PTI: The Alt-Right in Pakistan

Before Richard Bertrand Spencer’s website Alternative Right could make a coherent case for the rising phenomenon of the American Alt-Right, a term he had coined in 2008, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) had begun giving shape to this loose set of far-right ideals.

This was before Donald Trump had expressed any interest in Republican Party nomination; before Narendra Modi mainstreamed Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS); before Marine Le Pen contested a presidential election in France; before Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) even came into being and before the term Brexit was first used in the mainstream media.

Through its astronomical surge into Pakistani politics, during the two years leading up to the 2013 General Elections, PTI epitomised Spencer’s Alt-Right movement which itself was an offshoot of the European Identitare Bewegung (Identitarian movement). While the Western Alt-Right is rooted in white nationalism, the identity that PTI’s ‘rebellion’ was shrouded in was its interpretation of Pakistani nationalism.

In his 1943 essay As I Please, George Orwell wrote of a neo-reactionary movement:

“The danger of ignoring the neo-pessimists lies in the fact that up to a point they are right... the pessimist has many more opportunities of saying ‘I told you so’ than the optimist.”

Neo-reactionism, also known as neo-fascism, (mis)uses these ‘right’ causes for pessimism and moulds them into reactionary movements against what it deems to be the status quo. This neo-reactionism lays the foundation of the Alt-Right by tapping into valid resentments and channelising the angst of the masses reeking of supremacism, into a Utopian idea of what ‘their land’ should be like.

PTI’s ‘I told you so’ in the aftermath of terror attacks in Pakistan, which many of the party’s social media influencers have deemed to be a collaboration between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi, can be compared with Trump’s almost triumphant reactions to Islamist terror attacks in the US leading up to the Presidential Elections. It was in the aftermath of the Orlando nightclub shooting that Trump presented his ‘Muslim ban’ proposal earlier this year.

Since PTI announced its arrival following the Minar-e-Pakistan jalsa in October 2011, analysts have failed to classify the party on the Right-Left political spectrum. This has been partially due to the fact that political positions in Pakistan are gauged in accordance with the influence of Islam.

How then could a party that had mobilised urban youth and women be classified as rightwing? Similarly, how could a movement that had mainstreamed apologia for jihadism be categorised as left leaning?

Unlike the conventional Right – and even the orthodox Far-Right – the Alternative Right, isn’t bound by formal ideologies. It is driven by supremacism that is oriented, more often than not, in opposition to a particular entity and united by a common disdain for mainstream politics – till it enters the mainstream itself – and state institutions. 

Even so, what makes PTI the torchbearer of the Alt-Right in Pakistan, is the tehrik’s use of modern technology and the internet to marshal its adherents. Like other Alt-Right movements, PTI successfully captured the imagination of the hitherto apolitical social media savvy generation and gave them a Utopia to chase in the shape of ‘Naya Pakistan’ – a la Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’, AfD’s ‘Mut zu Deutschland’ (Courage [to stand up] for Germany) or the Freedom Party’s ‘Austria first’.

The Alt-Right flourishes in online forums like 4chan or Reddit and has snowballed on Twitter. The movement’s archetypal adherent relishes online anonymity to engage in social media meme warfare, exhibiting supremacism, populism, conspiracism and masculinism – basically the sketch of the infamous PTI troll.

The Alt-Right masculinism exhibits in how it targets influential women, be it Malala Yousafzai or Qandeel Baloch. The PTI troll’s spewing of venom against the party’s female critics – like Marvi Sirmed, Ayesha Siddiqa or Gul Bukhari – is similarly a corollary of a supremacist core of male nationalists. This is despite women being instrumental in propagating Alt-Right movements – the chiefs of Front National and AfD, for instance, are women.

The Alt-Right’s animosity against the liberal Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) is akin to the PTI trolls’ perpetual battle against ‘liberal fascists’, ‘pseudo liberals’ or ‘sickulars’ (seculars). The proliferation of allegations of being ‘patwari’ for anyone critical of PTI policies is similar to the “cuckservatives” and “sh**libs” neologism used by Trump supporters for traditional Republicans and Democrats respectively.

The Alt-Right did not, of course, synthesise white nationalism, and its intrinsic supremacism. Similarly the PTI did not manufacture Pakistani nationalism. In fact, the very reason that unlike its contemporaries PTI’s Alt-Right movement isn’t founded upon the supremacy of a particular race or ethnicity is because it has borrowed the Pakistani supremacist ideology from school curricula and state propaganda, which is based on an Islamo-nationalist identity.

This adherence to a fabricated, monolithic, nationalistic idea overlaps with the military’s unwritten manifesto and elucidates PTI’s fixation with the Army, despite posing to be an antithesis to state establishment. This also explains the PTI’s repudiation of provincial or ethnic nationalist drives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan or Sindh.

While the PTI hasn’t crafted any of these age-old ideas, like other global Alt-Right movements it has remoulded nationalism into consumable packages for the millennials. The emphasis on youth, in addition to being a claim over the nation’s future, is also a rallying call for gullible youngsters to a larger-than-life bandwagon of ‘change’.

The rhetorical splattering of terms like Freedom, Justice, National, common to Far-Right and Alt-Right parties and movements affiliated to them – including the PTI – is designed to appeal to this very idea of ‘change’. This in turn allows a wide array of fanatics to be mustered under one haughty, narcissistic umbrella, whether it’s Brexit, Donald Trump or Imran Khan.

But the problem inherent to Alt-Right’s DNA is its self-inflicted fixation on antagonism, resulting in dearth of actual policymaking vis-à-vis the much touted problems. It is this awkwardly unfamiliar position of being a part of the establishment, after a scathingly outrageous opposition campaign, that Trump finds himself in. Perhaps Imran Khan blew up his chance of being the definitive ‘alternative’ after overloading his movement with establishment rejects.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

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