WHERE relations with the US are concerned, there has been a distinct shift in Imran Khan’s tone. While the PTI leader at one time had blamed America for engineering his ouster from Prime Minister House courtesy the ‘Cablegate’ affair, Mr Khan’s current tone towards the US is decidedly conciliatory. Speaking to a jam-packed Lahore stadium on the eve of Independence Day, Mr Khan told his supporters that though he rejected “slavery”, he was not anti-American and that he wanted a “friendly relationship” with the US. Furthermore, he highlighted other aspects of the bilateral relationship, such as robust trade ties and the strength of the Pakistani-American community, adding that there was no reason to make “an enemy” out of Washington. Imran Khan also recalled that Donald Trump had rolled out the red carpet for him when he visited the US as premier. The sudden climbdown follows reports that the PTI’s US chapter has hired a PR firm on a handsome contract to help communicate the party’s narrative to the quarters that matter in Washington.
While critics would say this is yet another of Mr Khan’s policy U-turns, perhaps it reflects newfound maturity in the former prime minister’s approach, particularly towards foreign relations. Although there was some truth to Mr Khan’s call for freeing Pakistan from all forms of foreign servitude, the theory that the US had arranged the PTI government’s exit has not been backed by facts. Moreover, it was unwise for Mr Khan to have used anti-American sentiment to settle domestic scores. This move stoked even more anti-Americanism within the masses, without bringing Pakistan any tangible benefits. Mr Khan may not admit it, but the Cablegate conspiracy has been debunked, and he and his party are now trying to move on and mend fences with Uncle Sam, even though the controversy came at a high cost for Pakistan. Perhaps Mr Khan has come to the realisation that to return or to stay in government, it is unwise to break relations with powerful foreign states. Sovereignty must always be guarded, but dragging foreign countries into domestic political affairs is a bad idea. Mr Khan has his eyes set on Islamabad and he knows that if he is re-elected and returns to PM House, he will have to repair relations with the US. The only question is that from now till election day, will Mr Khan stick to this narrative, or again change course?
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2022