The Articulation of Discourse in Populism: Understanding twenty first Century Pakistan


The Islamic Republic of Pakistan had traditionally consisted of multifaceted junctures underneath the rubric of populism which had discovered existence in faith and civil-military relations, influencing the political discourse within the nation. The architect of an unbiased Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, popularly revered to as ‘Quaid-i-Azam’ performed a vital function in inaugurating the social contract recognised within the ‘Two-Nation concept’ as a differential precept between the Hindu and Muslim civilizations, hostile to one another, with an absence of frequent co-existence values to be shared underneath the aegis of a unified nation. The 2-nation concept made the Islamic ideology central to the existence of Pakistan, making the Quranic teachings and Sunnah necessary for the ruling dispensation to be legitimised (Majid, 2014). Although himself a non-sectarian practising Muslim with a staunch perception in justice for all sects of Islam and religions (Awan, 2020), Md. Ali Jinnah’s promotion of the two-nation concept led to the division of India into two separate nations, in the end resulting in the primary interval in populism as an antagonistic precept in an unbiased Pakistan.

Traditionally decisive, populism has manifested itself within the social contract whereby faith and disproportion in society along with fortitude for territorial sovereignty had been employed to start a mission grounded in cultural uniqueness and religious nationalism. Nonetheless, the underpinning of the undertaking was bereft of premeditated programmes and a nourishing essence, forsaking a rustic making an attempt to assemble a unifying precept amidst divergences within the society. In line with Haqqani (2018), ‘the ambiguities that characterised the demand for Pakistan couldn’t persist as soon as the demand was fulfilled with the creation of an unbiased nation’. Wint (1966) described the nation as, ‘with the separate military, separate flag and a self-contained financial and political system nonetheless needed to discover its place on the planet’. A beneficiary of Chilly Battle bloc system with help from nations similar to the USA and the UK, Pakistan obtained recognition and acceptability as a sovereign entity desirous to take part as a strategic companion within the Chilly Battle bi-polar world order.

With a frivolous political system, a splintered social contract and the demise of former Prime Minister Jinnah, populism tried to discover a unifying precept to realize facilitation with the intention to promote the established territorial undertaking termed as Pakistan. The significance of faith in pursuance of a mixing precept created situation for the Islamists political events to broaden its affect amongst the ideology of state in addition to the foundations of the political system. The socially and religiously conservative Islamist political events like Jamiat-e-islami, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, and Muttahida Qaumi Motion (MQM) majorly stepped in to assist the chief’s narrative of an influence vacuum, thereby persuading the navy and the civilian leaders for a better function in sustaining Pakistan.

To keep up the ‘deep-state’ (Awan, 2013) and their affect on governance, the function of the navy is an alternate vital function of populism in Pakistan. The navy sturdiness might be attributed to elements similar to animosity in opposition to the neighbouring nations, hyperlink with the ISI, disciplined rank and file, and political instability throughout the nation. These narratives have assisted the a number of coups in opposition to the civilian governments and have permitted the Chief of the Military Workers (COAS) to play a task in decision-making on the socio-economic and governance ranges. This has severed the prospects of difficult the navy institution and again and again, civilian governments have tried to co-opt the latter in getting access to the reverberations of populism. Furthermore, to perpetuate the state’s development of a nationwide id (Yusuf & Schoemaker, 2013), a number of media homes have performed an important function in selling propaganda and fostering the false populist pretences, the implications of which have agonised the state-society relationship.

With a number of charismatic and populist leaders just like the late Z.A. Bhutto, former PM Nawaz Sharif and the incumbent PM Khan and the counter-populism forces just like the Pakistan Nationwide Alliance (PNA) within the Nineteen Seventies and Pakistan Democratic Motion (PDM) 2020, it is very important research the elements behind populism in Pakistan within the 21st century. This paper intends to know the affect of populism on Pakistan by contemplating its three pillars which have been utilised by each populist and counter-populist forces to espouse the disaster of existence and create an antagonistic relationship between the challenger and the challenged- Faith, Navy and Media. In course of, the paper will utilise constructionist ontology and an interpretive epistemology to explain the options of populism grounded in a framework that would help in theorising and conceptualising populism in Pakistan. Secondly, the paper will analyse the logic of equivalence and logic of distinction between the incumbent Khan regime and the PDM motion primarily based on the post-structural discourse concept (PSTD). In the direction of the top, the paper will spotlight the significance of an empty signifier to advertise a paradigm primarily based on hegemonic populist tendencies.

