Was the US involved in Pakistani PM’s departure, as he claims? — Analysis
To claim Imran Khan’s downfall was solely American doing is to ignore reality. It is absurd to say that the US was not involved in Imran Khan’s downfall.
After a casual comment by US President Joe Biden on Russian President Vladimir Putin“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!”Many believed that it was an expression of a policy for regime change. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had to clarify the matter publicly. “We do not,” Blinken told reporters, “have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else for that matter.”
Tell that to the supporters of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, who this past weekend was removed from power after a vote of no confidence in the Pakistani Parliament which many believe was orchestrated by the United States, who had grown increasingly wary of the former cricket star’s criticism of US policy in the region and the world.
The constitutional crisis which brought down Imran Khan will shape how Pakistan will fit into a new world order that is emerging from the fallout of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. At the heart of Pakistani crisis is the worsening of the country’s relations with the US. The tension in this relationship was always there, but it has been covered up by the existence of an alliance in convenience that emerged after 9/11. This alliance saw both Pakistani and American forces united in defeating radical Islamic fundamentalism within neighboring Afghanistan. The inability of the US-led coalition to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan led to a growing bitterness inside Pakistan, creating the conditions for Imran Khan’s rise to power in 2018. Khan received support from the Pakistani intelligence and military services, who had, like Khan’s, grown tired of American intervention. “forever war”In Afghanistan, the conflict had spread to Pakistani soil and caused tens of thousands deaths as well as domestic turmoil.
Following the August 2020 withdrawal of NATO and US forces from Afghanistan, as well as the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the current bad state of US/Pakistani relations was more apparent. It was furthered when, on the eve of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, Khan visited Moscow for a high-profile meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It had been planned several months in advance, well before Russia’s military action in Ukraine. According to a statement made to the Pakistani Parliament on the eve of its no-confidence vote, the outgoing Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a close political ally of Khan who serves as the vice-chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, “the national security adviser of the United States [Jake Sullivan]Appelled our National Security Advisor [Moeed Yusuf] and categorically asked us not to proceed with the Russia tour.”
The Pakistani view was that the delegation had been established to promote dialogue and diplomacy with Pakistan as a neutral participant in the Russia-Ukraine war. “Where in the world does any sovereign state gets direction from other countries and which independent country accepts such directions?” Qureshi declared.
At the heart of Khan’s push to avoid a no-confidence vote in the Parliament was his assertion that the US has promised “severe consequences”For Pakistan, Khan must be removed from office by parliamentarian action. Khan says that Donald Lu (the Assistant Secretary of the State for South and Central Asian Affairs) issued the following warning to Asad Majeed Khan Khan, Pakistani Ambassador, in March 2022.
Jalina Porter from the US State Department responded by stating that “there is absolutely no truth to these allegations.”
Imran Khan and his political allies have used the allegations of US interference to justify the dismissal of a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly the lower chamber of Pakistani parliament, where, because of recent defections, Khan’s party had lost majority control. Pakistan’s President, Arif Alvi, a close political ally of Khan, dissolved the Assembly and called for new elections in 90 days. Khan’s political opponents have questioned the constitutionality of these actions, and the case was subsequently heard by the Pakistani Supreme Court.
Khan’s conspiracy theories regarding US interference were mooted by the Pakistan Chief Justice, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, who questioned whether Khan had a right to discuss the reason behind the no-confidence vote, noting that the decision to have such a vote was derived from the fact that Khan’s party had lost its parliamentary majority, and not because of any foreign interference. Khan was ultimately ruled out by the Supreme Court, opening the door to the no-confidence vote.
Khan didn’t give up on his attempt to hold power, despite this setback. Recognizing the reality that any challenge to the Supreme Court’s ruling is doomed, Khan sought to bring the powerful Pakistani Army and intelligence services on his side. Khan ordered the replacement of General Qamar Javed Bjwa as Chief of Army Staff with Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed (ex-ISI chief), who was appointed Peshawar Corps Commander in October 2021. Hameed was seen as someone who was more sympathetic to Khan’s position that the US was interfering with the internal affairs of Pakistan.
Khan was elected to power by a third party ticket supported by the Army in 2018. Khan and his military relations have been strained since then. This culminated in Khan opposing the nomination of Lieutenant General Nadeem anjum as the head of the ISI, a coy of General Bajwa. Khan eventually relented, but not before drawing the ire of Bajwa, who began making public pronouncements critical of Khan’s policies toward India and Afghanistan. The animosity between Khan and Bajwa came to a head when, in late March 2022, Bajwa informed Khan that the Army was taking a neutral stance on the issue of the no-confidence vote, and that the Army did not agree with Khan’s assessment regarding US interference in the affairs of Pakistan.
Khan’s last-ditch attempt to replace Bajwa with his ally Hameed failed, and Khan had no choice but to respect the instructions of the Supreme Court and allow the vote of no confidence to proceed, leading to his ouster from office.
Pakistani politics can be a dangerous sport. Many of its players are imprisoned or killed. Khan’s tumultuous tenure as Prime Minister was no exception to this rule. Many of Khan’s problems were derived from his failure as a politician, leading to economic difficulties in Pakistan that undermined his popularity. Khan opted to exploit his populist approach to governing by using the collapse of the US position in Afghanistan to promulgate policies which sought to break with Pakistan’s history of leaning toward the West. He was at odds both with the Army as well as his political opposition. This created ideal circumstances for the implementation classic US-style policies. “soft power”Strategies that rely on US economic pressure in order to reach a domestic political outcome.
To claim that the US was solely responsible for Imran Khan’s political demise is to depart from reality—Khan, in playing the anti-West populist card had sown the wind, and the negative reaction from the Army and the Pakistani population was the whirlwind he subsequently reaped. On the other hand, simply writing off Khan’s claims of undue influence is premature. The reality is that US regime change policies are not being used to manipulate Pakistani domestic turmoil. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise.
Soft-power regime change is about not being obvious—it is by design intended to exploit domestic political frailties and weaknesses to produce an outcome that shields the US from direct blame—hence the characteristic non-denial denials, where Washington doesn’t deny the Sullivan and Lu interactions with their Pakistani counterparts, only the malign intent attached to those conversations by Imran Khan.
Gone are the days of supporting military strongmen—US regime change policy today is executed using the tool of “democracy”, underwriting so-called “color revolutions”It is to remove any elected official who has violated American geopolitical interests. The no-confidence vote which removed Imram Khan to power was not officially registered as an act of a conciliation. “color revolution”It achieved the exact same result. Simply put, if the US diplomatic interventions were, as Khan claimed, intended to hasten his departure from office, it would be regime change by any other name, despite Antony Blinken’s denials to the contrary. This fact is not in dispute. It could be due to Khan’s imagination, or because of the US government’s effectiveness in creating plausible deniability. One fact that is not in dispute is that the US is relieved not to have to deal with Pakistan’s populist former Prime Minister going forward.
Statements, opinions and views expressed in this column do not reflect those of RT.