If one were to look at two events in South Asia – the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, and the downfall of the Imran Khan led Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaaf (PTI) government in Pakistan, one of the points which clearly emerges is that while like other developing countries — both the South Asian nations — may have moved closer to China, there are pitfalls to being excessively dependent upon Beijing. Both countries, like many other nations, have often been accused of becoming excessively reliant upon China and falling into what has been dubbed as a ‘debt trap’ which leads not only to rising economic dependency — as a result of piling debts — but also Beijing dictating political choices.
External debts of Pakistan and Sri Lanka
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) according to estimates, in February 2022, had said that Pakistan owed $ 18.4 billion or 1/5th of its external debt to China, while Sri Lanka’s total debt to China is estimated at $ 8 billion, its total external debt is $ 45 billion. In the case of Pakistan, a lot of attention has been focused on Imran Khan’s independence stance on the Ukraine issue, and a possible external hand in his ouster, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition, led by PML-N Supremo Shahbaz Sharif, which is now in power has repeatedly pointed to Khan’s mismanagement of the economy, and the growing disillusionment of the public as well as erstwhile allies (one of the final blows to Khan’s hopes of staying in power was when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM) pulled out of the PTI alliance )as one of the key reasons for the ouster of the PTI government. While no political party can afford to say it, but Pakistan’s dependence upon China has begun to cause concern especially amongst sections of the business community – who are keen to diversify the country’s economic relations.
The dire economic crisis which has hit Sri Lanka has been attributed to multiple factors; economic mismanagement by the government, dip in remittances as well as a fall in tourism as a result of the covid 19 pandemic and over reliance on China.
Interestingly, while earlier Sri Lanka had refused to seek assistance from the IMF, it has been compelled to, as it is left with limited options A Sri Lankan team headed by newly appointed Finance Minister Ali Sabry is headed to Washington DC for negotiations with Washington DC. In an interview to Bloomberg television the Sri Lankan Finance Minister said, ‘We need immediate emergency funding to get Sri Lanka back on track’.
If one were to look at the instance of Pakistan, while Islamabad has become increasingly dependent upon China in recent years — especially as a result of its deterioration of ties with the US, and the $64 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor( CPEC) project — it has realized that while close economic relations with China are imperative, it can not allow its ties with the west to slide further. It is not only western analysts and US policy makers but even ministers in the previous Imran Khan led PTI government who had actually raised question marks with regard to the economic sustainability of certain CPEC projects. China had expressed its displeasure to Pakistan over the same.
One of the reasons cited for Imran Khan’s differences with the Pakistan army have been his Anti-West stance – the former PM accused the US of plotting his downfall, for following an independent foreign policy, pointing to a memo which said that, ‘… if the no-confidence motion passes, Pakistan will be forgiven, if not, there will be consequences.’ The US has repeatedly dismissed these charges levelled by Imran Khan.
Khan’s successor Shahbaz Sharif has given clear indicators that he will focus on relations with China and Saudi Arabia. He has also hinted at mending ties with the West. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a congratulatory message to the Pakistan PM said:
“The United States congratulates newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and we look forward to continuing our long-standing cooperation.
Pakistan is dependent upon the US and EU, since they are important export markets. During his address at the Islamabad Security Dialogue, Pakistan Army Chief while commenting on Pakistan-US ties had said:
‘we share a long and excellent strategic relationship with the US which remains our largest export market”.
Pakistan’s grey list status at Financial Action Task Force ( FATF) will also be in review in June 2022. Islamabad would need to mend ties with western countries, if it wants its grey list status to be removed. Pakistan is also likely to resume negotiations with the IMF for the 7th review of the $ 6 billion loan agreement which was signed with the IMF in 2019. For smooth negotiations with the IMF, a working relationship with Washington DC is essential.
In conclusion, while it is true that western institutions impose stringent conditions on developing countries and they are compelled to look for different options, excessive dependence upon China has its own pitfalls. It is time for South Asia to look inwards and focus on strengthening regional cooperation and realise that no external player can come up with sustainable solutions for dealing with the region’s economic challenges.
Was there a US-backed regime change in Pakistan?
