The acid attack on former PM’s Adviser Shahzad Akbar outside his home in the UK was condemnable, whatever the reason and whoever the perpetrator, but it was clearly the product of a new kind of political culture, one of intolerance, rudeness, name-calling and general bad behaviour. That Mr Akbar’s party, the PTI, introduced this culture does not justify the attack on him. It had not been learnt who had committed the attack, but it is within the realm of possibility that there is some political motivation. Mr Akbar was the accountability czar of the PTI government, but his efforts, though highlighted by him in periodic press conference on TV, did not lead to much, and it is useless to look amongst those he investigated for someone aggrieved enough to launch such an attack. Of course, the PTI had led the way in the hounding of individuals in the UK, such as the hounding of PML(N) Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif, party Information Secretary Mariam Aurangzeb and others.
Another aspect of the problem is that the social media has provided a toxic environment, created by each party’s keyboard warriors fighting one another. The heightened tempers created on the social media leads to an atmosphere in which attacks like the one on Mr Akbar seem justified. There is a spiral upwards of violence visible. It starts with toxicity in cyberspace, moves on to making scenes in public, and then progresses to physical attacks. There is a real danger of hotheads going on further. The attack on Mr Akbar was preceded by the crowd which hooted Mrs Imran Khan when she visited him in jail recently.
The example of religious extremism is there for all to see, with the attacks on PML(N) leader Ch Ahsan Iqbal and even on PTI chief Imran Khan being examples of shootings with an alleged religious motivation. Only if political leaders stop giving tacit approval to keyboard warriors, easily done by some disciplinary proceedings, and dial down their rhetoric themselves, can this new phenomenon be stopped. If it is not, and leaders keep up the new misbehaviour, there is the danger that they will be swept away themselves. So far, there have been no incidents where the PTI was not involved. The example of Mr Akbar should be taken seriously, for while he is not right at the top of any party, he is a senior PTI figure. If he can be thus attacked, are even party chiefs safe?