily called Imran Khan “prime minister select” while congratulating him for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) win. Bhutto was hinting at the possibility of the establishment helping Imran Khan win. Ironically, Khan had even thumped the desk then.
On Monday, almost a year later, a rather emotional deputy speaker Qasim Khan Suri banned using the phrase ‘selected prime minister’ for Imran Khan during the budget session. He said it was an insult to the entire parliament.
One would think that cricketer-turned-politician Khan sahib would want to wear that word on his sleeve, but his colleagues can now no longer utter it. So much for sportsmanship and some harmless sledging.
Joke to disaster
Opposition parties questioned the legitimacy of the ruling and termed it undemocratic, frivolous and a step towards censoring parliament.
Bilawal Bhutto said that it was because of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “ego” that the word was banned.
Pakistanis – both in parliament and outside – have already found ways to bypass the ban.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N)information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb chose the word “handpicked” instead for the prime minister.
What was more or less an inside joke about Imran Khan being a “selected prime minister” has now become a joke beyond borders. The ban has reopened the debate of how he came to power rather than preserve Imran Khan’s image.
Or, is this a classic case of a guilty conscience?
The general elections of 2018 were widely criticised by the PPP and the PML-N. They accused the military of intimidating their political workers and engineering the election in Khan’s favour. Censorship of mainstream media didn’t give parties a level playing field either.
The umpire’s finger
‘Selected’ is not the only word Khan should get banned. His naysayers have often described his relationship with the military by calling him a “ladla” (favourite child), “ghost employee” or “nikkay da abba” (father of the young child). Back in the day, Khan himself had referred to the establishment as “umpire” and pre-empted how the umpire’s finger would go up against Nawaz Sharif.
To refer to the political manoeuvring by the military without getting into trouble, a creative set of terms was invented: “Farishtay” (angels), “khalai makhlooq” (aliens), “Selectors” or “mehkma-e-zarat” (Department of Agriculture).
To refer to the powerful men in uniform, terms such as “boys”, “boots” or “namaloom afrad” (unidentified people or known unknowns) are often used.
The etymology of mekhma-e-zarat is one of the most hilarious.
Rana Iqbal Siraj, a PML-N candidate from Punjab assembly in 2018, in a viral video, had alleged that he was tortured by the personnel of a secret agency over his refusal to return his ticket. Subsequently, a raid was conducted on his fertiliser godown. He later backtracked, apologising that he actually was not threatened by agencies, it was the mehkma-e-zarat (department of agriculture) that raided his facility. Since then the department of agriculture has become synonymous with security personnel.
What is keeping Imran Khan up?
Historically, many political terminologies have been used for opponents in Pakistan’s parliament. “Mr 10 per cent” for Asif Ali Zardari, “Maulana Diesel” for Fazalur Rehman, “Sheeda Talli” for Sheikh Rashid’s over the top demeanour or “Lotta” to define turncoats. Those at the receiving end have always taken these terms with a pinch of salt and never asked for bans. After all, puns and metaphors are all that keeps ‘engineered’ assemblies alive.
Marred with economic crisis, incompetent governance, lack of vision and inability to deliver on the promises made to his constituents, the first year of the Imran Khan-led government has not gone well and the pressure seems to be getting the better of the PM.
Otherwise, why would Khan bother with who calls him what, knowing how he in his opposition days had called prime ministers and presidents dacoits, liars, cheaters and even cursed the same parliament that he is now the leader of.
Selected is elected
So, is Imran Khan a selected prime minister? Absolutely.
According to the dictionary, an election is “the act of choosing or selecting one or more from a greater number of persons, things, courses, or rights.”
Lahore High Court’s 2003 ruling on the subject follows the same theory. A selected prime minister is one who has been elected by parliament. Clearly, neither the speaker, the ruling PTI, nor the PM knows that.
Selected is elected. And Mr Prime Minister we all know what you think we didn’t know!
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.