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PM Khan in Washington: Holding Mirror to his detractors back home?

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Javed Hassan |

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s perennial detractors and social media trolls, many on the payroll of Pakistan’s known enemies in Washington DC and beyond, never miss an opportunity to undermine his tireless efforts to serve the nation. The PM’s most sincere and humane gestures are often maliciously twisted by his foes in an attempt to belittle his stature, and more insidiously, undermine his mission. This is sometimes exacerbated by the lack of timely and clear communication by Pakistani officials.

PM Imran Khan’s “working visit’ provided yet another opportunity for his opponents to twist facts in an attempt to shape a narrative contrary to reality.  Given the earlier muddle about the status of the trip, and PM Khan’s aversion to wasteful expenditure on protocol, Pakistan’s many paid antagonists jumped into the vacuum by wrongly disseminating stories to suggest that PM Khan had not been invited by President Trump, and was only there in his ‘private visit’.

On the release of a picture showing the PM casually riding in a people-mover with his cabinet colleagues, his detractors went into overdrive, with suggestions of there being no official from US government present to receive him on his arrival in DC. This was apparently to demonstrate how little Trump and the state department cared for the visit. His political opponents in Pakistan went berserk trying to insinuate that this so called ‘selected’ PM had been deliberately snubbed by the US President and establishment.

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Nothing could be further from the truth given that the acting Chief of Protocol of the United States, Mary-Kate Fisher, who is officially assigned to be the “first hand that welcomes kings, queens, presidents, and prime-ministers to the United States”, was there as per the requirements of due protocol. Moreover, given that PM Khan is expected to spend several hours at the White House on Monday meeting President Trump, as well as meet the Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, on Tuesday, this visit is as official as a working visit as it gets, with all the necessary protocol that ought to be accorded to a visiting PM.

However, even if the Chief of Protocol had not been present at the airport to greet Imran Khan, it is unlikely to have perturbed him given his general disdain for standing on ceremony. This is a leader who has had tea with the Queen of England without making too much fuss about it, and celebrates more the fact he’s happiest with common people. Unlike previous Prime Ministers visiting DC, who flew in by special charter PIA flight, and required constant protocol to be provided, Imran Khan came in a commercial flight and is staying as a guest with the Pakistani Ambassador. While previous PMs stayed cloistered in their luxury hotel rooms, Khan has taken this opportunity to interact with thousands of Pakistani-Americans who have come to DC to greet him.

Khan demonstrated his natural ability to turn on the crowds as he vowed the largest ever gathering of educated and affluent Pakistani-Americans in DC’s Capital One stadium. It is estimated more than 30,000 paid good money to come from every corner of the continent and joyously participate in what looked like a PTI ‘Jalsa’, and they appeared to have got their monies worth. This crowd of free American citizens euphorically welcomed the PM, and hung onto every word of his stirring speech. No other Pakistani leader has such a dramatic first day of visit to the United States. His opponents, who struggle even within Pakistan to cajole crowds, despite all their power and patronage, must realize how hollow their jibe of ‘selected PM’ sounds having witnessed the rousing reception of Khan by over 30,000 thousand of independently minded free citizens.

Beyond the optics and thunderous reception at Capital One, it is worth putting some perspective about the importance of this trip. Whether perennial Imran Khan bashers like it or not, the PM of Pakistan is here on the back of an official invitation by the President of USA. He has been invited not simply to have a chinwag with President, but because there’s significant changes likely to take place in the trajectory of Pak-US relations going forward. The COAS and Head of ISI accompany the PM for this reason. US is likely to want Pakistan to play a major role in Afghan Peace process, and for that it would want all the key stakeholders on board.  These are substantial issues that have global ramifications for a long time to come in this region. PM Khan alluded to this in his speech in Capital One to highly appreciative crowd, but it will matter little to the pompous petty, who are more preoccupied with protocol issues like the absence of red carpet.

Javed Hassan is a graduate of Imperial College London and an MBA from London Business School. He is an investment banker who has worked in London, Hong Kong, and Karachi. He tweets as @javedhassan. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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