Monday December 04, 2023

PTI seeking international support to sanction Pakistan

March 27, 2023

The PTI is currently engaged in a global diplomatic campaign against the government, but it faces significant challenges in its efforts to gain support from key partners. However, recent developments suggest the PTI is making some headway in its efforts to garner international support.

Imran Khan's sister, Aleema Khan, recently met with members and the Speaker of the American House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, resulting in statements of support from some US senators. This visit was part of the PTI's broader efforts to launch a global diplomatic campaign which includes hiring a third US firm in Washington DC and meeting with diplomats from Australia and other European countries. In addition to these efforts, the PTI has also enlisted the help of former US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to issue statements in its support. Khalilzad issued a warning to Parliament, urging them not to take any action against Imran Khan. He also urged the Supreme Court not to entertain any requests from the Parliament, such as disqualifying Imran. This is the second time Khalilzad has intervened in Pakistan's domestic politics, and his narrative has been widely shared by the PTI. However, the government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have reacted strongly to his statements.

It is worth noting that Khalilzad's influence as a policymaker in DC has diminished after the failed Doha talks and the US exit from Afghanistan. He was never a regular diplomat, but rather an academic and analyst with RAND who taught at Columbia University and was once close to Reagan. He even escorted the Mujahideen when they came to DC.

Former US Deputy Secretary of State, Robin Raphel, who recently visited Pakistan, shared her thoughts on various issues, including Khalilzad's statement. According to Raphel, Khalilzad is an ordinary person in Washington and there are other think tanks that one can contact for advice or statements. She clarified that Khalilzad does not belong to Biden Admin.

Raphel cautioned that Khalilzad's warning to Parliament and the Supreme Court should be viewed with caution as the PTI, which has hired lobbying firms in the US, operates through lawmakers, influencers and think tankers.

Raphel's underlying message was that Khalilzad's statement should not be taken seriously. Her visit to Pakistan highlights the importance of maintaining strong diplomatic relations with the country, as she was conferred the highest award of the country. She was also scheduled to meet with Imran Khan.

However, the most significant statement aimed at the current Biden Admin came from PTI's Shireen Mizari. She wrote a letter to the US government, calling for them to take notice of the alleged human rights abuses in Pakistan. The PTI campaign has focused not only on the current US Administration, former influencers, but also overseas Pakistanis. In a tweet, Fawad Chaudhry asked overseas Pakistanis to lobby their governments to refuse visas to Pakistan's state officials. He urged Western authorities not to allow government functionaries to visit their countries due to alleged human rights abuses. The PTI is following the Nigerian model which has seen the US State Department refuse visas to Nigerian officials visiting the US.

Pakistan currently has a good relationship with the Biden Administration and has robust engagement on Ukraine and counterterrorism issues. Since the US's focus is on Ukraine and domestic politics, it is unlikely to publicly condemn any action taken against Imran Khan. Fortunately, Pakistan's convergence with the Biden Administration on important issues means that any domestic actions will not affect this relationship. The US embassy sources have repeatedly made it clear that it will not publicly condemn Imran Khan's possible arrest or actions taken by the courts.

The current US Admin has shown little love for maverick, populist politicians like Donald Trump, Imran Khan and Boris Johnson. There is a perception that the US establishment is attempting to preempt former President Donald Trump's participation in the next presidential elections. While the PTI is playing the human rights card, it lacks credibility. They forgot how the PTI government was labeled as a "predator" of press/media freedoms and worse than Burma by international right groups. Journalists, workers and opponents were incarcerated, attacked and victimised.

The PTI's campaign is overtly directed towards the government, but covertly it encompasses the current establishment. Imran Khan openly blames the powers that be for his political challenges, and therefore, he is lobbying against the establishment. However, the present Pakistan-US relationship makes it challenging for Imran Khan to gain traction in his diplomatic efforts.

While Imran Khan is mobilising all channels to put pressure on Pakistan and gain leverage in domestic politics, the PTI faces significant challenges in its global diplomatic campaign. Despite these efforts, the US no longer has substantive leverage on Pakistan, and Imran Khan lacks the support of critical Pakistani partners, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and China.

For many observers, this campaign to attempt sanctioning Pakistan is a clear example of ultimate sedition by Imran Khan and the PTI, as it challenges the very definition of patriotism and loyalty to one's state.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a Balochistan politician and a former media and strategic communications advisor to GOB. He tweets @jan_Achakzai