Home Opinion Op-Ed Why Americans don’t really know Pakistan’s Imran Khan?

Why Americans don’t really know Pakistan’s Imran Khan?

Imran Khan?
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Najma Minhas |

Imran Khan’s unassailable appeal across the world is an oft-mentioned expression, yet, sitting in Washington DC (still the apex power city of the world) – it transpires to me that Imran Khan is less known here than he thinks. As one prominent South Asia expert in an influential US think tank puts put it: “Look, we are not a cricket watching country, we have no idea who Imran Khan is. He thinks he is well known in the west – because of his fame in the UK and most of the commonwealth cricket playing countries – but it is not the case, here..”

Well if that’s the case, then that puts a spanner in the works as they say! DC think tanks swung into session after session in end June; analyzing what was going to happen in the Pakistani elections, what was the military doing, what were the polls saying, pre-poll rigging, post-poll rigging, and what role the military will play after the Imran Khan’s promised tsunami of 2011-12 finally delivered PTI into power. Most of all they wanted to know now that since ‘Taliban’ Khan was in power; what does this mean for the USA?

Asad Umar needs to proactively engage the business/finance communities in the United States; while he has the curb appeal that Americans like, it also helps that the current Pakistani Ambassador sitting in DC has a finance background and can fully support him on the ground.

Discussions on foreign policy expectedly revolved around Pakistan’s civilian governments, which according to Washington think tank community, has no say in foreign policy and of course those who follow Washington D.C.’s doublespeak know this means Pakistan’s ‘all-powerful’ military has its fingers in every pie. Yet, at the same time with the greatest of ease – apparently unaware of the contradiction – they all go on to question what does Imran’s win mean for the nuclear weapons; are they safe, what did this mean for peace talks on Afghanistan. Given he has earlier condemned American policy and been against drone strikes, is he dangerous for American policy? He is seen to be a maverick and DC is worried he may throw a curve ball. It didn’t help that he praised China several times in his victory speech and the USA has just entered into a trade war with the country. There is no dearth of those in Washington who fear that Washington and Beijing are locked in “Thucydides Trap” – as was argued by Micheal Pillsbury, in his book, “The Hundred Year Marathon – China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America” or by Graham Allison, in “Destined for War”

Imran thus has a number of challenges to overcome with regard to Pakistan’s relationship with the United States – beginning with the question: Who is he? and what he stands for?

Read more: Imran Khan’s concrete reach out to military

The fact that we did not have a foreign minister for four years, dealing and engaging with the outside world, left a huge vacuum and did incalculable damage to Pakistan. When we did choose one – it was someone, the Khawaja from Sialkot, who had earlier used Twitter to threaten Israel with our nuclear weapons – over fake news! Not a good idea. Since 9/11, there has been a turnover of over 3 million US military men, that have come and gone from service in Afghanistan – and whether we like it or not, they do not hold positive memories of Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s unassailable appeal across the world is an often mentioned expression, yet, sitting in Washington DC (still the apex power city of the world) – it transpires that Imran Khan is less known than he thinks.

US interest in Afghanistan has meant that Pakistan has come to be viewed as a migraine and whilst on the one hand, many are happy that China is taking over that relationship, on the other hand, there is a disquiet over the relationship which came out in Pompeo’s statement last week. The Pakistani civilian leadership needs to take the reins in hand and bring the horse back to the stable – it is important that there be a firefighting focus and engagement both with the political and economic leadership of the USA.

PTI has to accomplish this in a short time – it failed as an opposition party in the last 5 years to explain itself and what it stands for to those sitting in America. Many in Pakistan may say – why does it matter – who are the Americans – political parties and leaders have to work to engage with the people of their own country and not others. Apparently this is what Imran believes: decisions of Pakistan have to be made in Pakistan, and that’s why a new young generation of Pakistanis – yearning for self respect – love him.