Options of Populism manifested within the theoretical framework

Constituting the realm of politics, populism seeks to interrupt the prevailing governing constructions by bringing into perspective the omissions of both the ruling dispensation or the political system. In course of, it intends to disturb the status-quo and promote a extra radical set of assurances grounded in revolution or reformation, thereby formulating the grievances in a collective will, however, the heterogeneity amongst folks. As Jagers and Walgrave (2007) underline:

Populism at all times refers back to the folks and justifies its actions by interesting to and figuring out with the folks; it’s rooted in anti-elite emotions; and it considers the folks as a monolithic group with out inner variations apart from some very particular classes who’re topic to an exclusion technique. (p. 323)

In lots of situations, populism seeks to search out existence in a unifying precept similar to an ideology or a charismatic chief. Nonetheless, the context stays essential to know the populists mustering technique. It might be constructed upon socio-economic inequality, the ‘losers of globalisation or modernisation thesis’ (Betz 1994, Kriesi, 2008), and a vertical down-up axis referring to energy, and hierarchical place (De Cleen & Stavrakakis, 2017, Dyrberg, 2003, Ostiguy, 2009). In accordance to some strands of Vital Safety Research, the politics of insecurity and fear-mongering (Wojczewski, 2019) additionally offers a context during which a populist articulates an existential disaster which performs a serious function in representing folks as underdogs (Jones, 1999) with a closely suppressed voice of their very own. With illustration, the reification of identities akin to the context establishes the post-structuralism concept’s discursive copy whereby the identities are formulated as an act of opposition and the favored collective will.

Hereafter, the populist utilises the ability of speech and motion to construction a discourse constructed upon indicators current within the context (Hansen, 2011). Mudde and Kaltwasser (2017), Muller (2016) have recommended this inherent tendency of making a binary between the folks and the elite to be anti-pluralist. Nonetheless, they’ve did not recognise that populism underneath the expression of the post-structural discourse concept intends to type an inclusionary framework during which many identities co-exist collectively regardless of the variations, thereby selling the pluralist normative imaginative and prescient of a society (Cleen et al., 2018). The success of the pluralist normative imaginative and prescient relies upon upon the presence of an unstructured social order which is open to political interventions and dislocation for the populist to utilise (Panizza, 2012).

Regardless of the prevalence of populist actions all through the world within the 21st century, the case of Pakistan stands distinctively tough to grasp because it includes the populist tendencies in each the incumbent regime in addition to the opposition. For the reason that creation of an unbiased Pakistan, highly effective speeches by leaders have led to a consolidation of discourse impinging upon the id of the elite with the assistance from ‘completely different media similar to digital, print, and social media (Ekstrom et al., 2018). The current regime of Imran Khan in Pakistan although stimulated the problem in opposition to the incumbent authorities in 2017 by steering the narrative in the direction of anti-corruption, religiosity (Hassan, 2019), partial independence from the navy and incubating sovereignty, the veracity of his regime is grounded in the identical challengeable constructions of governance. In line with Milam (2018), Imran Khan’s political grace is completely different from the erstwhile leaders of Pakistan in that he’s in a position to channelise the progressive views in aptitude communicative type.

Nonetheless, the opposition rising from Pakistan Democratic Motion whereas intends to realize from the unaddressed grievances of the folks, has been unable to delineate the structural situations that had traditionally constituted the id of Pakistan. Accommodated into the societal cloth of the nation, a normal definition of populism is difficult to differentiate with out residing within the historic implications which have formed the context in Pakistan. With populism with out lucid traits, the origin of it had been multifaceted in nations starting from Latin America to South Asia. The constructivist and de-essentialising ontology has allowed populism to be receptive to the calls for of the leaders within the post-structural discourse concept. In line with Laclau and Mouffe (2001), ‘there aren’t any deeper, pure foundations figuring out how society is organised and structured’. There are combos of structural positions consisting in a single’s id whereby subjectivity is taken into account to be a structural phenomenon (Hudson 2006, Larson, 2015). The impossibility of a pre-given and self-determining essence (Calkivik, 2017) has led to condescension for ‘ontological essentialism and epistemological foundationalism’ (Torfing, 1999) to know populism underneath PSDT. 

