Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.
Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan has copiously stated throughout his term that he does not support bloc politics and would rather have good relations with all countries. Although one cannot peer into Mr. Khan’s heart to discern if this is actually what he believes, let us for argument’s sake take his word as truth. The fact is that despite Imran Khan’s musings against bloc politics, the country is headed towards a China-Russia-Iran bloc nevertheless, or what we may soon call the Pakistan-Russia-China bloc.
Perhaps in Imran Khan’s head, his successful tour of Russia was a manifestation of his credo of forging amicable relations with all countries but this is a zero-sum game – meaning good relations with Russia will equate to bad relations with the US and the West. While the US has tolerated Pakistan’s strong relations with China for decades, the country’s newfound friendship with Russia will not be met cordially by the United States.
Pakistan’s Neutrality & America’s Rage
In other words, the US and the West will force Pakistan into the China-Russia camp despite Imran Khan’s endeavors to balance relations with both sides. This process has precipitated recently due to Imran Khan’s historic tour of Russia and, more importantly, the latter’s Ukrainian invasion, which overlapped the premier’s visit.
Russia’s bold move to invade Ukraine and Pakistan’s “neutrality” with respect to the invasion can be considered a thumbs up for Russia – and concurrently, offensive to the West. Pakistan and China abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly’s vote on condemning the Russian invasion and have not condemned Putin in any subsequent official statements.
Imran Khan’s scathing reply to the European envoys when they wrote to him to rebuke Russia might have alienated Europe as well. Khan essentially retorted that Europe was nowhere to be found when India was breaking international laws vis-à-vis Kashmir, and that Pakistan is not a slave country. America has already revealed how it might coerce Pakistan into abandoning Russia and China by introducing a bill in Congress that aims to place sanctions on Pakistan.
This bill, introduced by Republican Scott Perry, if passed, will label Pakistan a state-sponsor of terrorism and will restrict the US from any foreign assistance to Pakistan including a ban on defense exports and financial transactions. The timing cannot be coincidental as it comes almost right after Pakistan’s defiance of leaping into the America-Europe bandwagon with regards to the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Even before the crisis, Pakistan was being shunned in America for “supporting” the Taliban, when it was the US that needed Pakistan’s monumental help to get out of Afghanistan, that is, the graveyard of empires. If America leads the charge against Pakistan, China, and others, the West too will follow – at least for a while. Some readers might be contemplating then why would Pakistan go against the West – why not just listen to America and avoid any fiasco? Enter Imran Khan.
Moving Away from the West
Mr. Khan, the obstinate premier that he is (and I write that in a positive sense), will not succumb to Western pressure since he understands the US all too well. To reiterate, he would definitely not want a confrontational role with the West but he will not be another yes-man to Western foreign powers. Imran Khan will be cognizant of such indefatigable US-West machinations against Pakistan and therefore must prepare to mitigate any worst-case scenario if one transpires.
The West accounts for most of Pakistan’s exports, with the US, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, and Italy forming a great bulk. Undermining Pakistani exports would be a massive detriment to Pakistan’s already frail economy and could allow a freefall into oblivion. Secondly, the US’s massive influence over the IMF and the West’s sway over FATF could mean that Pakistan stops receiving financial loans from the former and be placed on the black list by the latter.
To receive loans from the IMF, Pakistan had to accept severely harsh conditions which included the autonomy of the State Bank, cessation of tax exemptions, hike in electricity prices, and a development levy on petroleum products – showcasing the economic hitmen at their finest. As for the FATF, despite Pakistan fulfilling 95% of its requirements as stated by Marcus Pleyer, head of the watchdog, the country has been subjected to the grey list for years.
In contrast, other countries that met certain FATF conditions were removed from the grey list – this proves that FATF is yet another West-imposed instrument to subjugate certain states. Many pro-America Pakistani commentators might reiterate here that going against America is idiocy, but such commentators need to study history and understand the imperialist, elitist, and hypocritical mindset of the United States.
Pakistan’s Wise Foreign Policy
Following a pro-America strategy has always had more short-term benefits than long-term ones. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s financial dependency on the West has made it increasingly non-self-sufficient. The US has ad nauseam proved that it is no one’s true ally – except perhaps Israel’s. If Pakistan has still not learned this lesson after being on the receiving end of perpetual US backstabs since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, history is bound to repeat itself.
One would also think Pakistan’s infallible role in helping the US secure a deal with the Taliban recently would be worthy of praise and assistance for years to come, however, the US repaid this debt by contemplating sanctions on Pakistan. America and the West’s deception is at full display and Imran Khan not only recognizes this but also speaks against it openly.
To reiterate, this does not mean he wants bad relations with the West; it just means he wants Pakistan to be treated fairly. His outspokenness and uncorrupt nature are perhaps the primary reasons why he does not rate highly among US and Western officials and “establishments” since he is not malleable like Zardari or Nawaz Sharif. Simply put, the US would like to see less of him.
In fact, some conspiracy theories circling Pakistani social media these days discuss how the US is trying to mobilize the opposition political parties against Imran Khan using its vast monetary resources. Some of Imran Khan’s party members have defected recently and there is to be a vote of no-confidence against the premier scheduled in the parliament after the 27th of March.
The No-Confidence Motion
Regardless of the merit or demerits of such conspiracy theories, the vote of no-confidence will be a watershed moment in Pakistan’s history. If the vote succeeds and the previous ruling elite of PML-N and/or PPP returns to power, Pakistan’s foreign policy will shift yet Westwards again at the expense of Russia, and maybe even China, since history has shown how PML-N and PPP’s loyalty can be bought – in other words, the cycle of pain for Pakistan will continue at US hands.
Imran Khan, however, seems extremely confident that his government is here to stay and his recent jalsas (gatherings in Urdu) all around the country have shown his surging popularity despite growing inflation and an increasingly poor economy. If Imran Khan does survive the vote, he will come out as a stronger PM than before, but Pakistan should then prepare for the US to ask it yet again, “Either you are with us or against us” akin to what materialized after 9/11 – and this time under Imran Khan, Pakistan might not budge.
The Era of the Pakistan-Russia-China Bloc
While the premier might not have the backing of the US and the West, he is looked at favorably by not only China but also Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia as they perceive him as someone who can stand up to the United States. This was demonstrated with Mr. Khan’s firm “absolutely not” when asked if Pakistan would allow US military bases in the country after the US’s humiliating defeat to the Taliban.
If I have presaged events correctly and a clash materializes between Pakistan and the US, Pakistan should prepare a contingency plan that leverages its stronger ties with Turkey, China, Russia etcetera so that the country can survive the ordeal. Pakistan should harness its God-given resources more and begin looking eastward vis-à-vis trade while concurrently further bolstering the security situation so that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Pakistan becomes a massive success – and leads to a true iron bond with China.
The emerging power of the world is definitely China, and the BRI is bound to succeed as American influence steadily becomes anachronistic. While a clash that forces Pakistan into Russian-Chinese arms might lead to hurdles such as sanctions, greater inflation, and further unemployment, Pakistan’s exodus from the American shadow will be a massive blessing in the long term.
The timing is also ideal for Pakistan as America is not the same superpower it was post-9/11 or even before. Its influence is waning but obviously, it won’t go down without a fight. When the storm passes, it will create a stronger and more self-sufficient Pakistan as the country will look inward and to countries such as China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran for support. All this is easier said than done. Strange things happen in politics and Pakistan is proof of stranger things still.
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