Is Imran Khan pulling off a foreign policy coup?

Published: January 27, 2019
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Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: PID

Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: PID

Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: PID The writer is recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

Is this real life or is this fantasy? Billions in aid pouring from the Saudis and Emiratis, with the Qataris and Chinese playing on as a follow-up act. Pakistan driving the peace process in Afghanistan, forcing a president like Trump to write a letter asking for our sincere help.

Throwing Modi’s ‘isolate Pakistan’ strategy into the dustbin of history, with a surgical strike to open hearts across the border, by allowing Sikh pilgrims to visit their holiest site in Pakistan.

The PTI may be struggling to get their act and messaging together on the economy and police reform but they’re hitting boundary after boundary in the foreign policy space.

If Imran Khan will go down in history as one of the greatest leaders to have ruled Pakistan, it won’t be because of his political acumen, economic policy or social justice reform. It’s his decisions in the foreign policy space that will be remembered and determine the future for generations to come in Pakistan and around the world.

In the next five years, America will withdraw from Afghanistan, triggering a new geo-political and security calculus in the region.

Meanwhile, a rising superpower, China, and a militarily strong but economically weakening superpower, America, will fight for global dominance with Pakistan being a primary playground for their power games. How Imran Khan leads Pakistan through these generational shifts in global power will determine his legacy.

First things first though. They say civilians don’t make foreign policy in Pakistan. In 2018, political leadership changed in Pakistan but military leadership has stayed constant.

And yet, there’s been a dramatic spring in Pakistan’s foreign policy steps after the elections. How do we explain the inexplicable? Perhaps pivoting from a civilian government that enjoyed low trust from the security establishment to one that enjoys high trust has allowed all the power brokers to focus on what’s best for the country versus point scoring for a domestic audience.

A second factor is that Pakistan’s long and bloody bet on Afghanistan is finally beginning to pay off.

We had calculated that America would lose interest in Afghanistan, with the persistent loss in blood and treasure. Despite my personal critique of this stance, it turns out that Pakistan’s security calculus was correct on Afghanistan.

After 18 bloody years of conflict, an inflection point is fast arriving and Pakistan holds all the right cards. Trump is ready to leave Afghanistan and Pakistan holds all the leverage, with India’s all eggs in one Afghan government basket scrambling to create a plan B.

Meanwhile, the aid from the Saudis and Emiratis are allowing Asad Umar, the Finance Minister, to negotiate a hard bargain with the IMF. This is something we have never done in our 70-year history. It’s easy to take money from the IMF in return for giving up sovereignty in our economic policy decision-making.

The path that the PTI is taking is far more daunting but rewarding in the long term. The latest mini-budget, presenting relief and industrialisation incentives, wouldn’t be possible if we had entered an agreement with the IMF. We have a real chance at breaking our cycle of begging and borrowing.

The real coup that Imran Khan and only Imran Khan can deliver is peace with India. A civilian government that enjoys a high level of support from the security establishment is the only power that can negotiate an end to our cold war with India.

When a new government takes over in India, it will be a once in a generation moment to begin paradigm changing talks. It wouldn’t hurt for cricketing ties to resume as a precursor to broader ties between the countries. Pakistan could tour India to break the ice.

In short, the PTI is off to a thumping start in the foreign policy space. They’re projecting an image of a country which is friendly with its neighbours and wants to pursue a constructive role to establish peace in the region.

A focus on economic diplomacy is paying dividends which can be leveraged to push through a real reform of the economy. Cheers to Imran Khan for being an architect of the rise and rise of Pakistan in the region.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2019.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Kamran
    Jan 27, 2019 - 10:51AM

    A good and brilliant foreign policy can lead to an economic recoveryRecommend

  • Maz
    Jan 27, 2019 - 11:16AM

    Have a heart. IK doesn’t have anything to do with foreign policy; we all know who calls the shots.
    The ones who selected him and artificially managed to bring him in are managing the puppet show by the way..Recommend

  • Patriot
    Jan 27, 2019 - 1:25PM

    For once something optimistic, instead of the usual all gloom and doom predictions!Recommend

  • Riaz ahmad
    Jan 27, 2019 - 2:40PM

    Imran Khan is a real and born leader with virtues of honesty, integrity, tnacity, iron will, kindness, phalanthropy, patriotism and valour, these virtues are extremely rare in Pakistan. He stood up to US do more bullying like a man, not like Nawaz Sharif who sat next to Obama in the white house like a Chaprasi. When the wold acknowledge Pakistan is lead by an honest and upright leader, they started respecting Pakistan and the benefits followed. No one respects a country lead by crooks thieves and money launderers.Recommend

  • Ali
    Jan 27, 2019 - 2:55PM

    Real coup will be if he can get FTA from Americans, in return for peace in Afghanistan. It is a bit too early to celebrate but Assad, Khand and Qureshi are on the right path for Pakistan.Recommend

  • Komal s
    Jan 27, 2019 - 2:56PM

    Imran, has definitely surprised on the foreign policy front. It is still too early to say how far it takes. The progress in Afghanistan is purely a trump call, it is for Pakistan to play a constructive call. Afghan talibans once they live away from the clutches of Pakistan, they will work with India better. India is in no hurry at the moment. It is happy to sit back and see how things play out. On Kartarpur, it is important to remember that it was the Pakistani general that broached the topic to Sidhu. Also the googly comment was not the best way to conduct foreign policy. Finally Musharraf was very successful in foreign policy during the early days. We know where it ended. Recommend

  • BrainBro
    Jan 27, 2019 - 5:48PM

    He’s taking the domain away from….which is not a good omen.Recommend

  • tahir
    Jan 27, 2019 - 10:53PM

    Reads like a superb fantasy novel. Dream on mon ami … but horses never do fly :)Recommend

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