Burning the house down

We have found that, much like Trump, Imran would rather spit on democracy than admit defeat

Vaqas Asghar April 06, 2022
The writer is a senior journalist based in USA


Imran Khan’s two decades of painting himself as Pakistan’s saviour and someone willing to sacrifice everything for the country have culminated with him trying to burn the house down.

Imran’s critics had long warned of his recklessness and lack of interest in actual governance — among the reasons he was compared with former US president Donald Trump — but his supporters and some open-minded neutrals remained hopeful that he would tone it down and rise to the office. Four years into his premiership, we have found that, much like Trump, Imran would rather spit on democracy than admit defeat.

Despite years of being asked to tone down his language, Imran continues to use loaded religious rhetoric while hurling accusations of treason at his opponents, and even people who simply do not support him. After his speeches in recent weeks, where his language has bordered on the fascistic, it would be ironic if he ends up facing treason charges under Article 6 for his assault on the Constitution.

His criticism of status quo politics ended the minute he took office. In fact, the only reason he became prime minister was that he dove head-first into the status quo, horse-trading his way to a majority after making deals with parties and individuals that he once accused of misgovernance and corruption and much, much worse.

Several of his allies remained above the law until they dared to step out of line. People known to be bankrolling the PTI were given special favours even after being found guilty of various crimes and election violations.

Imran may tout his achievements, such as the expansion of health insurance and income support projects and record export figures, but he will blame his opponents for the fact that poverty has increased under his watch, and that those export figures are dwarfed by record imports, devaluation, inflation, and abject growth figures over the course of his premiership.

But all of this is superseded by the potentially criminal ‘surprise’ he sprung on the nation on Sunday.

Imran thrust his nonsensical conspiracy theory upon the country by claiming an everyday diplomatic interaction was an attempt at regime change.

This may sell well to his most fanatical supporters, but from what Imran and the PTI claim, all the US official said was that Washington doesn’t see itself working with Imran’s government due to his foreign policy choices and anti-Americanism.

As for his ‘advance knowledge’ of the no-confidence motion, all and sundry — including Imran — knew it was about to happen. The move has been brewing for months and has been widely reported, beginning well before any of the recent foreign policy decisions that PTI leaders cite.

Washington bureaucrats could find this information in any Pakistani newspaper without involving the CIA.

This is why Imran could not even get the National Security Council to back his claims. Even the NSC statement that was eventually issued could be considered an attempt to save face, since the “undiplomatic” language used was behind closed doors and not meant for public consumption.

Was motivating his base worth potentially violating the Official Secrets Act?

Several experienced journalists have been privy to such conversations. Ahead of the 2013 elections, the envoy of a major non-Nato western power asked for my opinion on who would win the elections, and, after criticising the PPP government, asked if his country and its aid agencies would be able to work with the PTI if they were to form a government in Islamabad or the provinces.

EU envoys regularly asked journalists — including some of Imran’s cheerleaders — about whether tying certain human rights commitments to GSP+ trade status would be an effective strategy. This was not a violation of norms. It is a standard diplomatic practice to seek a view of the situation on the ground through informal discussions, and it is a common journalistic practice to speak with diplomats since they regularly interact with top government and opposition figures — including Imran when the PTI was in the opposition.

But if Imran is so convinced that the Americans were trying to oust him, why has he not sent American diplomats packing and recalled our top officials? Why did he not send EU ambassadors packing after badmouthing them? Is he afraid of becoming a pariah? Or is it because this was always political rhetoric designed to divert from his failures at home and abroad?

The unfortunate reality is that pursuing an independent foreign policy requires a country to be self-sufficient. Pakistan’s economy is dependent on foreign aid. Imran can’t tell off the western powers and then claim mistreatment when they refuse to put anything in our “begging bowl”, as he called it.

Even in this, Imran was inconsistent, to say the least. He criticised the ‘Western’ lenders but willingly took costly loans from other sources and tried to portray them as good deals.

If Imran really had the courage of his convictions, he would have stuck to his promise to not go running to the IMF, even after his team’s disastrous economic policymaking tanked the economy. He would not have pushed policies that choked the poor and middle class while granting amnesties to the rich and benefits to the overseas Pakistanis.

Coming back to Sunday, in the face of certain defeat, Imran could have either resigned with his dignity intact. Conversely, he could have stuck to his word and gone down fighting after a parliamentary vote. But neither option was acceptable to his ego. Instead, he chose to embarrass the entire country and create a constitutional crisis.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, one thing is certain — Imran Khan may not have lost, but Pakistan certainly has.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2022.

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