The Imran Debacle and Challenges for Pakistan’s Foreign Policy
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India
Europe of Ukraine: Re-contextualization as a Road to Peace and Stability
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Layoffs in China’s Internet Giants an Indication of Deeper Dilemma
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Sri Lanka Faces Unsustainable Debt and Balance of Payment Challenges
A US-sponsored regime change is hardly new, and it does not take a student of history to cite examples of such transgressions. Guatemala, Congo, China, Libya, Palestinian Territories, Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Panama, Bolivia, and Poland are just a few countries where the US has interfered in the past. The Washington Post asserts that the “US tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War”. Purportedly, the most recent example of a US machination was in the ouster of Pakistan’s Imran Khan from premiership. And while the US State Department has denied any involvement – naturally – let us examine exactly what transpired in Pakistan, that has led to such strong suspicions of connivance or interference, US-backed or not.
The US and the Letter-gate Scandal
Imran Khan’s government was toppled via a vote of no confidence on 9 April 2022. This could have been a huge victory for democracy in Pakistan, as Imran Khan became the first PM to be ousted via a vote of no confidence. However, since the whole process was tainted by the letter-gate scandal, democracy is under fire again. The letter-gate scandal involves a threatening letter that Khan waved to his hundreds of thousands of supporters in Islamabad several weeks ago. He stated that the vote of no confidence, that had been brought in motion by the old guard of Pakistani politics [i.e. the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) etcetera – collectively known as the Pakistani Democratic Movement (PDM)] was in fact backed by a foreign power. Before even tabling the motion, the PDM had allegedly already begun buying PTI-dissident MNAs to ensure the success of the vote (details ahead).
As time passed, more light was shed on the obfuscated letter. The foreign power was revealed to be the US, and the threat was allegedly made by Donald Lu, a US diplomat focusing on South and Central Asia, to Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the US. The threat delineated that if the vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan fails, serious repercussions for Pakistan will follow. Oddly, though, this conversation between the two diplomats took place on March 7th, while the opposition tabled the vote of no-confidence on the 8th of March – the suspicious timing raising the eyebrows of the PTI government, and the informed masses. Imran Khan later brought the letter to the National Security Committee (NSC) – which includes the PM, 4 service chiefs, DG ISI, as well cabinet members. The committee endorsed the letter by stating that there was “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan by the country in question”. Donald Lu did not reject the conversation when he was asked by a journalist in India, but the State Department has rejected the allegations.
It was also alleged by the then-government that America was irked with Imran Khan’s tour of Russia despite Khan’s repeated claims that he wanted to avoid bloc politics and keep good relations with all countries. Moreover, it is assumed Imran Khan’s Pakistan-first propensities and his resolve to have an independent foreign policy were to the chagrin of the US.
As days went by, it was a common perception that besides the PDM, the media, and judiciary wanted Khan’s ouster as well. However, Imran Khan’s narrative of a foreign plot being implemented by internal actors to oust him gained massive traction, and renewed his waning popularity. In other words, it was Imran Khan (and the public) vs the PDM/West (a rigged and corrupt system) in the eyes of the nation. This kind of narrative is still popular, and on social media, Pakistanis are berating individuals and institutions that they think had a hand in removing Imran Khan.
The PDM’s actions perhaps elevated suspicions the most. As already, mentioned, the threatening letter was received on March 7th, 2022 according to the PTI government, and the PDM tabled the no-confidence vote on the 8th. Imran Khan subsequently brought the letter to the public’s awareness weeks later, on the 27th of March, during his rally in Islamabad. Let us examine what was materializing in Islamabad when Imran Khan had not yet revealed the letter.
During this time, the PDM had allegedly begun bribing sitting PTI-MNAs with money and seats for the next election. 12 PTI-MNAs had gone missing and later were found at Sindh House in the hands of the opposition. One of the dissidents, Raja Riaz, gave an interview where he said he would contest the next election using a PML-N platform. The interviewer grilled him on not resigning first, since his statement made it appear as if he is dissenting due to a promised potential seat in the next election. Later these MNAs were allegedly hidden in a hotel in Islamabad by PDM officials. Supposedly, there is CCTV footage showcasing the same, which the premier was aware of and he alluded to the same during his rallies.
Other peculiarities involved the meeting of PDM leaders and dissenting PTI-MNAs with US diplomats. Imran Khan has been vocal about this fact in his rallies. This report of several meetings was not only given to the PM but later reported by ARY’s Arshad Sharif (the video has close to a million views). The report stated that on 16 February 2022, dissenting PTI-MNA Noor Alam met with American diplomat Peter Joseph in Islamabad. Furthermore, William K. Makaneole, American Consul General in Lahore met with many PML-N and PPP politicians, and also met dissenting PTI heavyweight Aleem Khan on 7th March 2022. American political officer, Andrea Hillyer, met with PDM officials as well as Raja Riaz, a dissenting PTI-MNA. Other meetings of note include Makaneole’s meeting with Hamza Shahbaz (son of current Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif) on 3rd March 2022, and the American Consul General in Karachi Mark Stroh’s meeting with PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto on 24th February. He also met with MQM officials, and MQM which was a PTI-ally at the time, later joined the PDM in support of the no-confidence vote.
