Imran Khan's no 'hired gun' remark just another ploy to ensure US continues feeding Pakistan army

It seems that Imran Khan is on an aggressive posture these days. Probably buoyed by his so-called “googly” on the Kartapur Corridor, and the euphoria of his first 100 days, the Pakistan prime minister seems to be ready to take on a superpower. In an interview to The Washington Post, Khan declared that Pakistan was no longer ready to be a “hired gun” of the United States. In that interview, the former playboy and cricket star was up in arms, defending an undefendable policy, and apparently ready to overturn what has been Islamabad’ main foreign policy and indeed, foreign exchange earner in decades.

In the interview, Khan comes across as a committed and obedient child of the establishment (the military in Pakistan), who has learnt his lessons by rote. What else can explain such remarks as “no Pakistani was involved in 9/11” when the Commission of Enquiry into the terrorist attack clearly pointed to Pakistani citizen Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as the “main architect” of 9/11 attack. Or that Al-Qaeda operatives were given shelter and assistance by the Lashkar-e-Taiba that continues to be honoured in Pakistan; or, of course, that the Al-Qaeda leader was finally found hiding in Pakistan. The denial of Pakistani involvement in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the world has been doing the rounds these days seemingly originating in the foreign office. This sells in some quarters. Seventeen years after the event, it is possible that young impressionable Pakistanis actually believe these denials, worsening anti-US hatred.

File photo of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Reuters

File image of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Reuters

There are other strange denials, including that no Taliban leaders are resident in Peshawar — it may be true since most have been moved to Karachi and other metropoles, away from the border — and that Afghanistan was the result of US ambitions and security interests, seemingly forgetting that the whole sorry mess was started by Pakistan in 1974. All of this is, however, not unusual to Pakistani leaders, though previous prime ministers may have been more tactful and avoided such outrageous claims.

The main aspect of the interview, however, is that arrogant statement that Pakistan will no longer be a gunslinger to the US, “given money to fight someone’s else’s war”. In the year of Donald Trump, some would sympathise with this, until the full extent of Pakistan’s perfidy in creating, sustaining and fuelling the war is realised, and the fact that it continues to do so as of this date. That position is then clearly linked to the Pakistan-China relationship, with Khan rather coy about revealing the extent of assistance from Beijing or from Riyadh.

Khan’s main point is that he wants friendship with the US on his terms and “like China”, in terms of a “trade relationship”. That’s nice. According to the Board of Investment in the Prime Minister’s Office, China remained the highest foreign investor with $1,812 million as of mid-2018, as against the US with a trifling $136 million. There are two issues here. First, the re-calibration of Chinese loans as FDI was done recently, after some minimal public discussion and a great deal of mystery. Second, these figures don’t take into account the fact the largest financial assistance comes from the International Monetary Fund, a US-backed institution. Yes, IMF aid comes with conditionalities that are aimed at reforming Pakistan’s financial institutions. CPEC’s "FDI" is likely to lead to a debt repayment burden of $14 billion in the current year.  No wonder then, that Pakistan's ask from the IMF is likely to be the biggest ever in the 16 times it has gone to the international lender.

Yet, as Khan rather gleefully pointed out, Exxon Mobil is back in Pakistan with not only "leaked" promises of vast oil reserves waiting to be discovered, but also a partnership with Energas, a consortium of Pakistani businessmen to build a gas terminal at Port Qasim in a deal negotiated by the last government but claimed by the present. Pepsi is also planning to sink (yes, sink) an investment of $1.2 billion over the next five years. Apparently, the constant raising of the "China alternative" by Pakistani officials, academics and media has paid dividends. Unlike India, all these actors usually speak with one voice. That pays.

Finally, it would take a lot of gall to trash a relationship that was forged by the wily General Zia into as profitable a knot as it could possibly get — remember his dismissal of US initial aid as "peanuts" — and which eventually rose to far more than the “minuscule” $20 billion claimed by Khan. The trouble is that the US plays scant attention to history. The Afghan adventure began in the 1980s, and not since 2001 as shrewdly calculated by Islamabad. Aid surged after the Soviet invasion to about $5.3 billion, rising thereafter to about $15 billion till mid-2009, with the Obama administration then committing some $7.5 billion for the next five years. Here’s the rub. Being wily South Asians, much of the claims of reimbursement were vastly inflated, until the assessment was that a full 70 percent of military aid was misspent, which meant that some $3.8 billion was diverted to fund not just the defence budget but luxurious villas for generals. No one can accuse General Zia of being a fool. He knew his army.

So no, Khan is not about to let go of the hand which feeds his state and his army. After running to China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Malaysia for financial assistance, Islamabad is now back at its old game of squeezing the US for whatever it can get.

Fully aware that Congress is likely to balk at any increase in aid, the plea is for investment on the grounds that the new government will reach out to India — hence the Kartapur corridor — and set in motion another series of ‘talks’ with the Taliban.

It's actually quite simple. Pakistan will not be a hired gun, which is creditable. It will simply do the firing itself. That’s nothing new. It will also fire and kill only to forward its own interests. That's not new either. Since Pakistani objectives in its neighbourhood have remained steady for decades, don’t hold your breath with the new 100-day old Pakistani government. As that old adage goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Updated Date: Dec 09, 2018 16:43:49 IST

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