Imran Khan's Foreign Conspiracy Tirade Eroded Pakistan’s Credibility

Imran Khan's Foreign Conspiracy Tirade Eroded Pakistan’s Credibility
Why has Imran Khan suddenly stopped talking about American interference in Pakistan’s politics? Why is he suddenly uninterested in accusing the US of hiring local Pakistani players to orchestrate regime change operations against his government in April 2022?

The intensity of his campaign to drag Washington in Pakistan’s local politics gradually fizzled out after he brandished a white paper in a public rally in Islamabad, accusing the Biden Administration of bribing the opposition.

In the four months after this rally in Islamabad, Imran Khan was sharp in his criticism of America’s “dirty” role in Pakistani politics. He accused the Americans of playing dirty, he accused Shehbaz Sharif and his party of being American stooges. and he accused the military leadership of acting as a facilitator of an international conspiracy aimed at kicking him out of power. So, this was an intense campaign.

Why would someone who was so conclusively convinced about Washington’s “dirty” role in removing him from power, suddenly not even talking about it anymore, less than a year after making these startling revelations? After all, Pakistani players responsible for acting as stooges of a foreign power to remove a democratically elected Prime Minister from office could easily be charged with high treason. Khan initially said that the opposition leaders who acted on the dictates of Washington were traitors and even accused the military leadership of being the proverbial equivalents of “Mir Jaffer” and “Mir Sadiq.” Imran Khan still refers to the Shehbaz Sharif government as an “imported government.” This epithet is the only relic of this anti-American campaign that persists in Imran’s speeches.

Right from the very start, Imran Khan sounded confused and reluctant in mentioning Washington by name in his campaign to accuse Shehbaz Sharif of acting as a foreign stooge. He even claimed that he had received a threatening letter from a foreign capital and even equated his ordeal with Bhutto’s situation when the latter was allegedly threatened by Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State. In close door meetings, he even asked his aides not to mention the US by name in the campaign. Somehow, at a later stage he started mentioning Washington by name and his campaign became more and more intense. He started to emerge as an anti-American leader, a rare exception in Pakistani politics as no mainstream leader in Pakistan’s history has ever taken this political position.

Anti-American positions in Pakistan’s politics has remained an exclusive domain of left oriented intellectuals during the Cold War days and Islamists after 9/11. Pakistan’s mainstream, Punjab-centric political leaders, historically, are too opportunist and too pragmatic to adopt such a radical political position. Their political strongholds in central Punjab and other urban areas of Pakistan abhor any political position that could threaten the precariously held balance in Islamabad’s power structure.

Then why did Imran Khan, who is a mainstream and Punjab centric political leader by all definitions, adopt such a radical position in the first place? And why is he not speaking against America anymore? Primarily because Imran Khan is an opportunist par excellence and a pragmatic of the highest order. The Punjabi middle class, which is newly attracted towards Imran Khan and now seem to be in the process of gradually shifting their loyalties and love from Nawaz Sharif to Imran Khan abhor any radical form of politics. They feel more comfortable with political leaders who desist from rocking the metaphorical boat.

A little flavor of anti-Americanism is fine just for the sake of fashion. But Punjab’s middle class is too addicted to state subsidized luxuries to adopt radical politics as a permanent solution to their problems. So, Imran Khan continued to harp on Anti-American themes as a fashionable slogan till the time it continued to give him dividends. Khan abruptly put an end to his anti-American campaign when that political radicalism lost its luster.

Pakistan’s state elites and upper middle class are deeply westernized - in their social behavior and in their intellectual and political orientation. Imran Khan, the pragmatist, knows this extremely well. There were clear indications that the state’s dominant elites had started giving signals during the past year  especially after Imran Khan’s ouster from power and his subsequent anti-American campaign - that they were not ready to completely part company with Washington, irrespective of the American administration’s cold shoulder to them, and irrespective of Pakistan’s close relations with China.

Imran Khan, the opportunist, was closely watching this. Then news started to come out that the PTI has hired lobbyists in Washington to campaign on their behalf in America’s political and media circles. Imran’s close aides started to interact with US diplomats in Islamabad and Peshawar. And Imran’s anti-American political campaign evaporated into thin air. It had no ideological basis and neither was it based on any solid evidence of American interference in the no confidence motion against Imran Khan. The most that could be said about it is that it was based on a poor understanding of diplomatic procedures, and traditions between two former allies, one of which was extremely dependent on the other for financial assistance.

Can we ignore this political campaign as an ordinary form of politicking? I think it would be highly unpardonable on the part of any sitting government to ignore this kind of behavior, where an incumbent Prime Minister accuses a government of a friendly country of political interference on the basis of a diplomatic cable, authored by his own diplomat.

Either a certified doctor would declare such a person mentally unstable or that person would be declared guilty of sabotaging relations with a friendly country. If Imran Khan insists that what he accused Washington of was absolutely correct then we have a right to ask him why he has stopped talking about a crime where both the opposition leader and the COAS were complicit.

Everybody knows nothing will happen. The Pakistan state is a joke, and Pakistan foreign policy is an even bigger joke.

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad.