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Mainstream, VOL LX No 16, New Delhi, April 9, 2022

Pakistan: Will People Buy Into the Claim That Imran is a Victim of a Foreign Conspiracy ? | Mahendra Ved

Friday 8 April 2022, by Mahendra Ved

If only Imran Khan and his government had gracefully resigned when his majority support was not challenged, had recommended dissolution of the National Assembly and opted for a snap poll, he would have remained the caretaker, possibly with a huge advantage over his political opponents.

Beleaguered democratic leaders do this the world over. But this is counsel of the unversed. Politics does not work that way, not in Pakistan and not with Imran. Had he accepted a leg-before wicket, the country would have been spared the mayhem in the Assembly and on the streets, leaving the Supreme Court to push a legally and constitutionally vitiated process in the reverse gear.

But then, he is not a free agent, overcome by hubris, surrounded by the most wrong advisers. He failed to realise when those who put him in power grew tired of his mis-governance and antics, and angry with his igniting a diplomatic forest fire with the United States, the biggest of benefactors Pakistan badly needs.

When Khan saw in his ‘conspiracy’ bogey a way of bypassing the constitutional process and inciting ‘patriotic’ sentiments to ensure future electoral gains, Pakistan’s ‘Establishment’ that has since its birth enjoyed, and immensely benefitted from, immense proximity with the American ‘Establishment’ had to take a ‘neutral’ line – enough to damn Khan.

Not just that, Imran Khan did not heed numerous warnings from none less than the Army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who publically attempted damage control by abjuring global “camp politics” and condemning Russia’s action in Ukraine as an ‘invasion’ that must end. Khan failed to realise that he had blown away the “same page” fig-leaf with the ‘establishment’.

Khan mounted his “foreign conspiracy” bogey on his ill-timed meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin just when Ukraine’s invasion began. Now, the alleged “foreign conspirators” are doing all they can to ‘save’ Ukraine and go after Putin. And Putin, in turn, reinforces Khan’s conspiracy charge, accusing Washington of ‘punishing’ the Pakistani PM for witnessing what Khan had called “exciting times.”

He unleashed a ‘lettergate’, basing it on an internal memo that Pakistan’s then envoy in Washington had sent after his talk with US State Department official Donald Lu. This was not the first ‘memo’ and Khan was not the first target.

F H Aijazuddin, writing in Dawn (April 7, 2022), talks of two that came in 1999, and concerned India. The first occurred after high commissioner Jehangir Ashraf Qazi sent a confidential report to the Foreign Office on a speech made by Friday Times editor Najam Sethi in New Delhi on April 30, 1999. Sethi had described Pakistan as a “failing state [,] in the throes of multiple crises, including a breakdown of law and order, civil society, national security and identity”. This internal report was released by then PM Nawaz Sharif. Sethi was then accused of undermining the “safety, security and sovereignty” of Pakistan, and arrested for committing “the most contemptible treachery” on “enemy soil”.

The second memo happened after Pakistan’s incursions in Kargil. Then US President Bill Clinton ordered the release of the minutes of their meeting with Nawaz Sharif on July 4, when the latter agreed to withdraw Pakistani troops from the Indian territory.

“Returning to Pakistan, PM Sharif tried to renege on his undertaking to withdraw. An infuriated Clinton ordered the minutes to be released, exposing Sharif’s attempted duplicity,” Aijzuddin recalls.

That it ignited a fire between Nawaz and then Army Chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, eventually leading to the latter ousting the former is part of history.

In Imran’s case, too, the “Lettergate” is the last straw – and he is clutching at it even the adverse Supreme Court verdict, making it what he called the “trump card” of his campaign against all his detractors, including the apex court. But he has to explain many things, including the missive’s time-line.

If he had received it from Washington on March 7, why did he keep quiet for three weeks? Why was the US’ Under Secretary invited to the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC)’s conference on March 21, and shown-off, like Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi? Ms Uzra Zeya, the Indian-American diplomat in question, once held a key position at the US mission in New Delhi and knows South Asia well.

In politics, as in diplomacy, ironies never cease. One may discern elements of a resumed Cold War. But the Ukraine conflict promises to rage irrespective of what happens to Khan’s political future.

Khan keeps harking back to his cricketing-day glory. But the cold war has never been the fair game cricket once was. In any case, values and norms of Khan’s political cricket are vastly different. The man who promised to play “till the last ball,” sought to run away with the ball and in terms of his country’s Constitution, even dug up the proverbial pitch before the match could start.

Khan has repeated his “till the last ball” threat. Hence, no illusions need be entertained about Pakistan’s current ball game. In days to come, the drama in Islamabad’s Red Zone threatens to go into overdrive. Khan may also keep his other threat of proving “more dangerous” if out of power.

He will not be alone and not the only one to seek support of bodies that arouse public sentiments in the name of the faith and take to the streets. One of the major ones, now a registered political party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik-ePakistan (TLP), a prospective alley of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has demanded that the Supreme Court investigate the “conspiracy to wrap up the Constitution and impose presidential system.”

These elements influence other parties as well and pose a challenge to the much-vaunted ‘establishment’. In 20018, it moved away from the ‘dynasties’ that lead the two mainstream parties, Sharifs’ Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party of the Bhutto-Zardaris. Since its experiment with Imran Khan has failed, it must choose its proxy(ies) carefully – for Pakistan’s welfare and its own relevance.

(Author: Mahendra Ved is Editor, thecommonwealthnews.com, a Columnist at Lokmarg.com and President Emeritus, Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA)

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