Monday, August 21, 2023

Pakistan's Political Crisis: Did Washington Cause "Regime Change" in Islamabad?

Did the U.S. make it clear to Pakistan in 2022 that Imran Khan was not acceptable as the prime minister of the South Asian country? Did the Pakistani military then use the Opposition parties led by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari to remove Imran Khan from power through a successful No-Confidence vote in the parliament? The answer to both of these questions appears to be a resounding "yes" based on the leaked contents of a secret diplomatic cable, the actions of the Opposition politicians and the attempts to dismantle the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the jailing of Imran Khan on trumped-up charges. These events have created significant political instability in the country and prompted former US National Security Advisor John Bolton to urge the Biden administration to take a clear position before the “terrorists, China and Russia take advantage” of the situation.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan (L) and General Asim Munir

Diplomatic Cable:

A leaked diplomatic cable from Pakistani Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan quotes Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia in the Biden Administration, as saying,  “I think if the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington because the Russia visit is being looked at as a decision by the Prime Minister. Otherwise, I think it will be tough going ahead.”

In answer to a question at a recent press conference, the US State Department spokesman Mathew Miller has essentially confirmed the contents of the diplomatic cable. 

This appears to have been enough for the then Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa to orchestrate the passage of the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan with the help of Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and other politicians who ganged up on Imran Khan. 

PTI Dismantled, Imran Khan Jailed:

The Pakistani military did not just content itself with removing Imran Khan from power. A campaign to dismantle Khan's political party, the largest party in the country that ruled the country and two of its four provinces, is in full swing. A Gallup poll in February this year reported that 61% of voters approved of Imran Khan. His support is the strongest among young people who make up the bulk of the population. 

The jailing of Imran Khan and mass arrests of his party members are sending a clear signal that Pakistan's most popular leader, based on recent polls, is no longer acceptable to the military. The US government has remained silent in the middle of this mass crackdown in Pakistan. Washington appears to be unconcerned about civil liberties and democracy in Pakistan. 

US Interests in South Asia:

Are the US interests in South Asia best served by destabilizing strategically-located nuclear-armed Pakistan? Polls indicate that Imran Khan remains the most popular politician in Pakistan. The removal of his government from power and the dismantling of his party are increasingly turning ordinary Pakistanis against the United States. 

In an interview with Voice of America (VOA) Urdu service this week, former National Security Advisor John Bolton said he “worries about” the Biden administration’s foreign policy about South Asia because “it’s not clearly defined”.  

Replying to another question asked by VOA, Mr Bolton said Biden administration officials “don’t know what their strategic imperatives are. And it’s been confused and inarticulate on the situation in Pakistan”.

Here's a video clip of US State Department Mathew Miller's Press Conference:


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Vineeth said...

That the US has often executed or attempted regime changes across the world is an undeniable fact. But even a vehemently anti-imperialist American leftist like Noam Chomsky do not believe that US had any role in toppling Imran Khan, for two very good reasons:

- No Pakistani PM or the govt sitting in Islamabad mattered much in American calculations as they always dealt with COAS at Rawalpindi to get things done. This was stated by Lisa Curtis, who was the person that handled South and Central Asia affairs at Trump White House. ("COAS, not PM, decides how US-Pak ties shape up" - DAWN, Nov 23, 2022)
- Secondly, Pakistan itself had diminished in importance in US strategic calculus after American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Americans might need occasional cooperation from Pakistan to target al Qaeda or IS jihadi leaders (as it happened recently in case of Ayman al-Zawahiri), but they get that from Rawalpindi not Islamabad as stated above. Pakistan was useful for US during the Cold War with the Soviets and the Afghan war, but in the looming US-China "cold war" they see Pakistan as far less useful as a partner or ally than India, for example.

Americans may not have been exactly pleased to see Imran Khan going to Russia when the invasion of Ukraine seemed imminent, but lets be fair: Not evn Pakistan's "friends" liked PM Imran Khan - not the Saudis who sent a regional governor to receive him at the airport, nor the Chinese who likewise sent an Assistant Deputy somebody for the same purpose.

