06/27/2022

Pakistan’s Political Turmoil: Narratives Standing Out Through Hashtags Across The Digital Sphere

For somebody who does not keep track of political happenings but is a regular social media user, hashtags suffice to fill them in on everything. 

In Pakistan, Twitter has been having a field day every day since the no-confidence vote against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Chairperson Imran Khan came to happen. One glance at the trending hashtags and you will see an outpour of support, anger, disappointment, and condemnation from PTI supporters. Heated debates, frequently laden with expletives and overwhelming emotions, between PTI followers and opposition defenders, are most likely to emerge into view as one scrolls down their timeline. 

But there is one more thing that has beaten these high-voltage face-offs and outpourings of support out of the league, and that’s conspiracy theories as to what could have transpired in the hours that history was written with Imran Khan’s eventual departure to his Bani Gala residence from Prime Minister’s House on April 10. Twitter has turned into a breeding ground for these very conspiracies, and statements spinning these tales are enjoying bouts of retweeting.

One name at the center of some of the most consistently performing hashtags is that of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa. People have their own theories and guesses regarding what they claim to be “influence from the highest echelon of power” in shaping the events that led to Imran Khan’s removal, yet a surprisingly large number of tweets are carrying his name as they flurry around on Twitter. While it is not our job to delve into these tweets, studying the pattern of their emergence really does show how a specific narrative can stand out across the digital sphere so distinctly through hashtags.

Moving on, newly elected Shehbaz Sharif from Pakistan Muslim League-N (PMLN) also finds himself at the base of a swarm of tweets but, despite all the adoration and support from his followers, hashtags aimed to launch attacks at him stand out among them all. The “imported government” narrative publicised by Imran Khan to overwhelming speculation and spells of conspiracies can also be seen propelling the hashtags that may not be very pleasing for someone who just assumed the Office. As of 1:54pm, Tuesday, Pakistani Twitter had an astonishing 2.84 million tweets on “imported government”.

Journalist Asad Beyg has broken down the dynamics of these hashtags and the accounts producing and circulating them.

According to reports doing the rounds online, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has sprung into action against PTI workers who have been speaking against the military and judiciary online.

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