Another point of peculiarity was during the time Imran Khan endeavored to reveal the letter to all members of the National Assembly, as well as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The scandal’s magnitude was such that this exertion by Khan should have been met with open arms by the opposition – especially if their leaders had nothing to fear. Moreover, Khan proclaimed that the letter was proof of foreign interference and a threat to the sovereignty of the Nation – which should have brought all parties together. Unfortunately (and suspiciously) however, they avoided the government’s call for an in-house camera session on a few occasions. The new PM Shahbaz Sharif has stated however that he is willing to probe into the letter via an in-house camera session but whether this is mere rhetoric to placate public animosity, time will tell.
The Pakistani Media
The Pakistani media does not enjoy a good repute generally, with many media tycoons and journalists being lax when it comes to journalistic standards and bribes. Imran Khan, unlike his predecessors, however, did not believe in bribing or providing exorbitant government advertisements to media channels and anchors. This allowed his political opponents to use Pakistan’s sprawling media ecosystem against him. His personal life was repeatedly brought into the public discourse, and any missteps the government made would lead to his demonization constantly. Imran Khan’s wife, who has only done one interview in her life, and is an extremely private person, was frequently rebuked by the media and politicians using invalidated claims. While the entire blame cannot be pinned on the media (as Imran Khan’s government did make its fair share of economic and PR-related blunders) it was clear that most of the Pakistani media, that was once on the PTI bandwagon, had now abandoned him. Anchors like Saleem Safi, Hamid Mir, Najam Sethi spewed anti-Imran venom perennially, and barring a few media channels like ARY (considered pro-PTI), they were all after his blood.
Unsurprisingly then, during the letter-gate scandal, many anchors downplayed the threatening letter and implied that it was a futile attempt by the then-premier to hold on to power. There must have been some sort of humiliation felt by such media personnel when the NSC endorsed the veracity of the letter but such elements found other ways to undermine Khan.
During the impending vote of no-confidence, things became chaotic. The few anchors who favored Imran Khan were met with media blackouts. Imran Riaz Khan, an ardent supporter of Imran Khan, who was an extremely popular anchor on Samaa TV, was removed from his post. Samaa TV was recently bought by Aleem Khan, a former close aide of Mr. Imran Khan, who joined the PTI dissidents and supported the no-confidence vote. Imran Riaz Khan alluded to his firing from Samaa News on his YouTube Channel but remained adamant that it was a small sacrifice since he was on the right side of history. He has also stated (after Khan was ousted) that there were murmurings that he and other perceived pro-PTI journalists might be arrested. Another prominent journalist, Maleeha Hashmi was fired from her anchor position from Public News. She Tweeted “Public News has OFF AIRED me because I REFUSED to ATTACK #ImranKhan & Defend the Culprits of the Nation”. Furthermore, the house of Dr. Arsalan Khalid, the focal person for PTI’s digital media, was raided by unidentified persons and his family’s phones were confiscated. PTI strongly condemned this but the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), who were always very active in admonishing any media-related transgressions during PTI’s tenure, were oddly silent when all these offenses were happening. There are reports also that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has begun a crackdown on many social activists as well due to the overwhelming support for Imran Khan.
Pakistan’s Twitter has been full of pro-Imran Khan, anti-judiciary, and anti-institution sentiments. Although Imran Khan has refrained from attacking any institution and has pleaded to people to not undermine Pakistan’s institutions, the mass perception among the average Pakistani is that internal actors have helped throw Imran Khan’s government out via a foreign plot. Pakistan’s top Twitter trends include #Imported_Government_Unacceptable (in Urdu) with over 5 million tweets. The same Tweet was number 1 in other countries with a sizeable Pakistani diaspora such as the UAE, and also peaked at #2 worldwide on the 9th of April. Other Tweets that made it to the top with hundreds of thousands of tweets included pejorative hashtags against Pakistan’s judiciary, media, and PDM officials.
