Imran khan’s recent thundering address to the national assembly made it to the headlines. Prime Minister Khan’s speech which spanned over one and half hours was full of policy statements on domestic as well as international issues which are ‘hot topics’ of the country’s foreign policy these days.
Highlights of PM Khan’s Speech
On 30th June, Imran Khan clearly outlined that Pakistan seeks no strategic depth in Afghanistan. This was in continuation of the statements that other Pakistani Officials gave regarding Afghanistan. Many in the Kabul Government have alleged Pakistan to be backing the Taliban in their fight against the Afghan forces. As the withdrawal of the US Forces proceeded, Pakistan’s top leadership has weighed in on a political solution to the problem; a political solution in the form of Intra-Afghan dialogue.
PM Khan while addressing the Assembly session with the presence of opposition members spoke on electoral reforms. Mr Khan claimed that all elections after the 70s were controversial. Lambasting opposition for not engaging on the issue of electoral reforms, Mr Khan said that this was a question for the future of Pakistan’s democracy.
On the domestic front, Mr Khan informed that Pakistan’s exports hit a record $2.7 billion in June. Similarly, the country’s GDP reached 4%, despite facing shortcomings due to the Covid pandemic. He appreciated the roles of National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) health officials, and the Pakistan Army; for their roles during the Covid-19 crisis.
Furthermore, Mr Khan reiterated that ties with India will not resume. However, this is unless India reverses its steps taken on 5th August 2019. Currently, there are looming talks of the Modi Government considering multiple options pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir, as it met with pro-Indian leaders from the valley on 24th June.
Pakistan Under Pressure from the US
PM Imran Khan in his Assembly address brought his predecessors in crosshairs: particularly the Peoples Party Government and former President, General Pervez Musharraf. Mr Khan said that becoming a part of the US-led War on Terror was Pakistan’s biggest mistake. He added that Pakistan has lost 70,000 lives and nearly 150 billion dollars due to its role in the war; despite so, Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war remain unrecognized.
PM Khan denounced Pervez Musharraf, who was governing Pakistan at the time. He stated that former President Pervez Musharraf let the US pressurize Pakistan and surrendered Pakistanis to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. He further labelled the US drone strikes as a dark period in Pakistan’s history.
A Differing Discourse?
While Mr Khan’s speech majorly centred around contemporary events, his remarks on the events during the initiation of the War on Terror and drone strikes have been commented upon by analysts. This analysis presents facts regarding the actual chain of events that differ from what PM Khan pointed to in a few parts of his speech. These differ from Khan’s claims of Pakistanis being surrendered to the US. This account of events claims that they were in actuality, foreign fighters of AL Qaeda that had escaped into Pakistan after the US aerial bombardment.
Likewise, PM Khan made a questionable statement about the bombing of Tora Bora. It presents differing academic accounts; as the majority were militants who escaped from Tora Bora and flooded into Pakistan.
The contending discourse to what Mr Khan presented holds the view that; Pakistan’s achievements against Al-Qaeda are more than any other country in the world. Hence, it is incorrect for Mr Imran Khan to criticise his predecessors, especially General Musharraf.
It is notable that this discourse finds its relevance in academic literature written on the War on Terror like; Saleem Shahzad’s Inside Al Qaeda and Taliban, Ali Jan Aurakzai’s Beyond Tora Bora and Steve Coll’s famous Directorate S, to include a few.
Moreover, former President Musharraf’s policies have been debated for supporting the US endeavours (something which PM Khan also voiced in his speech). This strand of argument claims that thousands of Pakistani’s were handed by Mr Musharraf. This argument echoes the popular sentiment of the Pakistani public. The Pakistani public was against the drone strikes that the allied forces carried out in Pakistan’s tribal region; that too from US bases. The US was asked to vacate these bases in 2011.
The Take from PM Khan’s Speech
Imran Khan is after all a democratic leader. Pakistan joined the US-led War on Terror in 2001 when General Pervez Musharraf was ruling. It is commonplace in Pakistan to criticize policies adopted under military rule. They become a part of multiple conspiracy theories; which are often devoid of the context of actual events. Similarly, successive democratic regimes have called out the policies of General Musharraf. This would be natural for any country that shifts to democracy after an episode of military rule. However, this should not negate any empiricism which could be a plausible rationale behind certain policies that governments undertake, especially pertaining to foreign policy.
Pakistan’s entry into the War on Terror, in the context of global scenarios, is multifaceted. What could be the consequences of Pakistan’s refusal to go after the planners of 9/11? Would a democratic government in power take a different stance from the international consensus?
PM Khan has been a vocal opponent of a military solution to the Afghan problem. He protested the NATO supply route from Pakistan.
Moreover, for the last decade, he has kept his stance in unison. Mr Imran Khan, after all, is a democratic leader who has to resonate with the masses. So it would be natural from his side to bring the policies of his predecessors in crosshairs; provided the PTI Government inherits the ‘affected’ national structure. A national structure, which militancy and terror across all sectors, affected.
Decontextualizing words and Their Ramifications
Nevertheless, speeches of state executives become a source of media headlines. Media outlets can use these as a reference to shape the context as per their own subjectivity. So in such a situation, it is necessary to carefully frame words that do not serve as fodder for false propaganda. Mr Imran Khan a few months back had to face a similar situation when his words regarding Osama Bin Laden were decontextualized, as he was depicted as an apologist. Leaders need to realize that for issues where strong academic discourses exist, political point-scoring can have certain downgrading ramifications for the state.
Mr Khan’s statements on Afghanistan elucidates his long-held stance. Although, what is precise in his remarks is that Pakistan does not seek any sort of involvement in Afghan matters. Afghanistan became a subject of proxies due to the volatile situation. These proxies emanating from Afghan soil not only affected neighbours but also affected the country’s ability to engage in diplomatic intercourse with regional states.
However, the onus of responsibility should lie on the very planners of Operation Enduring Freedom. As the author Zahid Hussain in his book ‘No Win War’ claims;
‘the US invaded Afghanistan without any realization of local dynamics and no defined exit strategy. Its tactics resulted in an influx of militants in Pakistan which had to bear the brunt of militancy.’
Even now, as the US hastens its withdrawal from Afghanistan without any Intra-Afghan settlement, this again encourages fear of a looming civil war. Pakistan in the recent period has weighed in with political actors in Afghanistan, be it the Kabul Government, opposition leaders or other groups to play its role in a political settlement. After all, a hostile situation on its Western frontier can have a spillover effect as well.
Majorly, PM Khan has presented a cogent policy line for Afghanistan in his address. It is important for Pakistani efforts in War on Terror to gain recognition, a non-partisan academic discourse on Pakistan’s entry into War on Terror and operations against terror outfits in its own territory, must not become a subject to political jargon.
Imran Khan has clearly outlined the state’s stance that Pakistan does not seek any strategic depth in Afghanistan, in the coming future. Whilst, the premier has also hinted towards a ‘tough time’ for Pakistan due to the perplexing situation in Afghanistan. On Afghanistan, keeping in view the democratic structure of his own state outlined that “whoever Afghan people choose, we are with them”. As for the often-repeated blame game targeting Pakistan over its alleged influence over the Taliban, PM Khan added that Pakistan hold’s no leverage and if the Taliban go towards military endeavours then there will only be a civil war.
Lastly, PM Imran Khan’s ‘partners in peace, not in war’ reverberates with the shift in Pakistan’s strategy to geo-economics. This shift in policy has been unvaried across all policy circles in Pakistan; especially the military and political elites.