Home Editorial Editorial: Imran Khan’s By-election Victory

Editorial: Imran Khan’s By-election Victory

It is folly to expect much change in the PTI chief’s foreign policy if he returns to power

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PTI chief Imran Khan addresses a rally in Mianwali. Photo courtesy PTI

The latest by-elections for the National Assembly have yielded to Imran Khan all the seats he personally contested—six of the seven up for grabs—that were all previously also held by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. He has hailed this as a “referendum” of his popularity after being ousted from the Prime Minister’s Office in April 2022 through a no-confidence vote. More accurately, however, it is proof that his extreme recipes have, again, won over the masses suffering under IMF-imposed conditions by a state scared of breaking down. This development might upset the middle-of-road voter hoping for a result that doesn’t cause a “revolution” to start in Pakistan according to Khan’s “utopian” thinking, and offends the world with his “rebellion” against states that Pakistan trusts as “friends.” If his past behavior is any indication, he will, unfortunately, repeat some of the “diplomatic fisticuffs” that he had notched up during his first innings as prime minister if he is to return to power.

Khan claims he was ousted as part of a U.S.-backed regime change conspiracy because he had refused to give air base rights to the U.S. military in Pakistan. His allegations continue to lack substantiation. Nonetheless, many Pakistanis believe them to be true—with 46 percent surveyed in late May and early June attributing his downfall to a “foreign conspiracy.” The big question is: will he be able to act normally with the states he had offended or will he redouble the mistakes he had made in the past? Everyone knows he has offended the U.S. by accusing it of his government’s ouster; very few believe he will find a possible way out of the tough spots he has landed himself in. Despite recent public attempts to woo the U.S.—including by hiring a lobbying firm—it is unlikely he would ever fully make up with Washington unless he has a secret deal with Donald Trump, who could return to power after the next American election. Having the only superpower in the world against you is not a great Third World political device.

In 2019, Prime Minister Khan had agreed with Turkey and Malaysia to hold an Islamic summit outside the ambit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, thereby sidelining the Gulf states. It was such a bad initiative that he had to pull out of it at the last minute as the Malaysian king fired the prime minister who had dared “offend the Arab friends.” Khan never got to mend the fences with the Gulf states that his bravado had damaged because it was time to offend another friend of Pakistan: Iran.

Turkey and Pakistan decided to hold a military exercise in Azerbaijan, ignoring Iran and Azerbaijan’s ideological falling out and armed face-off on the Azeri-Iranian border. Tehran got offended with Islamabad; but Turkish President Erdogan was wise enough to visit Iran to sort out the offense. The U.S. was also not the only superpower Khan offended. He managed to offend Pakistan’s friend China, too, making careless remarks about its Uighur problem, not realizing that Beijing was very sensitive about a Chinese nationality crossing the border into Afghanistan. He worsened the relationship with China further by taking issue with Beijing over Chinese road-building projects in Pakistan. Understandably, Beijing was relieved seeing Khan getting ousted after losing his majority in Parliament.

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