Amidst the horse-trading and letter-gate scandal, the judiciary dominated the airwaves. Pakistan’s then-President filed a reference to the Supreme Court to review Article 63(A), which they hoped would allow for a permanent disqualification of dissenting PTI-MNAs. It had been weeks, and even after the exodus of Imran Khan’s government, no decision has been made. Conversely, the Supreme Court took immediate suo moto action on a holiday, when PTI’s deputy speaker ruled out voting on the no-confidence motion due to the foreign letter, and the assemblies were dissolved. This ‘biased’ attitude of the SC angered the public. The lack of response to PTI’s reference of Article 63(A), vs the prompt suo moto of the speaker’s actions spoke volumes. Vis-à-vis the suo moto, the PTI government argued that the Constitution under Article 69 protects the NA and its members from judicial proceedings but the SC saw it contrarily. Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s decision not only arrived expeditiously, but more shockingly, it completely ignored the letter, the very essence of the case. The SC found the deputy speaker’s ruling unconstitutional and reversed the dissolution. A dispirited Imran Khan accepted the decision of the SC, but expressed consternation over the letter being overlooked. The controversy did not end here. Although some commentators heralded the SC’s decision, others were shocked how the Supreme Court overstepped its authority by micromanaging the NA’s business. It ordered the NA to convene on the 9th of April and conduct the vote of no confidence – and even gave a schedule of proceedings. The SC’s micromanaging started a debate in the public discourse regarding the disregard for the sovereignty of the NA. Citizens stated that the SC could have placated the nation’s animosity if they had at least ordered a probe into the merits of the letter.
On 9th April, when the NA was ordered to hold the vote of no-confidence, the speaker assured everyone that the vote will be carried out, but the government initiated delaying tactics by initiating a debate. The opposition stated that they would stay in the NA until the court orders were fulfilled. Close to midnight, when the ‘crime’ had not yet happened,the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court’s doors miraculously opened – perhaps for the first time in the country’s history. The Chief Justice and other justices made their way to the court, and the implication was that if the government did not conduct the vote before midnight, it would be considered a contempt of court. This could mean substantial jail time and disbarment for PTI officials, and maybe even disqualification of Imran Khan in the next elections. All eyes were glued to TV and mobile screens as people had no idea what would happen. As the dust settled, the anger over the Supreme Court’s culpability grew, as people perceived the opening of courts at odd hours and on declared holidays to make decisions detrimental to PTI as a conspiracy. The masses called foul and took to social media to berate the SC’s moves, saying that justice for rape, murder, and other heinous cases should also be given with the same urgency as was shown with regards to the ousting of Imran Khan.
Pakistanis have come out over the alleged foreign machination aided by internal actors en masse. Imran Khan has begun his string of rallies and is planning to capture more momentum as he demands early elections. The current hodgepodge government of the PDM has many economic and political hurdles to overcome but their biggest hurdle is a renewed Imran Khan, who ironically they helped reinvigorate. The ex-PTI government is still discussing the letter in their rallies, and is adamant that they have been ousted because of foreign interference. Many Pakistanis are wholeheartedly accepting this narrative at home and abroad, and it does not take much to notice why. In the last few weeks of Imran Khan’s government, the average Pakistani perceives that the West, PDM, dissident PTI-MNAs, the media, and judiciary all colluded together to deseat the premier – and it is not surprising why they would think this. Currently, Imran Khan is seen as a lone wolf who stood against US hegemony. He is the one that said “absolutely not” if the US were to ask for military bases. He is the one the public saw as being able to stand his ground against US pressures. One cannot claim for sure that there was a foreign conspiracy at the back of all this – but given the US’ harrowing past of regime change – and Pakistan’s pre-Imran Khan yes-man inclinations, would it be that surprising?
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan becomes yet another Prime Minister in the South Asian nation’s history who failed to complete a full five year term. Losing the no confidence motion in the National Assembly earlier this week, Imran Khan has left behind a trail of foreign policy challenges for the new government.
The Dramatic Rise and Fall
Imran Khan won the Prime Ministerial elections in 2018 by securing 110 out of 294 seats in the 2018 elections which were quickly alleged to be rigged. Coming to power after more than a decade of stepping into politics, the former cricketer promised to change the course of Pakistan’s elite dominated politics in his inaugural speech by formulating pro-poor policies, establishing peaceful relations with India, crafting beneficial relations with the United States, maintaining good relations with China, balancing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and bringing peace to Afghanistan. He promised to mend the economy, make the rich pay taxes, create jobs and mend relations with the turbulent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs).
However, he fell short of all his promises. His policies to usher in a “Naya Pakistan” (“New Pakistan”) miserably failed on all fronts from economy to domestic and foreign policy.
