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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Will Trump as President change outcome for Imran Khan?

Adam Weinstein, Deputy Director Middle East program explains it’s not Imran Khan, Biden has an issue with, it was Pakistan.

Najma Minhas, Managing Editor GVS, sits in with Adam Weinstein, Deputy Director Middle East program at the Quincy Institute, to discuss Congressional hearing, Trump-Imran relation, and other key Pak-US issues. The discussion argued that  Will Trump presidency relieve Imran Khan’s recent problems? Many in PTI now praying for a new American president. Will he really make a difference? Adam Weinstein, Deputy Director Middle East program explains it’s not Imran Khan, Biden has an issue with, it was Pakistan. Adam explains Congressional hearing put Donald Lu on the spot, how did he do overall and what can these hearings achieve.

Najma Minhas

Najma Minhas is Managing Editor, Global Village Space. She has worked with National Economic Research Associates (NERA) in New York, Lehman Brothers in London and Standard Chartered Bank in Pakistan. Before launching GVS, she worked as a consultant with World Bank, and USAID. Najma studied Economics at London School of Economics and International Relations at Columbia University, NewYork. She tweets @MinhasNajma

Adam Weinstein

Adam Weinstein is Deputy Director of the Middle East program at the Quincy Institute, whose current research focuses on security and rule of law in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He is also a non-resident fellow at Tadblab, a think tank and advisory firm based in Islamabad, and regularly travels throughout Pakistan. Adam’s analysis has been featured in the Washington Post, Guardian, Foreign Policy, War on the Rocks, Lawfare, and The National Interest. He tweets @AdamNoahWho

Najma Minhas: I’m joined today by Adam Weinstein from a deputy director at the Quincy Institute, looking at Middle Eastern Affairs on Verizon and Afghanistan as well. I wanted to get his thoughts on what’s happened today at the congressional hearing. And in addition to that, this increasing thought that’s been expressed amongst the Pakistani diaspora and in Pakistan as well on Trump, Trump’s impending presidency, and what are the implications for Imran Khan and Pakistan? Adam, thanks so much for joining me today. I was very intrigued. I saw a tweet of yours two days back where share of some clip of firebrand leader of the PTI, Sher Afzal Marwat, in a press conference mentioned that, you know, if Trump comes back as president, the United States, things might look different for Pakistan and in particular, for Imran Khan. and he suggested maybe Imran Khan might be released. And on top of that, you tweeted and said that, you know, Trump had a superficial relationship with Imran Khan and his team viewed Pakistan with great suspicion. So, I want you to start off with that. I mean, what do you mean by that?

Adam: Well, look, the Trump administration’s South Asia, South Asia strategy was not very friendly Pakistan, and I think many of his advisers were quite skeptical of Pakistan. Remember, it’s not necessarily President Trump, who was making the policy who was being advised. Now he did seem to have a rapport with Imran Khan. And that might be because he saw Imran Khan and himself in a sense, both as political outsiders who had become famous in in other industries, and then entered politics later. So maybe they had some sort of connection on that level. But I don’t think that.

Najma: So, they’re operating against muddy swamp, right, this is the muddy swamp of Washington, DC and Islamabad, so that’s what he had common with Imran Khan.

Adam: Well, there are the swamps are different. I mean, perhaps they they’re both skeptical of technocrats and the administrative state. But I really don’t think it went that deep. I think that they just had, in some ways similar life trajectories.

Najma: You said it didn’t go very deeply. But, you know, Trump has mentioned Imran Khan subsequently several times. Even recently, in a campaign rally, he referred to his friend Imran Khan, and talked about the call that they had regarding Qasem Soleimani. They had a very positive relationship during the Devos meeting in 2020. And of course, Imran Khan came to the United States, subsequently twice at least, and they had a good meeting there as well. So, I mean, why is it that you categorize this as not a particularly good, I mean, relationship? I mean, what’s the difference between his relationship with Imran Khan of Modi, for example, I mean, Modi was exchanging bear hugs with him as well.

Adam: Well, that’s, that’s precisely my point. I mean, President Trump would shower praise on all sorts of different world leaders, but I’m not sure it actually translated into stronger relationships. I mean, under the Trump presidency in some ways, US Pakistan ties were downgraded. And now, don’t quote me on this, even though I’m being recorded, I guess, but I think I recall President Trump also claiming that Imran Khan had said that the assassination of Qasem Soleimani was the greatest event of his life or something up to that end, I find that incredibly hard to believe that Imran Khan would have said that. So, I sort of, you know, attach a grain of salt to things that Trump said about his exchanges with Imran Khan or any other world leader. But so, bottom line is that I think the relationship between Imran Khan and President Trump was fine. I don’t know that it translated into a closer us Pakistan relationship.

