Bhutto’s negotiations with Blinken are difficult after Imran’s anti-American background and toxic Islamist narrative
Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has a difficult task ahead when he meets US Secretary of State Blinken in New York later this month as he negotiates after three years of mismanagement by Imran Khan where the ex-Prime Minister consciously navigated an anti-American course. embroiled in a toxic Islamist narrative. Regardless of politicians, Islamist clerics and even the military, which is known as the permanent establishment of the country, anti-Americanism is part of the Pakistani psyche which is regularly exploited.
Blinken made Bilawal Bhutto Zardari smile with his Friday, May 6 phone call. He prompted Bhutto at the Ministerial Meeting on Global Food Security in New York and this heralded celebrations at Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry. However, all of this was sidelined by Imran Khan’s anti-American rhetoric tied to a conspiracy theory. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s first ever constitutionally impeached prime minister, has linked his own survival strategy to anti-Americanism mixed with a toxic Islamist narrative.
Anwar Iqbal, the longtime Washington correspondent of Dawn, the quiet English daily in Karachi, said the 45-minute-long conversation between Blinken and Bilawal underscores the American will to reconnect with Pakistan. However, both parties have their constraints, Pakistan more so than the United States since its economy is on the brink and the Taliban in Afghanistan refuse to comply with its dictates on the containment of terrorism.
Both the coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the GHQ [General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army] know that Pakistan cannot prosper by putting all its eggs in China’s basket or by pursuing a strident anti-American policy, nor by resenting growing Indo-American relations and using it to stoke anti-American sentiments in the country. A phone call from US President Joe Biden could have offered Imran Khan an ego trip, but the call never came. Even Blinken has slammed the doors of Imran’s talkative foreign minister, Shah Muhammad Qureshi, since last September.
A deep sense of pain swelled in Imran’s camp as Biden seemed to have moved closer to India; he had phoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi shortly after he moved into the White House. Both had held more than a couple of meetings – some virtual sessions. Whether by design or by accident, this humiliation has had no equivalent in US-Pakistani relations.
Imran’s visit to Moscow for a one-on-one in the Kremlin when Putin’s tanks and planes began a blitzkrieg from Ukraine heralded radio silence in US-Pakistan relations. Given the support of the army, Imran Khan could have done wonders as prime minister, but he turned out to be a total disaster. He did nothing to improve the declining economy and plunged the country into an energy crisis.
To gain popularity, he insisted on “ghairat” (self-respect) in the face of alleged US efforts to oust him from power. His anti-American rhetoric caused his Khaki bosses to publicly shun him. He hoped to take advantage of the help of “iron brother” China and new friend Russia to overcome all his misfortunes; hope remained a mirage.
Reality has shown that Pakistan cannot get out of the woods without courting the United States and the generals, Sharifs and Bilawals have sealed Imran’s fate. Pakistan’s financial distress requires help from various sources, not just Saudi Arabia or China. The IMF and the World Bank are in a better position to get Pakistan out of its financial difficulties.
Finance Minister Miftah Ismail’s negotiations in Washington revealed this truth with the assurance of a $6 billion bailout. It will not be free and the Shehbaz government will have to implement an austerity regime. It is a temporary small price instead of becoming a failed state.
For yet another reason, Pakistan needs a country friendly to the United States. It is a bailout of his problems with the Paris-based UN agency, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Pakistan has been trying to get rid of the FATF “grey list” since 2018 without success. Imran had built a public “Indian influence” narrative for his issues with the FATF. He offered no respite as the United States moved into the city holding Pakistan guilty of two follies. One of the inadequate measures to crack down on money laundering which aids terrorist organizations and the second of failing to arrest UN-designated terrorists linked to terrorist attacks on India.
Pakistan may not be in a position to wish Imran Khan away and it may try to exploit Blinken’s openness for new bonhomie to its own political advantage, but today it is not nothing more than a smart politician with a toxic narrative. The initiative passed to Shehbaz and Bilawal and their realpolitik. (ANI)
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)