Contrary to raising lifestyles as promised, his regime saw the pauperisation of the middle class as the country grappled with one of its worst inflation crises. As per the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the Consumer Price Index rose to 13%, its highest in two years in January 2022. The prices of essential food items rose to 15.1%. Moreover, Khan’s comments that he ‘did not join politics to decide the price of potatoes and tomatoes’ angered the populace. Unemployment also surged with Pakistan Institute of Development Economics reporting 31% of the youth to be unemployed, 51% of them being women. His regime was also marked by massive economic mismanagement. The World Bank has slashed Pakistan’s economic growth rate forecast to 4.3%, a drop of one percent from last year, blaming the energy subsidies of the outgoing regime which destabilised the IMF programme.
Mr. Khan seemed to be on a fallout with both progressive and conservative sections.
While his derogatory remarks on women and support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan drew flak from liberal and progressive sections, he failed to woo the conservative elements as evident in a massive series of rallies led by the religious leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the powerful right wing party, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F) who alleged him of coming to power through rigged elections. Rehman joined the other opposition parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) to form a cross party coalition called the Pakistan Democracy Movement which demanded Imran Khan’s resignation. Though the movement eventually fizzled out, the opposition continued to raise demands of passing a no-confidence motion against Imran.
Soon the demand gained momentum and calls for ousting the Imran government strengthened. In a live address to the nation, Imran Khan left no stone unturned to save face by defining the move against him as a “foreign conspiracy” and demanding people to hit the streets against it. However, none of this worked as the Supreme Court of Pakistan allowed for a no-confidence motion to take place in the National Assembly which had been rejected by the Speaker. After a day full of political drama, Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party government was ousted at midnight, making Imran Khan Pakistan’s first Prime Minister to be ousted through a no-confidence motion. PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been elected the new Prime Minister. The PTI boycotted the session and Imran resigned from the Parliament stating an unwillingness to “sit alongside thieves”.
With Imran gone, the new government has a lot many challenges to deal with specifically on the foreign policy front.
In his address to the nation days before being ousted, Imran Khan squarely placed the blame for the chaos on the opposition parties and their ‘foreign collaborators’.
He took a trip down the memory lane fondly remembering Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a prosperous Pakistan which he claimed was meant to stand on the legs of “insaniyat” (humanity) and “khudaari” (self respect) but had been miserably failed by the elite political nexus that has been ruling Pakistan for the past eight decades. Crafting himself in the same light as Jinnah, Imran made every attempt to distinguish himself from the opposition leaders by stating that he has no vested interests in politics unlike the rest.
Imran has been openly criticising General Musharraf’s compliance with the United States’ War on Terror which he stated brought immense suffering to both Pakistanis abroad and those who inhabit the FATA regions. Placing the events in the light of Pakistani leadership’s “fear” of the US, Imran pointed to how Islamabad was betrayed by Washington who did not prove to be as supportive.
His address was centred around a letter which he stated in a slip of tongue was received from the United States but soon retracted claiming it to be a “foreign country, not the United States” which allegedly claimed that Pakistan would ‘face consequences if Imran is not ousted’. The piece of paper has made repeated appearances at Imran’s recent rallies, waved to a crowd of hundreds to portray him as the only leader who dared to show teeth to the foreign powers for guarding Pakistan’s dignity.
According to Imran, the letter is a consequence of his meeting with Russian’s Vladimir Putin, days before the ongoing Moscow led invasion of Ukraine which Islamabad has abstained from criticising. Khan had previously criticised the alleged pressure put on Pakistan to come out in open support of Ukraine by claiming that Islamabad is ‘not a slave of the Western powers’. Emphasising on Pakistan’s sovereign right to chart an independent foreign policy course without being influenced by any foreign power, Imran has created a discourse where only an independent leader with no strings attached to any foreign power or vested interests such as himself could restore the khudaari that Pakistan was meant to symbolise while painting all other leaders in a grim light of being collaborators who keep their petty interests over those of the nation.
However, restoring Khudaari would not be an easy task. As Pakistan knocks on the IMF’s door again for yet another bailout while already drowning in debt from both the United States and China, it is nearly impossible for it to have an independent foreign policy which would be influenced by either of the powers, whichever pays more.
Between Washington and Beijing
The harsh criticism that Imran has spewed against the United States is reflective of a bleak reality. While the United States continues to be a top investor, Islamabad, which was once the path through which the United States reached out to Beijing resulting in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, is no longer relevant for Washington post the withdrawal from Afghanistan, who sees India as a possible power to curb the growing influence of China as reflected in the decision to form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad.