To create the theoretical framework, I might be relying upon the post-structural discourse concept with its elementary traits just like the ‘logic of equivalence’ and the ‘logic of distinction’. Whereas the ‘logic of equivalence’ underlines the processes via which populism is in sync with the incumbent authority and the opposition, the counter-force because the ‘logic of distinction’ helps in establishing the separation between the challenger and the challenged (Jacobs, 2018). Though the 2 logics would try and fully dominate the discursive networks, it wouldn’t be proper to counsel that one can supersede the affect of the opposite fully. Collectively they operate as a discursive community utilizing which the populist intentionally constructs an empty signifier grounded within the exclusionary practices of the incumbent through ideas like nationalism, corruption and the ‘conflicting different’. Moreover, these traits will help in comprehending the function of an ‘empty signifier’ which the populists use to handle the set of grievances of the folks, enhancing the constructions of antagonism within the society. The empty signifier is also understood because the predominance of a single unifying precept that acts as a cluster to bind the set of heterogeneous grievances right into a coherent entire, allowing the populist to develop its representational capability (Laclau 2005c).

Subsequently, the completely different unfulfilled social calls for are utilised by the populist to mobilise in opposition to the governing set of establishments, thereby making himself the only real consultant of the grievances of the folks (Laclau, 2005). To grasp the presence of populist tendencies in each the political management in addition to the countervailing forces in Pakistan, I’ll try and theoretically broaden the arguments made by academicians like Ernesto Laclau, Chantel Mouffe and plenty of others. As a substitute of aligning intently with one set of calls for, I’ll transfer additional by attributing the logic of equivalence and logic of distinction to a number of ranges of populist tendencies, thereby making the function of an empty signifier inclusive of assorted factors pertaining to faith, media and civil-military relation. It’s right here I wish to contribute to the prevailing literature on populism by including to the established linkages throughout the post-structural discourse concept to know the politics of Pakistan.

The Structural Logic of Equivalence and Logic of Distinction in Populism

The a number of protest actions led by Imran Khan as a challenger to the erstwhile incumbent regime of Sharif since 2013 (Murtaza & Azhar, 2020) in opposition to the extensively recognised corruption circumstances (Ullah et al., 2020), appalling financial system along with a dysfunctional social contract and the assist from the navy equipment for the Tehrik-e-Insaf celebration formed the emergence of Imran Khan as the brand new Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018. The employment of skinny ideology in addition to the orotundity of ‘Naya Pakistan’ assisted Khan’s electoral aspirations to incentivise the prevailing alienation of the folks by designing a discourse grounded within the elimination of prevailing evils and the promotion of clear governance. In line with Khalid (2020), ‘Your complete politics of Imran Khan, the present prime minister of Pakistan, has targeted on demonising the ruling elite for corruption, lack of transparency, governance reforms, social justice, and ethical integrity’. Nonetheless, to conclude the on-going developments as a everlasting transformation for Pakistan could be a denial of historical past. Former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto within the mid-Nineteen Seventies exploited the identical grievances to manage the establishments and political system whereas exerting affect by using the skinny ideology of ‘social justice’ (Hasan, 2020) in governance. 

Since independence, the social contract of Pakistan had been grounded in Islamic credentials, endeavor worldwide in addition to home Muslim cohesion (Karim, 2020). Though the utilization of faith as a unifying precept permitted Khan to realize adhesion amongst the aggrieved, it strengthened the platform via which Islamists events had been in a position to wield strain on the incumbent authorities. In line with Prof. Ayesha Jalal (2019), the wielded strain by the Islamists had its significance in historical past when:

In a defining second for Pakistan, the nationwide meeting unanimously handed an   modification to the structure on September 7, 1974, announcing the Ahmadis a minority. Declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims laid the premise for an exclusionary thought of citizenship, undermining the Pakistani nation-state’s dedication to equal rights of citizenship. (p 175)

