We are entering not just a new year, but a new decade. Yet our politicians are still behaving as badly as they have in the past. The leading opposition party, the PML-N, has triggered an avalanche of invective and derogatory remarks by launching personal attacks against the MQM leadership, whose members have responded with a volley of humiliatingly personal and denigrating remarks about the Sharifs. People seem genuinely shocked at this descent into abuse and character assassination. They should not be. This is the same old story we witnessed in the 1990s, the decade lost to the politics of vengeance. The only difference is that the revulsion that our politicians harbour for each other was never before televised, blow by low blow.
In the late 1980s, Ms Bhutto returned to Pakistan to massive public support, defying the Zia regime, only to be targeted in the most uncivil manner. Stories casting scurrilous aspersions on Ms Bhutto’s character were planted by Zia’s spooks in the press and disseminated by his political progeny. Her opponents gleefully circulated photos purportedly of Ms Bhutto ‘partying’ at Oxford. Once she was married, the focus shifted to her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. There is a plethora of footage of Nawaz Sharif and his acolytes publicly using highly defamatory language about the first couple and Mr Zardari in particular, employing speech and posturing unbefitting of a former prime minister. Although the PPP equally participated in this bitter and abusive war of words with the PML-N throughout the 1990s, it seems to have fallen short of actually digging up dirt on the Sharifs’ private lives. Evidence recently brought to light shows that the PML- N actively plotted to not only destabilise Benazir Bhutto’s government but to defame her by any means. Dirty tricks’ campaigns were orchestrated, most notably by the ruthless Brigadier ‘Billa’ Imtiaz, Nawaz Sharif’s hand-picked intelligence bureau chief. In a recent interview, ‘Billa’ revealed that even the bugging of Mohtarma Benazir’s bedroom, to record relations between her and her husband, had the approval of his patrons. Apparently the option was not actually implemented but much regret was expressed thereafter at the loss of an opportunity to further embarrass Mohtarma with such private material. One can only imagine the moral standards of those who would even consider such gross transgression of decency and marital privacy.
It was not just the PPP leadership that faced personal attacks from the PML-N. When Imran Khan joined the political fray in the 1997 elections, the PML-N, threatened by his national hero status, embarked upon a campaign of vilification, even using the salacious British tabloids to scandalise Imran, apparently even funding investigations into his private life. The tabloid exposés were reproduced and disseminated in Pakistan to sully Imran’s public image, particularly the Sita White affair, which was at that time unknown to the Pakistani public. The PML-N also libelled Imran’s wife, Jemima Goldsmith, accusing her of being part of a Jewish conspiracy.
More recently, members of the PML-N have made derogatory remarks about Pakistani artistes and entertainers supporting the APML, degrading them as just ‘gaane bajaane waale’. With unfailing regularity, the PML-N leadership continues to use derogatory labels for President Zardari and former president General Musharraf.
Harsh criticism, allegations and even scandals are part and parcel of politics. Mr Zardari, the Sharifs and Altaf Hussain are controversial figures, adored by their followers and loathed by their opponents. For this very reason, all politicians must at least show respect for the popular mandate these figures hold and their offices, if they cannot be magnanimous enough to respect the personalities themselves. Casting aspersions about their personal lives and belittling them only breeds hatred and division amongst political workers, when the desperate need of the hour is for political parties to cooperate in tackling national issues. Even though many opponents of the PML-N are privately pleased to see them “get a taste of their own medicine” and see the MQM embroiled in a war of words, all parties must help to defuse tensions. The only result of this political nastiness is another wasteful diversion for a people facing a year full of critical challenges in 2011 and beyond.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2011.
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