The United States President Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed concerns over Pakistani soil being used as a safe haven for terrorism. While Islamabad has continuously escaped the FATF’s black list, the issue coupled with its falling significance in American eyes has tarnished bilateral relations to the extent that Biden has not even cared to meet Imran since attaining power in 2020.
Mr. Khan’s open criticism of the United States has also irked the military which remained ‘neutral’ when the former, who was once their blue eyed boy, was being ousted.
Moreover, the Imran government has clearly allied Pakistan with the China-Russia nexus on the Ukraine issue. While many nations like India and South Korea have similarly refrained from sanctioning Russia, China and now Pakistan have come out in clear defense of Russia and its ‘legitimate security concerns’ while mooting the discourse on clearly allying with it either. Imran has also routinely praised China’s foreign policy describing it as a good friend.
The friendship between Islamabad and Beijing dates back to the 1960s. Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognise the Communist regime in 1949 as well as the first non-Communist regime to have direct airline connectivity with China. At that time, Pakistan was a staunch ally of the US and a member of both the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO). Washington’s refusal to aid Pakistan during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War made Islamabad drift closer to China which shared a common animosity towards India. However, Beijing did little to help its ally during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War when East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) was severed from the country.
Though China has not signed any major mutual defence agreement with Pakistan, the extent of its economic aid is unparalleled, evident in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路).
Originally valued at US$ 47 billion, CPEC’s estimated value in 2020 rose to US$ 62 billion. As per official records, 20% of CPEC is debt-based financed while 80% are investments in Joint Ventures. The project is expected to create 40,000 jobs for Pakistanis and is expected to boost the economy by enhancing connectivity and transportation which will benefit the agrarian and industrial sectors. Beijing offers Islamabad low-interest loans which critics like the United States and India have labelled as its “debt diplomacy”. Though Pakistan claims it to be equity-based financing, it is drowned in massive debt which increased the debt-to-GDP ratio by 6 percentage points from 67% in 2016-17 to 73% in 2017-18. With a sluggish economy, chances of repayment are razor-thin. Moreover, the project remains only partially functional and has shown sluggish progress which has created friction between China and Pakistan.
While a regime change would definitely better ties with the United States, to what extent Pakistan would delink with China and re-ally with Washington on issues such as the Ukrainian crisis where both stand diametrically opposed would be a major challenge.
Though marked with certain positive developments such as the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for pilgrimage, the Imran government has failed to make a major breakthrough in rekindling relations with India as top level peace talks and track two diplomacy remain non-existent.
Apart from raising the age-old rhetoric of Pakistani sovereign claims over Kashmir, his last few days in office saw Imran showering praises on India for leading an “independent and people-oriented” foreign policy which he finds to be lacking in his country. His pro-India statements have drawn flak from opposition leaders like Maryam Nawaz who now lead the government. With the new Prime Minister already spewing criticism against India, mending bilateral relations remains a crucial challenge, for the failure of the new regime in negotiating with India would only make Imran come out looking better.
Imran Khan’s open affinities with the newly established Taliban regime in Afghanistan, with statements such as Taliban has “broken down the shackles of slavery“, as part of an anti-US move would also be a major challenge for the new regime. Though the opposition parties including the PML-N had emphasised on the takeover being an “internal matter” of Kabul, 55% of the Pakistanis expressed satisfaction with the takeover, pointing to a rising wave of radical conservatism. While this rhetoric would be mellowed down as the new regime would try to ease tensions with the US left behind by Imran, simultaneously negotiating with the Taliban would be difficult, for the Taliban possesses the capacity to infiltrate Islamabad’s already volatile regions of FATA and establish terror hubs there.
Relations with West Asia have also been strained specifically after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi blasted the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), blaming it for failing to take a hardline stance against India’s conversion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into a centrally administered Union territory.
Qureshi’s words infuriated Islamabad’s ally Saudi Arabia which froze a US $3.2 billion oil credit facility to Pakistan and demanded early partial repayment of a US $3 billion loan. General Qamar Bajwa visited Riyadh in order to ease tensions however, ties remain strained. Saudi eyes closer relations with New Delhi and Beijing as part of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 which aims to modernise the Saudi economy and make it less dependent on oil. However, owing to its economic dependence, Pakistan can not afford to isolate Saudi Arabia and tried hard to mend ties.
Another fallout soon came when Riyadh turned down Pakistan embassy’s request to observe public events on October 27, the day Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, as a ‘Black Day’. Iran also declined such requests, spoiling Mr. Khan’s dreams of playing a major role in mediating between the two rival powers.
