In most countries, politicians who warned that aliens were trying to influence an upcoming general election would likely find themselves ridiculed by the media and shunned at the ballot box. In Pakistan, where cryptic references to “invisible hands” wielded by “the boys” have long been part of the political lexicon, such talk is a staple of the campaign trail. Ahead of the July 25 vote, ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has cautioned that “aliens” (Pakistan’s military) will attempt to prevent his party from winning another five-year term. Others whisper about the role the country’s feared “angels” (intelligence services) might play. The colorful terminology is partly a reflection of Pakistan’s rich linguistic heritage, peppered with English terms such as “blue-eyed boy” (one favored by those in power) and “red lines” (forbidden subjects).
A closer look, though, shows a political vocabulary born out of fear of openly criticizing the country’s powerful military – the unnamed subject of most of the creative language.
“These terms are particular to Pakistan because of our governance structure,” said Jibran Nasir, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist. “We have militarized politics, and that’s something you don’t get so often in a modern-day democracy.”
Pakistan’s military, which did not respond to a request for comment, has repeatedly denied interfering in modern-day politics.