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Name-Calling and Political Polarization in Pakistan


Mary Hunter 

This opinion article is written by Mary Hunter. She is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews researching the Islamisation of Pakistan. She writes regularly for Pakistani newspapers and think tanks on a variety of issues relating to Pakistan, India and their diasporas in the UK.

Youthia: a portmanteau of the English word, ‘youth,’ and the Urdu word, ‘chutiya.’ Often used with reference to young people considered to have uninformed political views, particularly supporters of Imran Khan.

The slang word, ‘youthia,’ is frequently used on social media to describe not only individual people, but media outlets, organizations and Khan’s party itself (PTI). Like other derogatory terms, it is deployed to call into question the credibility of a statement or idea. While there are some exceptions, it is primarily used as a designation of younger people, and this is the crux of the issue: it is generationally divisive. 


This is not to say that people should not call into question uninformed political beliefs, but this can be achieved without name-calling. The problem with using divisive, pejorative names is that they are often utilized indiscriminately, which functions to alienate the sections of society and deepen political polarization. The effect of name-calling is to ‘other’ them, to designate a person as someone who should be ignored to those who belong in the same camp as the name-caller, rendering dialogue far-fetched because both camps grow to not listen to the other.


Having spoken with young, politically minded Pakistanis, one can understand why Khan had been, in the context of the 2018 elections, so appealing to the youth. The PTI successfully ran on a manifesto which was full of the language of accountability, reform, empowerment and justice, the vision of which in a ‘naya Pakistan’ was more attractive for PTI supporters than the alternatives. To many PTI supporters, the PDM-coalition government that has replaced Khan’s after the vote-of-no-confidence is merely another manifestation of the status quo, or ‘purana Pakistan,’ and so any danger posed to Khan is perceived as a threat to those ideals which would, in their eyes, create a brighter and better Pakistan. Whether rightly or not, Khan has come to embody that Pakistan. Even if supporters concede the previous government’s shortcomings, they see Khan’s PTI as, at least, the lesser of two evils.


The ongoing charges of criminal behavior being leveled against Khan, of which there are over a hundred, and the indiscriminate crackdown on PTI workers and the arrests of senior leaders, some of whom have abandoned the PTI and politics as a whole, will only deepen this political polarization. But, by the same token, it also runs the risk of creating an image of Khan as purely a victim, even though his government employed some of the same unethical practices, like the use of military courts to try civilians and limiting press freedom. Political party supporters must be prepared to denounce such practices in all circumstances to preserve integrity over and above political affiliation, and because such concessions can provide the foundations for common ground among politically sparring members of the general public.


Political polarization is, of course, not a unique problem to Pakistan. It is a significant problem for many countries and each will have its own catalog of derogatory slang words. But given that division amongst the general public almost always works to benefit the powerful few, because it prevents the people from finding a compromise and thus uniting as one to demand basic things most people want, there is a great need to challenge division in all its forms in Pakistan. Such basic things include electing representatives, through fair and transparent elections, to the federal and provincial governments to enact the will of the people, freedom to live one’s life without fear and suffering and freedom of voicing one’s political opinion peacefully without fear of reprisal. Not to mention how Pakistan’s other crises, especially those of an economic nature, can be best tackled by bringing leaders and experts together from across the political spectrum. 


This is a time that calls for empathy and respect, to understand and strive towards the goals that are desired across the political spectrum, and to challenge and hold to account politicians on matters of principle together, regardless of who is contravening those principles, because it is ultimately the people who will suffer if the constitution continues to be violated, especially in the context of elections and the fundamental rights of the people.

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The youth is advised to place the nation's welfare above personal interest and self-advancement. 

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