Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, was not the first choice of the US administration in the latest national elections. The circumstantial preference of the establishment (aka the military) was a selection-by-elimination of the other two options ~ Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and the Bhutto-Zardari led PPP. Imran’s rhetoric over the past two decades in politics is based on virulently anti-US positions, and amongst all the mainstream political parties in Pakistan.
For long the political underdog, the proud Pathan had till recently, only managed to sway his restive and conservative clans in the Khyber Pakthunwaha province, where his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had formed the provincial government in 2013.
However unlike the previous two PML-N and PPP regimes, who tepidly commented on the clear US drift away from the Pakistanis, following the relentless pressure to ‘do more’, Imran has consistently directed his attacks on the US approach by invoking a very personalised campaign of ‘self-dignity and respect’, a precursor to his latest suggestion of a US-Pak equation based on ‘mutually beneficial’ and a ‘balanced’ outlay.
The statistical calculation of the tangible and the intangible mutual benefits afforded by both the US and Pakistan can never be calculated as naïvely imagined by Imran. The purported ‘imbalance’ in the US-Pak equation, marked by Imran’s criticism of the previous regimes for fighting ‘America’s war against terrorism’ is tantamount to half-truths, skullduggery and populism at its best.
His routine hatred directed at all other political parties for ‘their complete subservience to the US’ struck an emotional chord in a wounded and insulted nation, especially after the humiliating ‘taking out’ of Osama bin Laden, by the American forces.
Projecting a convenient martyr-syndrome on Pakistan’s fate owing to the recurring US-drone attacks on Pakistan’s sovereignty had pleased both the extremist elements and even the non-extremist Pakistanis, who were left squirming with no choice, after the US President Donald Trump’s own inelegant and brutal commentary on Pakistan ~ “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $ 33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit…” Contrary to the simplistic line of Imran’s angst over the implied contours and necessities of a ‘mutually beneficial’ equation, President Trump’s irate tweet echoed the frustration of the US over its perceived ‘imbalance’ of Pakistan’s non-reciprocity of the financial, diplomatic and military support given over the years.
Today the geopolitical shifts, constraints and opportunities have driven the Pakistanis into the willing embrace of the Chinese, with whom they share no civilisational, cultural or even religious compatibility, but for the bond of a common ‘enemy’ in India and access to an alternative purse-string.
The hard reality of the ‘Chinese Century’ and the emergence of India as the only plausible, viable and reliable ‘pivot’ against the portents of ‘Sinosphere’, has led to India’s increasing gravitation towards the US, at the binary cost of Pakistan.
Imran’s plainspeak on the Chinese pre-eminence was underscored as the first international country to be mentioned in his speech, with its perceived role in the Pakistani economic destiny. ‘Our economic crisis is such that we want to have good relations with all our neighbours … China gives us a huge opportunity through CPEC, to use it and drive investment into Pakistan’.
On the eve of Imran taking over as the Prime Minister, the US fired its first salvo and reasserted its own contrary sense of ‘imbalance’ with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning the International Monetary Fund against any financial bailout to the Pakistanis, to pay back its Chinese debts.
The feeble Pakistani attempts at delinking the IMF package from the CPEC commitments, typified the tensions of ‘duplicitousness’ that the US has been accusing the Pakistanis of regarding its ostensible ‘war on terror’.
Pakistan’s selective targeting and the incorrigible patronisation of certain terror groups is at the root of its Janus-faced reputation with the US, besides Kabul and Delhi. Now the realm of ‘duplicity’ is being questioned in the economic sphere, where the Pakistanis are stuck between the unfinished Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) imperatives and the crippling bills.
Parallel attempts at cosying up to Russia in order to overcome US pressures will only aggravate the strain, and the US has recently suspended the military training programme for Pakistan in the wake of reports that Islamabad might be inching towards Russia.
Imran Khan has done well to sell the anti-US line of “With the US, we want to have a mutually beneficial relationship … up until now, that has been one way”. Among his domestic constituents, however, he will need to muster extensive international support to pull him through the looming economic catastrophe.
A joint move by the US, UK, Germany and France under the aegis of the global watchdog agency, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has pulled up Pakistan for its insincere commitment on terror financing.
Imran will soon realise that alternatives to US support will not emerge soon enough or in the desired quantum. Additionally, the Pakistani armed forces use American technology and platforms that make the US spares invaluable for their upkeep and sustenance.
It is true that the US-Pak equation has its own selfish background, compulsions and emerging dimensions that may seem to be US-centric to the beleaguered Pakistanis who have been fed a certain selective narrative to downplay the role that the US has historically played in sustaining the Pakistani nation or more importantly, Pakistan’s own acts of commission and omission is to turn a blind eye to reality.
Today, the holistic composition of the term ‘mutually beneficial’ will willy-nilly entail Imran Khan to change tracks on various other fronts like Afghanistan, Kashmir etc. If he remains riveted to the standard Pakistan line as established by the ‘establishment’, he too will struggle to extract any meaningful or ‘mutually beneficial’ portents, as sought by him.
The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry