It was telling to see almost no one protesting in Pakistan when the country’s former prime minister Imran Khan was re-arrested. This was in stark contrast to the spontaneous protests and the widespread violence including attacks on Army installations that followed Khan’s first arrest in June. What explains two different reactions? Only explanation that can be offered is the all-out Army crackdown that followed the first arrest. So, in the subsequent arrest of Khan, hardly anyone dared to protest. What is more, even Khan’s own lieutenants, top leaders such as Asad Umar, Fawad, Shireen Mazari and others abandoned him.
The situation is now such that even while Khan may be enjoying a purported overwhelming public support, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Pakistani Army is no longer invested in him. And so it has ensured that Khan’s alleged public support comes to nought. The point is that the almost overnight pacification of Pakistan following an extended pro-Imran Khan political mobilization underlines the power of the modern nation state. It has become an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent entity giving it an unlimited power to shape things in its own image. It has developed a vast capacity to suppress dissent, handle public turmoil, and quash violent resistance.
Take for example Sri Lanka which around fourteen years ago defeated the long-running violent challenge by the LTTE, a Tamil national liberation organization with the primary goal of establishing an independent Tamil state. This despite the fact that the LTTE ran a de facto Tamil state within Sri Lanka and boasted of around 18000 armed fighters.
But this was a decade ago. Ever since nation states have come to be equipped with new military and communication technologies, enabling them to accumulate even more power. So much so, they can potentially know each of their citizens personally and can also directly reach them. Not just that, they now wield far greater power over masses. Public opinion can now be shaped or manipulated on a far greater scale than ever before through misinformation and disinformation peddled systematically through formal and social media. So much so that the governments can now hone a public opinion according to their conveniences. This, in turn, influences the public reaction to day to day events. And in its most consequential fallout, even the outcome of elections. Former US president Donald Trump’s election as the US president in 2016 is believed to have similarly been maneuvered remotely by Russia including the disinformation plied by the Trump’s campaign team himself. However, in a highly literate society such as the US, people have a higher ability to see through fake information, a factor that played a decisive role in Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, despite his violent effort to overturn the outcome. But this doesn’t detract from the modern state’s power to set and define the narrative domestically and also internationally if you are a global power like the US. Ditto for other major powers.
Over the last decade, the states have also wrested their monopoly over the use of violence from the transnational militant groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. Or for that matter the violent domestic struggles across different countries. Ever since the toppling of twin towers in 2011 through creation of a caliphate by the ISIS in parts of Iraq and Syria in ——-, the non-state violence experienced a steady decline. Once vaunted Al Qaeda and ISIS are a shadow of their former selves and have drastically shrunk in their global presence, comprising mainly of a few obscure affiliates in some countries. One conspicuous outcome of this is the prevailing calm in the Middle East and also Europe. According to Global Terrorism Index 2023, in 2022, deaths from terrorism fell by nine percent to 6,701 deaths and is now 38 percent lower than at its peak in 2015. The fall in deaths was mirrored by a reduction in the number of incidents, with attacks declining by almost 28 percent from 5,463 in 2021 to 3,955 in 2022.
However, the chilling effect of the growing state power has also been visible on the peaceful public mobilizations such as the one witnessed recently in Pakistan. This has also been globally true: all the so called pro-democracy Arab Spring resistances have now long petered out and the Arab kingdoms are firmly back in the saddle, including the salutary exceptions like Egypt and Tunisia. Of the two Tunisia survived as a democracy for close to a decade before going back to square one following the coup by its current president Kais Saied.
Incidentally, this state of affairs has been coincidental with the rise of authoritarianism and the backsliding of democracy across the world. And this has also meant squeezing of the space for political, ideological or even intellectual dissent. Does this mean time for even genuine, peaceful resistances to the state is up? Is the rise of a God-like modern state thus a cause for concern? Will an all-powerful state render all citizens or a section of them subservient? It is time that a rigorous, scholarly scrutiny of this new phenomenon is carried out and debated.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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