Dialing Political Radicalization in Pakistan



De-radicalising the radicalised: policy options - Daily Times

by Ali Khan Bangash     19 September 2023

Pakistan has grappled with the specter of religious radicalization for years, but recent developments in its political landscape have brought forth a concerning and alarming trend: the radicalization of politics. This ominous shift marks a perilous departure from reasoned political discourse and poses a severe threat to the very foundations of Pakistan’s democratic system. In this article, we delve into the escalating phenomenon of political radicalization in Pakistan, exploring its multifaceted factors and the potentially devastating consequences it may yield.

The ‘Us Versus Them’ Mentality: At the core of political radicalization lies an entrenched ‘us versus them’ mentality, where individuals categorize themselves as righteous and view others as sinful or evil solely based on their political affiliations. This toxic mindset gives rise to an alarming form of polarization, rendering constructive dialogue and compromise nearly impossible. In such a charged environment, patience to engage with opposing viewpoints dissipates, and intolerance takes hold.

Political Parties and Emotional Loyalty: Historically, political parties in Pakistan attracted supporters based on shared ideologies and manifestos. However, recent times have witnessed emotional loyalty overshadowing these core principles. Party sympathizers are increasingly swayed by their emotions rather than objectively evaluating a party’s performance in governance, economic management, and policy implementation. This shift is particularly disconcerting because it erodes the bedrock of rational political discourse. Supporters often vehemently reject any criticism of their chosen leaders, closing themselves off from meaningful dialogue. Simultaneously, political leaders engage in mudslinging, slurs, and name-calling without restraint, further intensifying political divisions.

The Emergence of Political Cults: A particularly troubling facet of this radicalization is the emergence of political cults. Political leaders are elevated to quasi-messianic status through a potent blend of propaganda, whisper campaigns, and mass media. They are portrayed as messiahs and saviors who possess the solutions to all of society’s problems. Supporters of these cults exhibit unwavering devotion to their leaders, often reaching the point of fanatical worship. Within these cults, a rigid ‘us versus them’ narrative prevails, where all opponents are vilified as malevolent forces that must be purged from society. This veneration and devotion to political figures are gaining significant ground in Pakistan, further deepening the political fault lines.

Root Causes of Political Radicalization: While political radicalization in Pakistan is not a novel phenomenon, it has been fueled by various underlying factors over the years.

  • Many perceive that the ruling elite, predominantly comprising feudal and capitalist classes, have exploited national resources for personal gain, depriving the masses of their rightful share.
  • Pakistan’s propensity to embrace conspiracy theories and extremist views amplifies the radicalization process.
  • The simmering frustration and pent-up feelings among the populace can be likened to combustible material, awaiting a spark to ignite.
  • The denial of political representation to genuine representatives has bred frustration and resentment among various segments of society.
  • Class-based and regional disparities have fostered a sense of deprivation and alienation among Pakistan’s mercantile class, youth, and emerging middle and lower-middle classes.

Conclusion: The escalating political radicalization in Pakistan presents a complex and multifaceted challenge with deeply rooted causes. While recent political developments may have exacerbated this issue, it is not a novel occurrence. The ‘us versus them’ mentality, emotional loyalty to leaders, and the rise of political cults pose significant threats to the democratic fabric of the country. It is imperative for Pakistan’s policymakers to acknowledge the potential dire consequences of unchecked political radicalization. To address this pressing issue, concerted efforts must be made to channelize these pent-up feelings through democratic processes, promote meaningful dialogue, and prioritize the welfare of the people. Failure to do so could have catastrophic consequences, making it absolutely essential to confront political radicalization as a matter of utmost urgency in Pakistan’s evolving political landscape. This challenge demands immediate attention and action from all sectors of society to safeguard the nation’s democratic principles and foster a climate of tolerance, inclusivity, and reasoned discourse.