With ousting of Pakistan’s former PM Imran Khan via the Vote of No Confidence, the word “regime change” has saturated the public discourse in Pakistan. The buildup to this event resulted in a number of allegations, counter-allegations, and conspiracies. “Regime change” became one of the most talked-about concepts throughout the entire episode and continues to resonate with former PM Khan’s supporters. Historically speaking the global political situation makes the conditions ripe for regime change operations.
If one looks at the previous trends, the intensifying competition between the US and the rest of the global powers could motivate these governments to dispose of the unfavorable governments. During the Cold War alone, regime change became a major US instrument of US foreign policy, with recorded sixty-four regime change operations across the Middle East, Central America, and Africa.
Read more: Regime Change: The US’ favorite weapon?
Washington has been involved in regime change missions as early as 1898
It was the formation of the CIA in 1947 that led to mushrooming of overt or covert regime operations, firstly in regions with heightened Soviet influence and then across the globe. In overt missions, Washington would simply carry out an armed intervention in the target country and impose the leaders of its choice, such as in the case of both Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. According to the book Covert Regime Change: America’s Secret Cold War, the possibility of a covert regime change mission successfully installing new leadership was only thirty-nine percent during the Cold War.
Overt regime change, on the other hand, had a success rate of sixty-six percent though how long the newer leadership was able to sustain itself in power is another thing entirely. In overt regime-change missions, the US interferes in elections of the target country and supports military coups along with financing dissidents and opposition parties. Overall in all of the sixty-four regime change operations during Cold War, Washington managed to change the target nation’s leadership only thirty-nine percent of the time. Regime changes are mostly aimed at short-term gains and are driven by the possibility of low-cost, high-reward political change.
The possibility is the operative word here
Regime change operations can either succeed for a short period of time, fail entirely, or cause economic crises or instability in the target country. The CIA’s regime-change operation against the Hoxha regime in Albania is a classic example of a failed operation where the Soviets learned the CIA’s design and lack of critical information about Albania prevented the US from achieving its objectives. One of the classic successes of Washington’s regime change was ousting of Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. In the short term, this regime change succeeded in reaping the desired outcomes, as the pro-US Shah of Iran ruled the country with an iron fist for the next two decades.
In the long run, this operation culminated in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and a widespread mistrust and anti-Americanism among the Iranian political leadership and public that still exists today. Hence yesterday’s solution to a problem became today’s problem. Iran now remains one of the core security issues in US foreign policy. President Trump, with his crippling economic sanctions on Tehran, tried his hand at another regime change, though this time, it did not work out. At times regime change operations plunge countries as well as regions into conflict zones. For instance, civil wars in Angola and Chad and Congo and the rise of Sunni insurgency in Iraq after the dismantling of the Ba’athist regime by the Bush Administration.
A civil war occurred in the targeted country in forty percent of regime change operations during Cold War. Another damning statistic is the occurrence of a wide range of human rights abuses and government-led mass killings in targeted countries within ten years of regime change operation.
Besides the target countries, regime change operations have had disastrous consequences for US foreign policy as well. Iran’s extreme animosity and paranoia towards the US are enforced by the collective memory of the 1953 coup and the resultant oppressive Shah regime. North Korea considers its nuclear weapons program a guarantee against US regime change aspirations. US intervention in Libya to oust Moammar Gaddafi in 2011 cemented this perception that without the nuclear program, North Korean leadership was at the mercy of just one regime-change operation.
The way forward
It was the inference that regime change was successful in Libya because a deterrent in the form of nuclear weapons did not exist. Hence the sketchy US record and self-preservation persists the North Korea’s nuclear program. Global powers such as China and Russia have repeatedly voiced concerns that US efforts and targeted democracy campaigns are, in fact, the first step for regime change operations. Washington’s propensity for regime changes, in fact, derails the promotion of democratic ideals. The new Cold War brings the possibility of heightened US efforts to carry out regime change operations in pro-China or pro-Russia countries. History suggests that the costs of regime changes outweigh the advantages. The United States and other global powers must refrain from employing regime change as a tool of foreign policy.
There is no concrete evidence available in the public domain that ousting of former PM Khan in Pakistan was a US-engineered regime change. The former cabinet and Imran Khan’s party members allege that his independent foreign policy, particularly overtures towards Russia, was unacceptable for Washington, which carried out a regime change. The White House has denied these allegations. Enough evidence does not exist in the public domain to implicate the US, but one thing is sure the Pakistani public is buying this narrative, and the anti-American sentiment is peaking.
Though there is no proof of US conspiracy, the US foreign policy is already suffering a long-term defeat in a strategically important country with a mere suggestion of a regime change. It is yet to be seen how this upheaval impacts Pakistan’s political scenario and the country’s relations with the US.
The writer is a Political Scientist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.