After his overthrow, even Imran Khan publicly confessed that he wasn't the one deciding matters and that strings were being pulled by someone behind the scenes. Even Khan changed his narrative in later days saying the conspiracy was "exported from Pakistan to US" (whatever that means) and that it was Gen. Bajwa and not US that was the real instigator.

There is no doubt that Biden administration did not like Imran Khan especially due to his public statements about Afghanistan and Taliban, but that dislike alone was insufficient motive for them to plot his overthrow. Imran Khan was not powerful enough to throw spanner in US plans for the region. He wasn't capable of steering Pakistan's foreign policy away from US and closer to China and Russia. He wasn't the one who decided Pakistan's foreign and defense policies at all (like all Pakistani PMs). So why bother? Donald Lu's comments might have been undiplomatic and arrogant. But there are no grounds for any "conspiracy". For US to invest their efforts and money into overthrowing him (and that too through a perfectly constitutional, unglamorous method like a "no confidence vote") makes no sense.

Rk singh said...

Its shameful to see how Pakistan is treating its ex-PM. The man who gave its one and only moment of glory in its 76 years of existence.

Majumdar said...

Brofessor sb,

You have been outspoken in your belief that Fauji rule is better for Pakistan than democracy. Dont you think it would be better if the Neutrals simply do away with civilian rule and rule directly?

Riaz Haq said...

Majumdar: "Dont you think it would be better if the Neutrals simply do away with civilian rule and rule directly?"

You have to pick a system and stay with it. The constant instability is the the biggest problem for Pakistan. It causes both social and economic issues.

na ḳhudā hī milā na visāl-e-sanam na idhar ke hue na udhar ke hue

rahe dil meñ hamāre ye rañj-o-alam na idhar ke hue na udhar ke hue

Singh said...

doesn't pass the smell test. That the fifth largest nation in the world changed its government because of an ill-mannered comment by a low-level official of a foreign country is unfathomable. U.S. SecDef could have called COAS and made a polite request without leaving all the paper trail of 'cipher' etc.,

Riaz Haq said...

Singh: "That the fifth largest nation in the world changed its government because of an ill-mannered comment by a low-level official of a foreign country is unfathomable. U.S. SecDef could have called COAS and made a polite request without leaving all the paper trail of 'cipher' etc."

Donald Lu was carrying out Biden administration's policy.

It's quite likely that similar messages were also conveyed in military-to-military contact between US and Pakistan.

History tells us that the coup-makers in America have been at the assistant secretary level.

The best known among coup-makers is Victoria Nuland who orchestrated the coup in Ukraine against pro-Russia President Victor Yanukovich in 2014. In a leaked taped conversation, US assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland can be heard discussing with the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, the plans to replace Mr. Yanukovych.

Ahmed said...

Dear Sir

I don’t think this is true because I have personally seen and heard the speech of Imran Khan recently in which he himself clearly said that “ MUJHAY PM kee position se HATANEY KEE SAZISH BAHAR YAH AMERICA SE NAI BALKEY PAKISTAN SE START HOEE THEH”.


After visiting America and after trying to turn American government against Imran Khan than Gen. Bajwa tried to convience the opposition parties of Pakistan and brought them on the same page to bring down Imran Khan from the position of PM .

Vineeth said...

From what I can see the real "conspirator" behind the constitutional ousting of Imran Khan was none other than the military establishment. This is pretty much what Imran Khan himself conceded in later interviews and speeches when he downplayed the "US-sponsored conspiracy" narrative and projected Gen. Bajwa as the real mastermind. I had been following reports by Fahd Hussain and others in DAWN back then about growing disagreements and clashes between the Army Chief and IK (starting with Imran's choice of Usman Buzdar as CM of Punjab) that eventually came to a crescendo over the appointment of the ISI chief, even when IK's lieutenants were at pains to assert that the "same page" was intact. This was long before this cipher or even the rumours of a VONC cropped up.

By the looks of it, Imran Khan's removal was an inside job by the establishment and the political opposition. External actors like US had nothing to gain from it as relations with Pakistan's Prime Ministers have been a non-factor in US strategic objectives.