Many Pakistan watchers noted that such a disenchantment stemmed from Islamabad’s embrace of the Erdogan regime in Turkey, whose ambitions in the region have irked both Riyadh and Tehran.
The Shadow of Imran
Though out of both the office and the National Assembly, the shadow of Imran Khan still lurks in Pakistan’s politics.
First, A national cricket hero, Mr. Khan still remains a charismatic leader among the radicals, upper middle class as well as Pakistanis abroad as depicted in the large crowd that hit the streets on his emotive calls to restore Pakistan’s self respect vis à vis the ‘foreign collaborators’.
Second, Mr. Khan has efficiently encashed his image to dangerously destabilise popular faith in the functionality of Pakistan’s democracy, which needless to say remains defunct. His constant claims of the new regime being a ‘foreign import’, the suspicions over the no-confidence vote as a ‘foreign conspiracy’ and recently, questioning the impartiality of the judicial order that gave a green light to the no-confidence motion against him work against the spirit of democracy and would pose a grave challenge to the new regime.
Third, Imran and his PTI have been masters of street campaigning and would leave no stone unturned to challenge the legitimacy of the new regime at every level.
Fourth, though inefficient, the hard reality is that Imran Khan is one of the few faces which do not form a part of the elite family nexus of Pakistani politics which has hampered the development of democracy in the South Asian country. While the alleged level of American interference is unfounded, it cannot be denied that past regimes in Pakistan have kept democracy at stake to pursue their own vested interests. As a person aloof from such notorious family nexus, Mr. Khan might recuperate support in his favour.
Fifth and most importantly, Imran Khan has commenced a dialogue with regard to Pakistan’s foreign policy in the public realm which seems to have no end. The dialogue around khudaari, that he himself forgot during three and a half years of his rule, would act as a parameter on the basis of which all future governments might be judged and opposed. While chances are that it might dissipate, the anti-West or to put more precisely, the Anti-American attitude that has been created in the region, reflected in both the rise of Taliban and the anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan on Imran’s call, points to the fact that it might intensify to become a permanent feature of Pakistan’s political life where too much affinity with Washington might be perceived as being antithetical to national interests.
While only time would tell how far Imran Khan would be able to impact the course of Pakistan’s politics, the whole episode points yet again to the pressing need of bringing in structural reforms so as to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s prime minister Iran Khan was ousted through a vote of no confidence. Since his removal, he has been crying hoarse that his unceremonious ouster was an upshot of US regime change policy. The US punished him through his proxies for daring to visit Russia and also for trying to forge an independent policy.
The public opinion in Pakistan is divided. His supporters trust his words at face value while his opponents take his claims with a pinch of salt. The USA was initially so embarrassed that it denied any intervention in Pakistan’s internal politics. The USA’s stance was fortified by Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s judgment that smelt no rat behind the no-confidence move.
But, then, the US’s “principled” stance has been debilitated by another instance. At the conclusion of the two-plus-two dialogue, the US over-ebulliently mentioned Pakistan in the communiqué. The joint statement stated:
. The Ministers strongly condemned any use of terrorist proxies and cross-border terrorism in all its forms and called for the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack, and Pathankot attack, to be brought to justice. They called for concerted action against all terrorist groups, including groups proscribed by the UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee, such as al-Qa’ida, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizb ul Mujahideen. The Ministers called on Pakistan to take immediate, sustained, and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks. The Ministers committed to continued exchange of information about sanctions and designations against terror groups and individuals, countering violent radicalism, use of the Internet for terrorist purposes, and cross-border movement of terrorists. The Ministers also emphasized the importance of upholding international standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism by all countries, consistent with FATF recommendations.
The skewed remarks concerning Pakistan (as also about Afghanistan) were unwarranted. The dialogue was essentially meant to take stock of the situation emerging from role of critical and emerging technologies in the new world order. Or to examine how to further strengthen the QUAD as a bulwark against China.
India’s nexus with the US as a “partner in arms” against China is no secret. In 2020, India’s Ministry of External Affairs announced the establishment of the New, Emerging and Strategic Technologies Division, which will engage in technology diplomacy and deal with foreign policy and international legal aspects of the critical and emerging technologies. The US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, in its October 2020 report, asked the State Department and Defence Department to formally negotiate with India on developing cooperation in emerging technologies. It urged the administration to create a US-India Strategic Tech Alliance with an objective to make India a focal point of the American foreign policy and an overarching Indo-Pacific strategy focused on emerging technology and India’s increasingly important geo-political role.
