Freedom of speech is essential to any society that is democratic and representative, but when a nation is in a state of war, such rights must either be formally suspended or voluntarily curtailed in order to fight for a freedom that is more profound than that of the individual. Such a freedom is the freedom of the nation itself. It is wise to remember that as a country surrounded by hostile neighbours, the collapse of Pakistan’s state institutions would mean the collapse of the nation itself and subsequent untold misery for the people.
One would think that liberal elitist Pakistanis would have learned their lesson after the fight against TTP terrorism was won due to the bravery, professionalism and heroism of the Pakistani Army and ISI. One would think that such people would thank the Army and ISI for protecting their safety and safeguarding the freedoms of all Pakistanis.
Today was a litmus test for such a reaction after it became clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that PTM is the new TTP. Making matters more dangerous is the fact that while TTP was unabashed in its extremist ideology, PTM cloaks anti-state separatism in a veneer designed to seduce weak minded liberals into supporting a cause which is de facto anti-Pakistani. Frighteningly but perhaps predictably, the liberals took the bait.
Today, Pakistani liberals have taken to social media not to defend the Army against a terrorist attack but they are instead taking the side of the terrorists by spreading black propaganda against an Army that has every interest in preserving the peace whilst the Army’s enemies have demonstrated every desire to stage provocations designed to corroborate fake news anti-state narratives.
If the average Pakistani elite believes that freedom equals the ability to wilfully undermine the state during a literal time of war, this means that democracy has not only failed but that it has collapsed. The next question then becomes, what must state institutions do to save the country from the collapse of democracy?
Perhaps an unlikely answer comes from the legacy of a man who just died hours ago at the age of 98. Former Thai political leader Prem Tinsulanonda was able to course his way between the pangs of a corrupted democracy and extreme dictatorship without succumbing to the vices either. He did so during a 1980s decade when communist terrorists threatened the peace and integrity of the Thai state just as Afghan communist expansionists did in respect of Pakistan during the same era.
Prem used his connections to the military to create an elevated state of discipline in respect of national security, society and the economy. As a result, the communists were defeated, Thailand’s neighbours learned to respect its territorial integrity, society remained generally free but within the confines of a political footing that was prepared for war like situations and perhaps most importantly, throughout all of this, the Thai economy modernised and flourished.
While Prem was able to unite all but the most extreme elements of civil society with an important and powerful military, in today’s Pakistan, a spirit of greed, avarice and outright treason is so prevalent in the major urban centres, that one might assume that many in Pakistan have a national death wish.
Ironically, many such people wish Pakistan to become more like India and in an odd way they are right. In India, the military, civilian leadership and RAW are always on the same page and if anything, the civilian leadership encourages the military and RAW to be more tough rather than less. This has become especially true during the BJP government of Narendra Modi. If the same was true in Pakistan, Twitter and other social media platforms would not be filled with Pakistani liberals taking the side of terrorists whilst condemning their own army.
If there is anything to learn from India, it is that one can call one’s self a democracy without civilians believing that it is their democratic duty to undermine the military and intelligence bodies.
Pakistan’s Army and ISI have proved that they are able to stand up to aggression whether in the form of TTP, BLA or provocations from neighbouring states. But substantial parts of the wealthy liberal elite are doing that which the TTP, BLA and RAW could never do – they are destroying Pakistan from within.
Democracy can only work if in a time of war, people use their freedoms to defend the freedom of a nation just as sure as in a time of peace, democracy can only work when the losers of elections can accept their fate with dignity. Neither is the case in Pakistan which is why democracy has died.
It is therefore important for Imran Khan to envisage himself as someone who can lead the country forward on the model of Prem Tinsulanonda. If not the PTI government’s legacy will be doomed to be one that was devoured by the swamp of good intentions.