Najma: Do you think it will translate to if Trump gets the wins the presidency and becomes president the United States? Do you think that will translate into a better relationship with Imran Khan? Does Imran Khan have a chance of getting out of prison? If Trump is the president? Do you think it will relate to that much at least?

Adam: You know, Trump is a wildcard so perhaps he might say something to the establishment in Pakistan that perhaps maybe makes them reassess their position regarding Imran Khan. But I think the jailing of renown Khan is an internal model or matter in Pakistan, and whether he’s released or not, is going to depend on those actors inside Pakistan.

 Najma: What about the fact that you said that his administration was actually suspicious of Imran Khan and, and Pakistan? I mean, do you think it was that suspicion when Biden came in and didn’t make that famous phone call to or didn’t receive the famous phone call from Imran Khan, which is really a formality? I mean, it happens everywhere in the world, you as soon as someone becomes a prime minister, you call them to say congratulations. And yet Biden didn’t receive that call from Imran Khan, which later became a huge embarrassment for Prime Minister Imran Khan. I mean, what was going on there? Why did Biden never received that phone call or never make a phone call?

Adam: Well, let me correct myself. I didn’t say that the Trump administration was suspicious of Imran Khan, suspicious of Pakistan. And I think there’s a belief in Washington that the Prime Minister of Pakistan is less important than the state itself, and then the military establishment and so to speak. So, I think there was a suspicion of Pakistan and the military establishment more than Imran Khan himself. Although Imran Khan was sort of seen as a wild card by the foreign policies

Najma: So, what might have been the president or sorry, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, that phone call would never have happened. It doesn’t matter if it was Imran Khan.

Adam: Well, I just don’t know, in terms of in terms of Biden not having a phone call with Mr. Khan. I don’t think it was personal to Imran khan. You know, if I, if I was a betting man, I would say that it was simply because President Biden was overloaded with other issues. And for some reason, it passed him by and I was critical of it, then I mean, I don’t know if I can find the tweet now. But I was very critical of the phone call not happening because it is a formality. Pakistan is an important country is an important trading partner with the United States. It’s a nuclear state. It’s an important security partner. And of course, the cost of not having a phone call with Imran Khan meant that if he took phone calls with future leaders, it almost was as if he’s, that phone call would be a political statement or an endorsement of one leader versus another. So, it actually led to more controversy than it was worth I think, I think it was a misstep not to have that phone call. My gut sense is that President Biden overlooked it. It wasn’t something that was intentional.

Najma: You Used, overlooked it and past him by I mean, do you not find that surprising? This was the year in which Biden had six-to-eight-week review of the United States leaving Afghanistan. It was a massive foreign policy decision for the United States. How could it pass by him that, you know, Pakistan is going to be the most important and became the crucial country, which actually helped all the evacuees? I mean, the whole international organizations, Westerners in general, Afghan elites, they all went through Islamabad and took flight out of Pakistan. How could that call just pass by Joe Biden? I mean, he wasn’t even at 82. And, you know, we see how he is now. And at that point, three years earlier. He wasn’t as bad as he is right now. So, I mean, how does Biden and his team justify not calling probably what was one of the most important countries in their own narrow foreign policy perspective at that point in time?

Adam: Well, look, I know some folks might think it was an intentional snub, I find that hard to believe. If you think if you’re telling me that, that the US should treat Pakistan as important state while you’re preaching to the choir, I think the US should consistently treat Pakistan as an important state. And I’ve always said that, and I think the sort of ebb and flow that we have in communication is disappointing and short sighted. But the irony is that even though Pakistan was helpful with the evacuees, and so forth, withdrawal from Afghanistan, in the view of the foreign policy establishment in Washington, Washington made Pakistan less important. And of course, the withdrawal was chaotic. And then there was the war in Ukraine and so forth. So, I really do believe that the Biden administration was overwhelmed and missed the opportunity. Now, I think that verges on foreign policy malpractice, but I don’t think it was intentional.

Najma: So, what role does Afghanistan play in terms of the United States versus Pakistan perspective? Yes, of course, Pakistan has become less important now. Because the United States apparently isn’t in Afghanistan.  But what how does Afghanistan play into this relationship between the two countries? And it’s an ongoing issue still, right?

Adam: Well, it’s an ongoing issue insofar as that there’s still some Afghans and former interpreters that that and at-risk Afghans who are in Pakistan that the US wants to get out of Pakistan or out of Afghanistan via Pakistan is still an issue. So insofar as the US is concerned about al Qaeda and things like that, and of course, Pakistan has a greater ability to communicate with the Taliban, specifically the Emir in Kandahar than the United States does. And that’s partly because Pakistan has informal actors, you know, folks like Taqi Usmani Fazal Rahman, who can go and speak to the Emir in Kandahar, and the US doesn’t have that. So, Pakistan is important for that reason. I think Pakistan should be, you know, viewed as important, apart from Afghanistan. And I think that the thrust of US policy towards Pakistan is in the direction of viewing Pakistan is important on its own and not viewing it through the lens of Afghanistan. But of course, Pakistan is still going to be important, an important partner in securing US interests in Afghanistan, you know, right now, Pakistan in the United States sort of have the same problem with the Taliban, which is that we’re both working with a very stubborn, intransigent Taliban who are not easy to persuade.

Najma: You tweeted this morning, I saw that there was a cool tweet on top of Dr. Shimon Lankesh, who said that Ambassador Bloom met with the general Asim and then and suggested to him that everything will be sorted out in the next six weeks. And you said that with all due respect, the actual pressure from US lawmakers is minimal. And this isn’t how US foreign policy is formulated and carried out. What is he referring to that?

Adam: Well, look, US policy towards concerning Pakistan is formulated in the White House and the National Security Council, not by the ambassador, now the ambassador might give his thoughts and inform the policy process. But that’s not the ambassador’s not crafting the policy. The ambassador is helping to carry out the policy. And so far, as pressured by lawmakers, look, I know lawmakers have had some very strong tweets, there was the hearing today, there’s been letters and so forth. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into a sustained pressure campaign on the Biden administration to change its stance towards the Pakistani military. I just don’t see that pressure. I know that there have been some lobbying efforts and that there’s grassroots activism from PTI supporters who are Pakistani Americans. And of course, that kind of organizing is a crucial part of US democracy. And it has some effect. I just don’t think it has a strong enough effect to alter the relationship. And you saw that in the hearing today. What did John do say were the three priorities through us priorities for Pakistan? Number one is terrorism. Number two is a stable economy. And I think number three was People to People ties, they weren’t talking about democracy, because Washington doesn’t think that it can really affect the civil military balance in Pakistan. Nor is it necessarily a top priority for Washington.

Najma: Do you not feel that it’s ironic for the so-called champion of democracy in the world, I mean, whenever we hear of China and Hong Kong, whenever we hear of Putin and Russia, we hear the word democracy, Alexei Navalny, who just passed away, you know, week or 10 days ago. So, we kept hearing about this opposition leader in in this undemocratic country called Russia. How do they justify that then? I mean, as you’ve said, I mean, this is one of the things that surprised the baseline is present today at the congressional hearings. There was less discussion on democracy and the so-called hearings were supposed to be on democracy, and more about China and Iran and women’s rights in terms of microfinance. I mean, do they have the right to make money and how are they making money? I mean, how did that come up in a conversation on democracy? And what didn’t come up was enough about internet suppression or Twitter being banned for over one month, or even those women who were in prisons for over a year, which has never happened in by yourself?

Adam: Well, look, my pitch for microfinance, by the way would be that helped Bangladesh improve its economy. And I think Pakistan could follow the same model so far as textiles. And I think that would be a great opportunity for Pakistan. But to answer your question, I mean, that should be a wakeup call for those who are in the audience. Of course, the United States talks about democracy, when it’s talking about its perceived adversaries. And it doesn’t talk about democracy when it comes to its friends and partners.

More to read:Pakistan Urges Restraint Amid Escalating Tensions with Afghanistan

Najma: So, you’re saying because Pakistan is an ally, the United States would rather work with the status quo, which is the military rather than Pakistan’s people, or the election of the elected government that the many people may have wanted?

Adam: Well, yeah, I think there’s a lot of truth to that, if I’m, if I’m being blunt. And I also think there’s a perception. And I think it’s true that Pakistan, civilian politicians themselves will work with the military, when it’s advantageous for them. And then when it’s not advantageous for them, they’ll challenge the military. But I think there’s a belief in Washington that the civilian leaders of Pakistan and the politicians are not reliable.

Najma: And so, what’s the US have used them and tested them for their reliability., when has the US tested them for their reliability? I mean, the United States has always worked with baselines military, since the 1950s. So, when has the US actually tested by science politicians, when one or the other, given them a chance to prove them their ability to work as a reliable partner?

