Saeed Naqvi | Can Imran do in Pakistan what Erdogan did in Turkey?

Anti-Americanism is a sure-fire electoral trick in a Muslim country that nurses a deep grievance against the US

A foreign policy independent of America is difficult for countries where the elite have parked their progeny in the United States. In Pakistan, this elite will gouge out Imran Khan’s eyes if his anti-Americanism persists. This elite is influential, but numerically small. Imran has decided to ignore this coterie and tap directly into people’s anger against decades of Islamophobia, particularly since the 9/11 wars.

He has a role model in Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erodgan, who blocked American troops from passing through Turkey for Iraq’s occupation in 2003. Anti-Americanism, simmering since the televised brutalities of the Bosnian war, flared up and Mr Erdogan’s rise became unstoppable. It wasn’t a meagre feat. His popular ratings surpassed the founder of the Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The Army, the guarantor of the secular Ataturk constitution, was with steady strokes undermined by people’s power. Today, Turkey is just like any other Muslim country.

Anti-Americanism is a sure-fire electoral trick in a Muslim country that nurses a deep grievance against the US. Pakistan was yoked by the US into the Afghan war, where it lost 80,000 lives.

Did the winds from Ukraine fan the flames in Islamabad? That a regime change was instigated by America is Imran Khan’s chosen narrative. Does the predicament in which Imran finds himself have something to do with his official two-day Moscow visit starting February 24, the day the Russians invaded Ukraine. The high-stakes game the Americans were leading the West into made it important for them to prove that Imran was on the wrong side of history.

The message was simple: Imran must wrench away from the Chinese-Russian embrace. This embrace impedes the world order being sketched and any US move in Afghanistan. It was galling for the US that the Kazakh adventure failed in January, ironically, as Russia intervened. It is a cruel admission to make, but this war isn’t about Ukraine. Sadly, Ukrainian blood has been purchased with Western treasure — in cash and arms. The amazing media management has been breath-taking — bringing Volodymyr Zelenskyy live to every European Parliament, nay, even at the Grammy awards.

Some of the West’s war aims are straightforward: to retain Anglo-American dominance in the world order; preserve Nato’s centrality to this order; keep Russia in focus as a weakened pariah in Ukraine for as long as possible. The West is having kittens as China and Russia have declared their friendship “has no limits”. They have to be separated; that is American policy.

This mindset was on display even as Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah persuaded the Americans to end what was an existential threat to the House of Saud and Israel, namely Iran. To target Iran, the “Shia arc” — Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas — had to be dismantled. That is how the Syrian expedition began. “Get out of the way, Assad” secretary of state Hillary Clinton waved her hand imperiously. Has Assad gone? Does the US have a status of forces agreement with Iraq after the Stars and Stripes were “cased” on December 31, 2011? The ignominious Afghan exit in August won’t be forgotten in a hurry. This after 20 years of occupation. So, it’s do or die in Ukraine.

Is Liz Truss, UK’s foreign secretary, cheerleader for “democracy against autocracy”, pleased with the election results in Hungary and Serbia, in Ukraine’s neighbourhood? Viktor Orban and Aleksandar Vucic are both self-proclaimed “illiberals”. The spectre of Marine Le Pen haunts France. At the other end of the world, a real-life theatre of the absurd produced and directed by the US and Britain is being played out. In a moment of pique bordering on desperation, Washington, unable to set aside or digest Venezuela’s duly elected President Nicolas Maduro, floated a parallel presidency and picked 38-year-old Juan Guaido as President. Besides the US and UK, no European country is part of this sideshow.

Evo Morales, the first indigenous, left-wing, anti-World Bank Bolivian President, was replaced by an ideological lookalike, Luis Arce. Was the success of 35-year-old socialist Gabriel Boric in Chile an improvement on military dictator Augusto Pinochet, whom the CIA installed after killing the popular Salvador Allende, a friend of one of the world’s greatest poets, Pablo Neruda?

Colombia, nursed by the US as its pocket borough for decades, has come out of its suffocation. In irreversible lead is another socialist, a former guerrilla leader, Gustavo Petro. Peru’s President Pedro Castillo is called a far-left socialist. Is all this a march of democracy or autocracy? A battle royale is due in Brazil in October, where Lula da Silva will take on Jair Bolsonaro, known for ignoring the Covid-19 pandemic, burning the Amazon patch by patch and being chief guest at India’s Republic Day in 2020. One commends to Ms Truss the thought that she sees Edge of Democracy, a masterly documentary on how Lula, the country’s most popular politician ever, was dethroned by global corporate intrigue.

How do the votaries of democracy in this format approach developments in Pakistan? The principal charge against Imran Khan was that he mismanaged the economy, his team selection was poor and he is self-righteous and arrogant. Those arrayed against him have proven cases of corruption against them.

Obviously, these groups, with a possible signal from the Army, leavened their numbers with defectors, and asked for a vote of no-confidence. Imran Khan showed, on a selective basis, minutes of a conversation between Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington and Donald Lu, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, which seems to suggest the US wants Pakistan to fall in line “or else”. Will this revelation eventually help Imran, or is it an albatross around his neck, given the hostile elite?

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