Read more: Imran Khan to live in chief minister’s annex in Punjab House;…

But whilst American Superpower status may not be that of the 1990’s, when Francis Fukuyama’s declared the ‘end of History’ moment – we as a country are still, unfortunately, living at the moment where Mike Pompeo’s statement about looking at IMF funding for Pakistan affects our economy, our rupee, and our stock market tumbles, because we are on our knees – thanks in no small measure to Mr. Dar – and we need support to get out of this situation gracefully.

Since 9/11, there has been a turnover of over 3 million US military men, that have come and gone from service in Afghanistan – and whether we like it or not, they do not hold positive memories of Pakistan.                    

The UNGA address in September provides Imran Khan an opportune moment to reach out and engage the United States and its various communities – think tankers in DC, businessmen in New York and Silicon valley as well as the Pakistani diaspora in major cities. This in the short run is as crucial as any visit to Saudi Arabia and or China to bolster our Foreign Exchange Reserves.

Read more: Imran Khan welcomes Bushra Maneka’s daughter in PTI

A capable and experienced person needs to run the foreign ministry who understands the nuances of foreign policy and can engage those that do not wish to be engaged. Meanwhile, Asad Umar needs to proactively engage the business/finance communities in the United States; while he has the curb appeal that Americans like, it also helps that the current Pakistani Ambassador, Ali Jehangir Siddiqui, sitting in DC has a finance background, understands global business, has links inside US corporate world and can fully support Imran on the ground.

On Afghanistan – it seems that the US administration is leaning towards talking to the Taliban, an initiative that PTI would fully support. This is what Pakistani decision makers continuously told every US administrations since 9/11 – and earned the wrath of US media and Washington lobbies for saying the right thing. But when the final moment came, US media is again casting this as Washington brain wave. Asad Umar, PTI’s exuberant Finance Minister, during a Skype session in DC told his American audience that PTI would control foreign policy and believed a peaceful Afghanistan was crucial to Pakistan’s wellbeing. Let’s hope this is the moment when the stars converge between the two countries – on Afghanistan at least. But Imran and his team have to work hard to dispel the webs of hostility and misunderstandings in Washington.

Najma Minhas is Managing Editor, Global Village Space. She has worked in New York and London with the National Economic Research Associates and with the Investment Bank, Lehman Brothers and Standard Chartered Bank. She is an analyst and appears on many national Pakistani TV channels. She has contributed pieces for The Foreign Policy, The Diplomat, Islamic, The Nation and other newspapers. She studied International Relations at Columbia University and Economics at the London School of Economics. 


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4 COMMENTS

  1. The writer perhaps thinks that we are answerable to USA more than even to Allah. This is what Musharraff thought and this is what once MNS and his team were of the view. All are history now. Our foreign policy makers ought to believe more in our nation’s own capabilities and should bank upon our new friends if at all needed. I think we have learned enough from our 70 odd years of experience with USA.

  2. I believe IMRAN KHAN a man of character will change traditional Pakistan Though it looks not so easy but we have still to see his teanms performance. I K knows well the power of Selfness .we shall now never refocus b frightened un necessary we will face bravely prob in super intrest of our nation

  3. IK is not as complicated as its portrayed in this article. Given Pakistan’s literacy rates, he wouldnt have won had that been the case. All you have to do is to listen to a few of the hundreds of interviews he gave last year and anybody with a little common sense will get the picture.

  4. I think author has managed to highlight the critical aspects of our yet to be developed and implemented foreign policy.
    As a youth and citizen of Pakistan, like everyone else, I also wish that country develops a sustainable economy, stable and clear foreign policy securing the interests of country and build strong relations with all who wish to. Pakistan as we see the history, was known much in Europe and some of European leaders had very strong relations with ours which have to be built again. Having strong relations with US and keeping pressure on Israel and India for Palestine and Kashmir is our wish and tradition.
    Ofcourse, any relations with US but not at the cost of China who is supporting us at all levels.

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