US Policy Makers In Dilemma over Imran Khan

Thousands of Pakistanis gather at a political rally for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party in Islamabad on Monday, April 4, 2022. Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday, April 7, 2022, overturned Khan’s move to dissolve Parliament, setting the stage for a no-confidence vote widely expected to remove him from office. (Saiyna Bashir/The New York Times)


By Arun Srivastava

Notwithstanding making use of best efforts to hide behind the façade of not being partisan, the USA administration could not conceal its shock and aversion to Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), emerging as the leader of the single largest group of PTI backed independents in the February 8 general elections. Joe Biden’s State department has to promise that it would work with the new Pakistani government as “Millions of Pakistanis made their voices heard at the polls on February 8”. It also assured “to advance our shared interests and strive to bolster democratic institutions and broaden political participation”. But this pledge does not reflect the real dilemma of the US foreign policy makers in finding Imran Khan winning the largest number of seats against all odds.

The USA had outright disapproved Imran’s policies towards Russia. Imran has been highly critical of US hegemony in Pakistan. He even went to Moscow, met Russian president Vladimir Putin and tried to build a nice working relationship with Russia. Joe Biden administration was quite distressed at his move as it would have lost a strong base in the south east Asia to its sworn enemy Russia. It is worth reminding that USA was angry with Imran “over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

However, Imran is faced with enormous challenge. Though his party leaders claim to have got majority, the fact cannot be denied that Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 75 seats is technically the single largest party in Parliament. Eventually Sharif would be summoned to form the government. In this backdrop the only urgent task before Imran is to float a new party consisting of the independent candidates loyal to him. Independents can do this. They are free. But the moot question is whether the Army will agree to any such proposition. Will the President invite this nature of conglomerate to form the government? Overall, 169 seats are needed to secure a simple majority out of a total of 336 seats in the National Assembly, which include the reserved slots for women and minorities which will be decided later.

Pakistan Army feels comfortable in the company of US administration. Successive Pakistani governments too have been maintaining cordial relation with America. It is worth recalling that America had sent its seventh fleet during Bangladesh liberation war in 1971 to help Pakistan. It is also a fact that Pakistan Army does not feel cozy on the prospect to work with Russia. Imran’s outbursts against both the army and the US after his ouster have been taken note seriously by Pentagon. US cannot afford to allow Pakistan, its close ally to be governed by such an anti-US political leader.

Years back the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, husband of slain leader, Benazir Bhutto, and the head of one of the two most powerful political parties of Pakistan, while threatening to expose the misdeeds of the army generals had cautioned them not to step into the political domain. After him, it was only Imran Khan posed some challenge to the military establishment of the country though in the initial years of his rule, he was the blue eyed boy of the Pakistani army. But Imran turned the most hated enemy of the army only after he started reaching out to the people and motivate the people to interact with the political system. Before Imran came to power the people abhorred politics and politicians. For them the army was perceived as the real ruler, who were their saviours and protectors.

Of course, Imran failed to put his promise on the ground but it was not entirely due to his own failings. Military establishment realising potential threat to its interest started manoeuvring politics and governance. It also foiled Imran’s attempt to reform politics. It was no more a secret that army was plotting against Imran when he was PM. With this Imran intensified its attack on army leadership. May 9, 2023 incident which shook the country, was equated with 9/11 incident by the Minister for Planning and Development AhsanIqbal saying that it was attack on Pakistan..The army took full advantage of that so did the two other rival parties.

The incident took place in retaliation of Imran’s arrest over corruption charges. Iqbal described it as “unprecedentedly irrational, unacceptable and not less than the 9/11 attacks carried out in the US in 2001”. The ramification of the agitation could be assessed from the remark of the prime minister Shehbaz Sharif; “Imran Khan was the mastermind of the unprecedented anti-government protests across Pakistan on May 9 and it was aimed at toppling the military leadership”. Dozens of military installations and government buildings, including the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, were damaged or torched during the riots.

While Imran Khan tried to usher in a new kind of populist politics in Pakistan, the army used the same technique to bring him down that it had used against his predecessors. To maintain the façade of democracy, the rulers held the elections but they were scared of participation of Imran in the electoral process which was why a number of obstacles were created for him. His party was not allowed to participate, symbol of his party frozen, a significant number of prominent PTI leaders were arrested.

With election over, Pakistan’s real test for parliamentary democracy will begin now. The anti-PTI forces in collusion with Army will strive to keep reenergized Imran out of power.. Significantly Pakistan is suffering with Asia’s highest inflation, which reached 29.7 per cent in December. It narrowly avoided a sovereign default last summer due to a $3 billion IMF bailout.

Victory of Imran Khan backed candidates in the election to the national assembly is a clear warning to the army and the PML-N-PPP combine. The voters have decisively rejected the army domination over the political parties notwithstanding the reign of repression unleashed by them. By terrorising and torturing the common people, they cannot succeed in their mission to maim the democratic rights and voice of the people. Most significant message that this massive victory conveyed to the people across the world, who are fighting autocratic rule is; it is not the party or its symbol instead it is the fortitude and resolve of the people to fight the anti-people forces that defines and diktats the politics and nature of governance.

Imran’s craving for real democracy, his use of social media to motivate Pakistan’s youth to commit for growth and strengthening of democratic institution have appealed to the Pak people who have been losing their interest in the traditional political parties. People have given Imran Khan a mandate. It is to see how wisely he takes advantage of the situation in influencing the course of mass politics in Pakistan. (IPA)