On the outset of the brand new authorities, PM Khan tried to disrupt the affect of the Islamists however the case of Asia Bibi[1] underlined the boundaries for him to achieve limiting the scope and significance of the blasphemy legal guidelines (Ahmed, 2020) within the nation. One other case in regards to the anti-Ahmadiyya sentiments (Raja, 2020) gained significance amongst the Islamists upon listening to in regards to the prospects of Atif Mian gaining a place in PM Khan’s Financial Advisory Council in 2018. With large protests undertaken by Islamists on the streets of Pakistan, PM Khan needed to succumb to the calls for of the anti-Ahmadiyya teams (Haqqani, 2020), thereby exploiting faith for political expedience like his predecessors. Throughout the normal elections in 2018, in need of the bulk seat share to type authorities (Shah, 2019), PM Khan reached out to anti-Shia hardline teams similar to Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Ahl-e-Sunna-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ), signifying his concessions to the Islamists and symbolically allowing violence in opposition to Shia neighborhood (Baloch & Petersen, 2020). Nonetheless, utilising the identical unifying precept grounded in faith, Pakistan Democratic Motion (PDM), an inclusive coalition of a number of opposition political events emerged as a compelling challenger in 2020, defying the orders of the Khan regime.

Whereas the PDM motion claimed to be inclusive of the prevailing cleavages within the society, the promotion of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) because the chief underlines the contradiction between concept and apply of counter-populism in Pakistan. The important thing occasion during which Rehman sought to enchantment to the Islamists was when the JUI (F) criticised the acquittal of Asia bibi (Jaffrelot, 2020) within the controversial blasphemy case in 2018. Subsequently, faith ought to be understood because the prime structural ‘logic of equivalence’ in selling sectarianism by each the competing factions whereas the oddity of the PDM motion inclusive of democratic, liberal and conservative forces because the structural ‘logic of distinction’ in opposition to the management of PM Khan. 

One other facet of the structural ‘logic of equivalence’ underpins the navy equipment in influencing political affairs of Pakistan. By clandestinely or visibly aligning with the navy, successive opposition in addition to the incumbent civilian governments have authorised the navy to use the decision-making course of, thereby impinging upon the political affairs. Components similar to alleged corrupt practices, political imprisonment (Shah 2019) and enterprise affect have performed an important function in undermining the political course of by the navy equipment and ‘choosing’ the leaders (Mehmal, 2020) that has raised suspicions on the equity of the political course of in Pakistan (Behera, 2018). Aligning himself intently with the COAS Basic Qamar Javed Bajwa, PM Khan throughout the election marketing campaign prearranged an obscure coup in opposition to the previous PM Shairf by concentrating on him primarily based on the unaddressed grievances of the folks.

Unable to get rid of the prevailing financial distress, the argument of ‘Naya Pakistan’ has develop into redundant utilizing which the PDM motion is difficult the legitimacy of the Khan dispensation and its reliance on the COAS. Rising as a counter-populist power, the PDM motion has manoeuvred the identical set of grievances – publicly defying the highest management of the navy equipment but not difficult the establishment itself. As a result of evolving nature of the PDM motion, an absolute declare in regards to the intentions of the motion is tough to discern. Nonetheless, the adherence to the navy establishments by each competing factions generate the second structural ‘logic of equivalence’ and the antagonism in the direction of the best echelons of energy throughout the navy by the PDM motion creates the ‘logic of distinction’. As S. Sareen (2020) in his current column for the Print underscores:

The navy’s assist for his bete noire Imran Khan is just unacceptable to the Maulana. He merely can not stand the sight of Imran, who reciprocates the sentiment. Nawaz Sharif too, regardless of his frequent run-ins with the navy, has at all times been seen as a pro-establishment politician. However now each the Mian and Maulana appear to have burnt their bridges with the present navy management, and really feel they’re left with no alternative however to direct their assault in opposition to the navy with the intention to do away with the navy’s minions.

Thirdly, the ‘logic of equivalence’ manifests itself within the manipulation of media narratives in finding populism because the central tendency throughout the social contract of Pakistan. Successive leaders have sought to undermine the authority of free media within the nation by coercing them to advertise state-sponsored propaganda and intentionally creating the excellence between vice versus advantage i.e. us versus them. They’ve additionally utilised the ability of media to advertise themselves on the same strains because the chief architect of Pakistan Quaid-i-Azam, M.A. Jinnah and the saviours of democracy, highlighting the ‘discursive macro technique’ (Wodak, 2002) of discourse through muzzling media’s autonomy.

Throughout and after the election marketing campaign in 2018, journalists in Pakistan endorsed PM Khan because the chief of the folks and as a protector of press freedom together with the fitting to dissent. Nonetheless, the authenticity of such claims has been repudiated by the actions of the present dispensation. In line with the DW (2020), ‘the present dispensation isn’t solely constraining unbiased journalists, columnists and writers, it has additionally put a monetary squeeze on media homes by varied means’. By curbing the free press and gagging a number of media homes, PM Khan has created boundaries in offering an enough platform for the PDM motion to organise the grievances of the folks at a mass degree. Though this distinguishes the PDM from the Khan administration because the third structural ‘logic of distinction’, a number of political events as a part of the PDM motion had themselves curbed press freedom up to now making them converge within the structural ‘logic of equivalence’.

The development of an empty signifier

The antagonism between the competing populist tendencies has structured an all-encompassing ‘empty signifier’ which encapsulates the collective will of the folks in the direction of the ‘logic of equivalence’ and the ‘logic of distinction’. An empty signifier might be understood as a cluster which stimulates the populist articulation of discourse, whether or not in figuring out a disaster as a set off (Roberts, 2015) or as a development by the populist (Moffitt, 2015), making communication of ideologies, symbols and concepts essential within the technique of sustaining hegemony over energy by conflicting events (Laclau, 1990). However the binary distinction, the opposing forces in Pakistan have designed a story that assumes a battle between aggressive authoritarianism versus democracy, thereby fabricating the elimination of the presence of the 2 empty signifiers in each populist and counter-populist tendencies. It’s right here each PM Khan and the PDM motion have positioned themselves because the forerunner of the nation’s progress and development.

Subsequently, the structural development (Canovan, 1999) of the post-structural discourse concept (PTSD) stays true to the case of Pakistan as a result of it makes an attempt to grasp the multifaceted nature of the discursive constructions reminiscent within the disaster of illustration (Moffitt 2016), disaster as development of failure (Hay, 1995) and id as distinction (de Saussure 1959, Connolly 1991) underneath the rubric of Pakistan’s historical past, establishments and social contract. As said by Stavrakis et al., (2018), ‘Populism is inconceivable with out anti-populism; it’s unattainable to successfully research with out rigorously inspecting the second’.


Populism in Pakistan is ruled by the historic and political trajectory that the state undertook within the aftermath of its independence in 1947. It has been readily formed and reshaped by the structural situations and the assorted undercurrents withholding the context. Greater than an ideology, populism has been utilised by the leaders as a technique to mobilise folks by conditioning the aspirations of the folks in the direction of both revolution or reformation through the ‘logic of distinction’. Nonetheless, the populist and the counter-populist have grounded the populist technique within the ‘logic of equivalence’, thereby allaying the grievances of the folks in the direction of a consensual but unsure finish. Each PM Khan and the PDM motion relied upon ambiguous governance assurances throughout their respective campaigns and switched to the alleviation of misery to fabricate the disaster as a chance, underlying the dearth of an impermeable ideology of populism.

Whereas the character primarily based political milieu was rampant until 2018 underneath the illusion of PM Imran Khan, the huge assist for the PDM motion highlights a shift in Pakistan’s home political affairs. The employment of political expediency over the better good has led to an indignant and friable state of affairs of the nation amongst each the worldwide system of states in addition to internally. Though the paper has tried to cowl the three features which have allowed populism to perpetuate its existence in Pakistan- faith, civil-military relations and the function of media, extra analysis is required in regards to the antagonism between the centre-province relations and its impression on populism within the nation.

The post-structural discourse concept (PTSD) is supportive in understanding the reason for populism in Pakistan whereby each populist and counter-populist have in mutuality, via discourse articulation and antagonism creation, comforted folks in regards to the prospects of equity and integrity within the nation. Nonetheless, in essence, there have been a number of contradictions between the actions and the intentions of the successive governments governing Pakistan. Subsequently, the populist political discourse is useful in comprehending the establishments shaping each topics and objects (Dunne & Smith, 2010) and assists the PTSD concept in making a framework to know populism in Pakistan. Collectively these options make the research on populism and populist tendencies in Pakistan very important to know the broader outlines of the rising populism within the 21st century.


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Be aware

[1]  Having uttered derogatory remarks in opposition to the Propher, Asia Bibi, a Christian girl was convicted underneath the blasphemy legal guidelines in 2010. Although acquitted in 2018, PM Imran Khan was criticised by the novel islamists for help in her flight from the nation. 

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