While Pakistan’s Imran Khan struggled to retain his post in the face of rising pressure this month, the now former prime minister pointed his finger at the United States to explain his political downfall.
Khan accused Washington of conspiring with the Pakistani political opposition to remove him from office, saying the administration of US President Joe Biden was outraged by his “independent” approach to foreign policy and a visit to Moscow that coincided with the start of Russia invasion of Ukraine.
“This story is not new. It is a well-rehearsed one in Pakistani public discourse,” Ayesha Jalal, a professor of history at Tufts University in the United States, told Al Jazeera. home. We call it that we see your problems as gifts from abroad. “
But while experts say Khan’s allegations of a foreign conspiracy against him are unproven and largely politically motivated, they nonetheless highlight long-standing tensions in US-Pakistan relations that the prime minister’s successor, Shehbaz Sharif, will have to address. .
“I am sure that the new Prime Minister and his staff and the top leaders of the military will be very keen to repair the relations,” Jalal said, referring to the effect of Khan’s claims. “I think that would be very much at the top of the agenda.”
Sharif, from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, was sworn in on Monday after Khan lost a no-confidence vote in the Pakistani parliament in which he failed to retain a majority due to criticism of a worsening economic crisis and accusations of ill-treatment. management.
Sharif has promised to rebuild the economy and “keep building relationships with other countries on the basis of mutual respect, equality and peace, ”he said in a tweet.
On Wednesday night, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken congratulated Sharif on becoming Pakistan’s prime minister, saying Washington was looking forward to continuing its “long-standing cooperation with the Pakistani government”.
“The United States considers a strong, prosperous and democratic Pakistan to be crucial to the interests of both our countries,” Blinken said in a statement.
We also look forward to continuing to build relations with other countries on the basis of mutual respect, equality and peace.
– Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) April 11, 2022
But the perception in Pakistan has been that the Biden administration, which took office in January last year, does not see the country as a priority in the middle of other focus areas, namely American competition with China and the recent war in Ukraine.
Political analysts have described US-Pakistan ties in recent decades as “transactional”, with Washington seeking Islamabad’s support on regional security issues – most notably Afghanistan – in return for economic aid. But the relationship has not always been easy.
U.S. officials have accused their Pakistani counterparts of not doing enough to tackle “terrorism” and to house armed groups, including the Taliban. Pakistan has at times been just as angry, condemning US drone strikes and saying the country has paid “a very high price” for supporting the US in Afghanistan.
Madiha Afzal, a fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, said the relationship hit a low point in 2018 before Khan took office when then-President Donald Trump cut security aid to Pakistan.
But “a very public reset” took place the following year when Khan met Trump in the White House, she said. At the time, Pakistan played a key role in the negotiations between the Trump administration and the Taliban to reach an agreement to end the war in Afghanistan.
“Towards the end of 2020, when President Biden was elected and the withdrawal from Afghanistan was imminent, Pakistan struck a geoeconomic-based relationship with the United States,” Afzal told Al Jazeera, explaining that Khan had hoped Washington would begin. to see Islamabad outside. Afghanistan’s lens alone.
In an interview with the New York Times published in June last year, Khan said he wanted Pakistan to have a “civilized” and “equal” relationship with the United States after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which ended in late August. This meant, among other things, deepening economic opportunities.
“You know, unfortunately, the relationship was a little skewed during this war on terror,” Khan told the newspaper. ‘It was a crooked relationship because [the] The United States felt that they were providing aid to Pakistan, they felt that Pakistan then had to make the United States’ bid. “
But Afzal said the Biden administration has so far not taken Pakistan up on the field. “Relations between the United States and Pakistan for the past 14, 15 months have now been marked by a cold shoulder by the Biden administration to the Khan government,” she said, pointing to whirling questions about why Biden did not call Khan after moving. into the white. House as an example.
“Now that [the US has] left Afghanistan, there is very little left to be interested in, apart from, of course, the usual issues of non-proliferation and terrorism and drugs, ”Jalal added. “India is very much on American mind rather than Pakistan.”
Perception of balance
Afzal said it will now be interesting to see how the United States approaches Pakistan under Sharif’s leadership. Biden was U.S. vice president when Sharif’s older brother, Nawaz, a three-time prime minister, held the post, “so the Biden administration is familiar with the Sharif family.”
But she explained that Washington’s relationship with Pakistan has historically focused on the country’s powerful military, which had been on the “same side” with Khan, is his foreign policy approach.
“[Khan] said he wanted an independent foreign policy, he wanted good relations with all counties – that is the foreign policy approach for both the civilian government and the military… [But] in the last few months, it ended up looking different due to visits to China and Russia, whereas there has not really been a relationship with the White House, ”Afzal said.
“[The military] wants a positive relationship with the United States and to look like Pakistan is not balancing its relations with the United States and China properly is something the military does not like. “
For her part, Jalal said that even though she believed that ties between the United States and Pakistan would return “to the normal situation”, it would be a mistake to think that Islamabad would not continue to pursue relations with Moscow as it seeks to put things right with Washington.
“This [balance] is not an Imran Khan policy; it is a state policy, ”she said. “So I think it’s important to understand that.”