More to read:PTI Chairman Voices Concerns Over Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations

Adam: Alright, look, I think that’s a fair criticism of the history of US foreign policy towards Pakistan. And in some ways, you might be able to argue, and it’s not an unfair argument that the United States has undermined civilian led politics and Pakistan. But at the same time, the real politic calculation is that the Pakistani military drives foreign policy. And so, the United States has to work with the country as it exists, not as it as it ought to exist, perhaps.

Najma: What were your thoughts on the congressional hearings today? Did you feel that Donald Liu was asked any tough questions?

Adam: I mean, I think some of the questions tried to corner him into taking a stance on whether elections should be re held or not, although I don’t think that’s even a possibility. So. And I think there were questions that about that fairness of the election in which I guess I would say that Don Liu was it was trying hard to not endorse the fairness of the election, but not criticize it too much.

Najma: Do you think Islamabad should get worried by some of those comments on the elections being held again, by Donald Lu?

Adam: No, I don’t think so. Because, I mean, what do you mean by Islamophobia? Do you mean the government that’s empowered you in the military? No, I don’t think they should be worried. I don’t think the US has the power or the desire to, to re hold elections in Pakistan. I think we should worry the establishment is that every time Pakistan is in the news, and every time Pakistan is being discussed, in major capitals around the world, it’s for negative reasons. I mean, look at the attack on border today. You don’t think that’s going to alienate China’s in China and China’s investment in Pakistan? It’s the it’s the most dangerous country for overseas Chinese workers in the world. So, I think we should worry about worry the Pakistani establishment and the Pakistani government is that its Pakistan is constantly in the headlines for negative reasons. And much of that is self-inflicted. I mean, some of its not self-inflicted, some of its circumstantial, some of its the location of Pakistan in a very volatile region. Some of it is self-inflicted, and it’s not good for business. It’s not good for investment. It’s not good for human development. And I don’t I don’t have any joy in saying these things. I think Pakistan has great potential. But it can’t. You know, it’s not good for that, you know, that potential can’t be realized when you have terrorist attacks on border. And the discussion in Washington DC today is whether the election was fair or not. Right. Right.

More to read:Imran khan moved SC, seeks judicial commission against election rigging

 Najma: China and Iran came up quite a lot during these congressional hearings. In fact, it was a bit surprising, because once again, the hearing was supposed to be about democracy. But we heard about Pakistan’s relationship with China. To what extent does that play a part in how United States perceives bias that?

Adam: Well, congressional hearings have their titles and then they become about whatever the lawmakers want them to be about? It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to talk about things that are have nothing to do with the hearing, being part of being the politicians that they are about China, you know, I think the United States does view Pakistan through the lens of US China competition to some degree, although many folks think that Pakistan is so far in the camp of China that it’s not worth trying to maintain a balance. I think that’s short sighted; I think the US should be concerned about Pakistan falling too far into China’s camp, I think what’s good for Pakistan, and what’s good for the United States. And frankly, what’s good for China is for Pakistan to have a healthy relationship with both China and the United States. And actually, even though I’m not naive enough to think that competition won’t take place, Chinese and US interests in Pakistan are not necessarily misaligned. I mean, both countries want to see terrorism reduced, both countries want to see economic and political stability. And I think sometimes the focus on China’s ambitions and water are a bit a bit overhyped, new, of course, Pakistan is buying more military, you know, weapons and aircraft from China. But that’s also because the United States isn’t willing to supply Pakistan. So, some of this is a case of and same for the infrastructure. I mean, China’s investing infrastructure, but that’s also because the United States doesn’t like to get involved in infrastructure development. So, if Washington won’t do it, Beijing will. And so, it’s as simple as that.

Najma: So, you say that these congressional hearings will make a huge difference in terms of how policy is conducted between the United States and any country in general, but between United States and Pakistan in this case, what does what needs to happen then? If for the what does the diaspora need to do? Which will make some kind of impact in US thinking?

Adam: Well, look, the diaspora itself is diverse. So, I don’t know if the diaspora has one view, but you know, they ask for it. And I don’t know if I’m if it’s appropriate for me to advise the diaspora how to affect US foreign policy, but I’ll give a general answer. diasporas that are able to have an effect on policy, tend to build grassroots networks, they tend to understand the way foreign policy is developed in Washington. They form organizations. And they’re organized and this isn’t something that happens overnight. Right. not accomplished by, you know, trying to shout over a State Department official in a hearing. I mean, I’m sorry to say but that’s not how you affect. That’s not how you affect change. For the most part. I do think protests like that does have a place. And of course, I’m not criticizing it because it’s a key part of our democracy, I believe in the right of protest and to express oneself but in terms of trying to affect actual change. I don’t I don’t think that’s a winning strategy.