In March 2021, the two sides launched the US-India Artificial Intelligence Initiative to scale up science and technology cooperation. The two countries also joined the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) in June 2020 as founding members to support the responsible and human centric development and use of AI.
In 2016 meanwhile, for advancing defence and strategic technology cooperation, the US recognised India as a Major Defence Partner .The two sides have also signed the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), which protects classified information and technology being used in the defence transfers of co-production involving private companies, and the Statement of Intent on science and technology cooperation. The two sides also completed the signing of the foundational agreements, that is, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement in 2018, and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation in 2020 which will further facilitate defence and strategic technology cooperation. During the first Quad Leadership Summit in March 2021, the leaders of Australia, Japan, India and the US launched a working group on critical and emerging technologies
Indo US bonhomie boosts trade
India-US trade has increased from $19 billion in 2000 to $146.1 billion in 2019. India-US defence trade increased from almost negligible volume before 2008 to over $21 billion in 2021. The US export to India reached $27.4 billion in 2020. Only 1.9 per cent of India’s exports were subject to the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry Security (BIS)-licence requirement. The US exported 9.2 per cent under BIS no licence required and 1.2 per cent under a BIS licence exception. As such, the US emerged as a key
A point to ponder
At the end of the dialogue, a joint press briefing was held. It was attended by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishanker and India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh. At this briefing the US spokesperson, Blinken said:
“We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials”.
Blinker’s sentiments are not incorporated not the communiqué. Besides, India did not bother to even address the concern expressed though without mention of specific instances.
Blinker’s remarks came days after US Representative Ilhan Omar questioned the alleged reluctance of the U.S. government to criticize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on human rights.
Omar, who belongs to President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, said last week, “What does Modi need to do to India’s Muslim population before we will stop considering them a partner in peace?”
Since Modi came to power, right-wing Hindu groups have launched attacks on minorities. The BJP government passed anti-conversion laws, lynched Muslim prayer goers, banned hijab, and even petitioned the court against use of loudspeakers by mosques. The disputed Kashmir was annexed as a union territory to be controlled by the centre after divesting it of statehood.
India is habitual of blaming Pakistan for all its terrorist incidents. Investigation in almost all the cases is slipshod and evidence porous. The US and India see Lashkar-e-Tyyaba behind every `terror’ act in Kashmir or elsewhere in India. For instance, documentary analysis shows secretive Mumbai trials were translucent (Davidson, Betrayal of India: Revisiting the 26/11 Evidence).
Several questions, given heretofore come to mind about India’s `charge sheet’ on Pakistan about Pulwama incident: (a) Why did India bank on the FBI when it already possessed all communications from Pakistan? Isn’t there collusion between the FBI and India? (b) Why did India blame Pakistan even before the forensic-lab and National Investigation Agency investigation report? (c) Why are there differing reports about the weight of the RDX used? The Indian Express speculated `High-grade RDX explosive, weighing about 80 kilograms, was used in the suicide attack’. The Hindu estimated 100-150 kg. (d) Why was a private vehicle allowed to approach the scene of an incident in violation of the CRPF Standing Operating Procedures? The CRPF’s Standing Operating Procedure required movement of up to 100 persons in a convoy. Why has the CRPF been moving such convoys, comprising more than 2,500 personnel each, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. In the past fortnight, two such convoys had moved from Jammu to Srinagar. The latest was on February 4, with a convoy of 91 vehicles and 2,871 personnel’. (e) Why could the convoy not spot the lonely suicide vehicle trailing behind? (f) How did the terrorists know the convoy movement was delayed by two days? (g) How did they remain undetected while loading the vehicle with explosives the whole day? (h) Not only WhatsApp but also landlines have never been accessible even in Hindu-majority Jammu (occupied Kashmir). Then how come the FBI has told the NIA about the WhatsApp group operated by a member of the terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad who was in contact with the people who carried out the attack on Pulwama? (i) According to the FBI, a man called Mohammed Hussain was operating the WhatsApp group, from Muzaffarabad. But the number was registered under the name of Jameela from Budgam’ (INDIA NEWS NETWORK, August 27).
Despite ups and downs, the Pak-US relations have sustained. The USA still needs Pakistan’s cooperation to steer its policies in Afghanistan. Imran khan is a charismatic leader. Till general elections are held in Pakistan after a year and half, the ousted prime minister will have turned a majority of Pakistanis into a USA-hating mob. Such an eventuality would set at naught the US efforts to stay dear with the majority of the Pakistani population.
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