After intense speculation, the anticipated trump card is finally laid on the table. The card unravelled reads something like this: Prime Minister Imran Khan is under a threat from the US that has hatched an elaborate scheme by allying with the opposition leaders to oust him from office. This is being done to halt Khan from pursuing independent foreign policy initiatives.
As preposterous as this ‘trump card’ is (and I will go on to explain why this is no trump card), it must be examined meticulously. That the PM acted disingenuously by hinting he was directly threatened by a foreign government in public pales in comparison to his antics during live telecast.
The PM’s claim that the opposition is merely tools of an international conspiracy is loaded with sharp rhetoric and lacks substance. The allegation is grounded in a now revealed diplomatic assessment that arrived from Pakistan Ambassador Asad Majeed. The contents of this diplomatic cable simply state that a US diplomat conveyed unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the PM. The said diplomat is also reported to have stated that successful vote of no-confidence might result in bettering relations between Pakistan and the US.
Amidst much hue and cry from the government, it is crucial to understand diplomatic state of affairs.
Anyone privy to the workings of diplomatic protocol and affairs maintains that these conversations are carried out routinely and cables of such nature sent frequently. These meetings are attended by embassy and high commission secretaries, charge’d’affairs and political counsellors. Informal meetings between diplomats are often conducted to gauge sentiments and take pulse of the situation. It is no secret that Pakistani diplomats, high and low ranked, meet counterparts over social gatherings and formal briefings. Consequently, it is no surprise that a negative assessment of Khan surfaced, owing to his outlandish anti-US statements, terming Osama Bin Laden ‘shaheed’ and failure to broker a deal with the Taliban. It is reported that Chinese officials often convey similar sentiments about Khan because of his government’s lacklustre efforts to revive China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Informal meetings between diplomats are often conducted to gauge sentiments and take pulse of the situation. It is no secret that Pakistani diplomats, high and low ranked, meet counterparts over social gatherings and formal briefings.
The PM has used contents of one of the above mentioned meetings as basis of international conspiracy against him. It is pertinent to note the diplomatic cable relaying this information had no mention of actual interference. It had no reference to regime change or impending threat. The PM chose to blow this out of proportion and conflate it with the US-backed regime change. That the PM and his ruling party have jumped to this conclusion without an iota of evidence is flabbergasting. This evidence could have surfaced in various forms, such as transfer of funds to the opposition parties or interception of communication and so on. The PM’s claims are shrouded in hearsay and disproof. Then again, bizarre statements have often been his recourse in the past.
While the PM has held strong views about independent foreign policy, he has never gone to the extent of damaging a foreign entity to warrant regime change. Under his watch, foreign policy has remained docile and haphazard at best. Constant attempts to engage President Joe Biden have failed despite assisting negotiations with Taliban. Pakistan has actually appeased the US by halting the CPEC projects, which remained a bone of contention previously. At other times, he has openly termed Osama Bin Laden a ‘martyr’ and refused to participate in the US-led conference of the World democracies.
Despite this waywardness, Imran Khan’s foreign policy hardly warrants regime change. Much has been made of American regime change activities in Middle East, Vietnam, Latin American and Pakistan. Fact of the matter is, those regime changes were conducted in peak Cold War and easily spottable. The nightmarish visit to Russia, while Europe stood on the cusp of war, has been cited as potent to warrant a regime change by a few TV commandos. Fact of the matter is, above mentioned regime change was conducted in peak Cold War. The US is infamous for propping up governments and autocrats via funding and strategic support. At this hour, the world is not yet sucked into a full-blown whirlwind of the Cold War blocs and alliances for the US to initiate regime change.
Rest assured, Pakistan does not hold sway or importance to merit a foreign backed regime change because the PTI government has led the country into insurmountable debt and crashing economy. The US would rather use economic tools of oppression if need be, such as blacklisting on FATF and withholding IMF support. Instead, it can cripple Pakistan’s entire export sector by refusal to trade because the US remains our biggest trading partner. And yet, here we are, with a populist prime minister presenting a bloated image of his government as America’s worthy enemy.
A few months ago, he was cornered: losing numbers in the National Assembly, declining popularity, rising fiscal deficit, soaring inflation. All of a sudden, the western conspiracy drama has shifted the narrative away from his poor performance.
This foreign conspiracy drama is a leaflet out of Zulfikar Bhutto’s playbook. I argued the other day that Khan is no Bhutto. He, though, is using foreign conspiracy narrative to play victim, no matter how ridiculous and baseless that sounds. For months at stretch, it has been visible that the front and centre of Khan’s politics is now done on anti-western and pro-religion platform. His continued mentions of Khatam-e-Nabuwat, Islam, Riyast-e-Madinah, fighting Islamophobia coupled with anti-western rhetoric is an effort to gain popularity amongst a large chunk of youth that is religiously driven and bound to believe Pakistan is cornered and conspiracy-ridden. This narrative will hold sway with his current constituency of voters as well. Khan is shaping himself up for a fight to survive and remain popular once out of power.
In fact, he is now riding a wave of popularity, albeit temporarily. A few months ago, he was cornered: losing numbers in the National Assembly, declining popularity, rising fiscal deficit, soaring inflation. All of a sudden, the western conspiracy drama has shifted the narrative away from his poor performance.
There is, however, no trump card. Imran’s flimsy and unsubstantiated claims of foreign conspiracy do not give him the advantage in the upcoming vote of no-confidence. Despite his narrative construction, he cannot coerce rebel MNAs and ex-allies to re-switch allegiances. His falling out of favour with powers that be, incompetence and declining popularity make him an unsuitable leader to side with. The opposition mustered 174 members on the opposition benches yesterday. And there is no reason to believe they can’t muster the same or a bigger number on Sunday.