Pakistan’s brief history of independence over the last 75 years has been marked with continuous political turmoil. From martial law under General Zia-ul-Haq that aimed to de-secularize the country with oppressive religious ideologies to Benazir Bhutto’s corrupt establishment that reportedly stole $1.5 billion, Pakistan republic has yet to experience political and economic stability.
In recent events, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s government was ousted in a no-confidence vote held in the Pakistan National Assembly. Members of Khan’s own party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), deflected to the opposition in order to reach the majority needed to remove the PM under the guise of blaming Khan’s government for poor foreign policy decisions and economic collapse. Khan was replaced by Shehbaz Sharif, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and Leader of the Opposition. Despite Khan’s removal from office, he is the country’s popular voice and he’s used that to his advantage by citing political greed, corruption and a U.S. backed regime change as the primary sources of the no-confidence vote.
Since then, Pakistani citizens have taken to the streets to conduct mass protests; tens of thousands of people have attended peaceful demonstrations in major and minor cities alike. Even overseas Pakistanis have expressed their disapproval of the no-confidence vote they believe was enabled through corruption by demanding immediate free and fair elections and halting remittances that accumulate to billions of dollars annually and are necessary to support the local economy.
I personally have no interest in defending Khan’s claims of a U.S. plot for regime change or his ill-timed Moscow visit that paints Pakistan as a proponent of Russia’s inhumane war in Ukraine to the entire international community. Instead, I want to focus on journalism. I write for a student newspaper, and despite having no formal training in the discipline of journalism, the Technique staff manual thoroughly guides its writers and editorial board on the practice of journalism ethics, the writing process and the importance of journalistic integrity. Whether it’s an article highlighting a professor-led protest for stricter vaccine guidelines or covering mayoral candidate platforms in Atlanta, we strive to look at a potential story from various angles and eliminate personal bias to provide a newspaper that best serves our student body. So, when I see respected journalists who’ve enjoyed illustrious careers spanning decades reporting on the Pakistan situation with such limited nuance and staunch political bias, I’m forced to wonder how many other marginalized communities and their views have felt buried under a mass media focused on erasing truth from their proverbial pens?
As a Pakistani American, I’m far too removed from the day-to-day politics of Pakistan. However, the current political situation of the country has captured the attention of people around the globe. I didn’t want to rely on the memes and out-of-context clips circulating in many of the WhatsApp group chats I was a part of, so I turned to news giants like the New York Times and Washington Post for more information. What I found were grandiose statements offering political parallels of Imran Khan to Donald Trump in regards to his move on dissolving Pakistan’s Parliament and demanding support from the country’s Supreme Court to avoid the no-confidence vote. Those writers, many of them American and European, can have the benefit of doubt for lacking expertise in the area and failing to understand the deep-seeded corruption in Pakistani politics or the dynamics that led to President Alvi supporting Khan and dissolving the National Assembly. But when you see esteemed Pakistani journalists like Hamid Mir offering similar takes in brazen opinion pieces without context and the omission of essential facts, it’s not a surprise to see western journalists following suit.
Mr. Mir blamed Khan for creating a constitutional and economic crisis in the country and has voiced his support for the completely above ground actions of the Opposition to oust Khan using constitutional methods. What he’s failed to mention is the political dynasty created by the Sharif family that emboldens and enables the highly corrupt political establishment of Pakistan. No matter their takes on Khan and his government, journalists like Mr. Mir cannot in good conscience support the moves of the Sharif clan and herald them as constitutional and democratic heroes when their past actions have signaled anything but. Current Prime-Minister Shehbaz Sharif is out on bail; the leader of a sovereign and democratic nation has been indicted on charges of misusing public funds to benefit his business and family. The brother of Shehbaz Sharif and former leader of PML, Nawaz Sharif, was sentenced to seven years in prison over charges of money laundering and tax evasion. Similarly, Shehbaz’s Sharif’s son and current Chief Minister of the Punjab province, was charged with money laundering by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). All this to say that if the rule of propensity is to be relied upon, then corruption under the Sharif government will continue and the economic collapse Khan was blamed for will only get worse due to the corporate greed of the Sharif family.
Others have critiqued Khan’s claims of a U.S. backed regime change conspiracy for the result of his downfall. In fact, I am one of those people. However, crediting Khan’s claims as the sole benefactors of sowing anti-American sentiment in the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people is a ludicrous offering. Anti-American rhetoric can only be attributed to the past actions of the U.S. government and no one else. The drone war waged by former Presidents Bush and Obama inhumanely killed between 500 and 1000 civilians, with about 200 estimated to be children according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. I don’t think those families need Khan to remind them of their dislike of American presidents and their lethal toys. Under General Pervez Musharraf ’s government, it was revealed that President Bush threatened to quote, “Bomb Pakistan back to the stone age,” if the country wasn’t compliant in helping the United States’ military intervention in Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks. Thousands of Afghan and Pakistani soldiers laid down their lives to support a war out of fear of retaliation from a global superpower. The disastrous evacuation efforts of President Biden allowed Afghanistan to succumb to the Taliban’s rule, created a refugee crisis whose burden will be shouldered by neighboring countries, and de-stabilized the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for decades to come. For the civilians facing the brunt of these military tragedies, distrust of American policies rooted in an imperialist ideology doesn’t need to be emphasized by Imran Khan.
I don’t know what the next steps will be for Khan’s party and what counter tactics will be displayed by PML. What I do know is that Pakistan’s democracy is only as strong as its practices; free and fair elections must be secured immediately to allow Pakistan’s citizens to engage in an essential civic liberty and voice their opinions regarding the country’s leadership. The United States should support this effort to maintain its position as a leading nation that values public opinion and protecting institutional democracy overseas. And journalists should widen their horizons by laying down their biases to preserve the very journalistic integrity that the general public relies on to be well-informed.