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Indirect colonialism: US role in Pakistan’s political crisis

Pakistan is a victim of indirect colonialism by the United States, from the 1977 coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the overthrow of Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2022.

Imran Khan Pakistan coup
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan

I am a scholar originally from Pakistan, and I have taught interdisciplinary studies (including political science) in the United States for nearly half a century, so I have been following the developments in Pakistan with great interest and concern, both from professional and personal points of view. For brevity and clarity, I am itemizing my impressions as follows:

Did the U.S. government play a role in creating Pakistan’s current political crisis?

From the reports available so far, it seems likely that the U.S. government colluded with Pakistani politicians opposed to Prime Minister Imran Khan to have him removed from power.

According to Khan, members of the U.S. consular staff met several times with the opposition leaders and with only the dissident members of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Even more significant is what U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu said to Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. The ambassador communicated Lu’s words to Imran Khan by a cable.

According to Khan, Lu told Pakistan’s ambassador that if the opposition’s no-confidence vote against Imran Khan succeeded and he was removed from power, the U.S. government would “forgive Pakistan.” But if the vote failed and Khan staid in power, there would be dire consequences for Pakistan. Such threats are never communicated in writing.

The aforementioned cable is the best evidence so far of the U.S. meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs. U.S. consular staff’s choice of meeting only with anti-Khan politicians and Lu’s warning point an accusing finger at Washington.

There are many other details that support the likelihood of possible U.S. interference in Pakistan’s internal matters.

Assistant Secretary of State Lu confirmed in a Senate hearing on March 2 that Washington was pressuring Khan’s government over its refusal to condemn Russia for its war in Ukraine.

On becoming U.S. president, Joe Biden called almost every world leader, but he did not call Imran Khan.

In a Congressional hearing in September 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. He lamented that the country has interests “that are in conflict with ours,” and said Washington was reassessing its relations with Islamabad.

Most people do not know that of the total number of the Taliban (most Taliban are Pashtun), 20-40% are Pakistani citizens; the rest live in Afghanistan. Like a good leader, Khan has to look after the interests of the citizens of his country who have close ties with their brethren in Afghanistan.

At the same time, for regional solidarity and security, a sensible Pakistani leader would certainly want to have cordial ties with a neighboring country that has been the site of military interventions by the world’s two super powers since 1979.

Khan believes in diplomatic solutions to political problems, and warned the U.S. that there was no military solution to their war in Afghanistan. He was right.

It took the U.S. government more than 19 years of its longest war, an expense of trillions of dollars, and the sacrifice of innumerable lives to replace the Taliban with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Other possible reasons why the U.S. government might have wanted to remove Imran Khan from power

In addition to Pakistan’s peace-motivated ties with Afghanistan and its disagreement with the U.S. government’s non-diplomatic, military actions to solve political problems, Imran Khan’s refusal to allow the U.S. to establish a military base in Pakistan seems to have been a big factor in incurring Washington’s wrath.

To pursue its hegemonic goals, the United States wants a pliant Pakistani leader who will give priority to U.S. interests, at the cost of Pakistan’s national interest.

Among other reasons why the U.S. government felt this urgent need to remove Khan from power were his economic relations with China and Russia.

Khan asked China to help turn Pakistan into a hub for manufacturing semiconductors. The U.S. government was not happy with Khan’s decision, because it meant a loss for U.S. exports.

Then in 2022, again to improve Pakistan’s economy, Khan was very close to signing an agreement with Russia to purchase oil and wheat from Russia, in Russian rubles at a 30% discount.

For Khan, this economic deal with Russia was needed to control skyrocketing inflation, which has been a global phenomenon, but has hit Pakistan particularly hard.

If signed and implemented, this agreement would have benefited both Russia and Pakistan. However, the U.S. found it unacceptable, because it would have reduced the demand for U.S. currency and exports.

By way of relevant background information, in 1974, then U.S. President Richard Nixon and then Saudi King Faisal made a historic agreement that created the petrodollar. This was a year after an embargo by oil-producing nations fueled a global economic crisis, and Washington desperately wanted stability on the global oil market.

According to that deal, Saudi Arabia would guarantee that countries in the oil-producing group OPEC would sell crude in U.S. dollars only, and deposit the proceeds in U.S. banks and the Federal Reserve Bank. Riyadh would invest its massive oil wealth in U.S. Treasury bonds, effectively buying U.S. debt and thus funding Washington’s budget.

The incentive for Saudi Arabia was the U.S. guarantee that the al-Saud dynasty would always remain in power, under its protection.

Khan’s energy agreement with Russia could have weakened the petrodollar and U.S. control over the purchase of OPEC oil.

Indirect colonialism: “We will make an example of you”

As to why the Pakistani political leaders opposed to Imran Khan might have embraced the U.S. plan for regime change, I use the term “indirect colonialism,” which I coined in my teaching about Washington’s regime-change strategy.

In this kind of colonialism, the colonizing power uses local self-seeking, nation-betraying leaders to sacrifice national interests for the sake of self-advancement.

The colonizer does not have to spend its resources on launching a formal invasion to occupy a country. Local corrupt politicians prostitute national interest to do the colonizer’s bidding.

Besides the politicians, a few of Pakistan’s military leaders have also been guilty of subservience to U.S. indirect colonialism, as the following example will show.

In an earlier Pakistan-related regime-change action, on July 5, 1977, the U.S. government used the then Pakistan’s army chief, General Zia-ul-Haq, to overthrow the democratic government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom the dictator subsequently arranged to be hanged on incredibly murky charges.

According to credible reports, this blatant intrusion into Pakistan’s internal affairs was hatched inside the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan on July 4, 1977.

In that case, the U.S. carried out Henry Kissinger’s threat to Bhutto: “We will make an example of you” if you do not stop pursuing the bomb.

After India detonated its own nuclear device, Bhutto was trying to assemble a similar bomb to maintain the balance of power.

It should be noted that the same fate befell Egypt’s democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi. He was allowed to stay in power for just one year. Then General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed him in a coup d’etat in 2013.

Ordinarily, U.S. government stops giving financial aid to countries that overthrow democratic governments. However, in Egypt’s case, Washington continued sending aid because the overthrow of Morsi removed a challenge to U.S.-Israel hegemonic goal for the sole control of the Middle East.

Representing the will of the Egyptian people and acting on their mandate, Morsi had been demanding that Israel end its brutal occupation of Palestine. At one point, the Israeli ambassador had to be rescued from Egypt.

Egyptians had asked their president to close down the Israeli embassy and consulates in Egypt until the country complied with the United Nations Security Council resolution 242 and other resolutions, which call for an end to the Israeli military occupation.

Morsi died in jail under mysterious circumstances. It is suspected that he was put to death.

This is the same demand that Pakistan’s Imran Khan made in his 2020 speech at the United Nations, when he unequivocally declared that Pakistan would not recognize Israel until the Palestinian rights were met.

Both Morsi and Khan stood for justice and rule of law, which was too much for Israel and its U.S. patron to allow. Hence their removal from power.

Indirectly colonized countries are not allowed to have an independent foreign policy

In cultivating good relations with China and Russia, Khan was just doing the right thing for his country’s progress.

He developed close ties with neighboring China – much to the dislike of the U.S. – and adopted a friendly stance toward another neighboring country, Russia – another peace-motivated move that the U.S. did not like.

The U.S. government has been following this dangerous Bush doctrine: “You are either with us or against us,” leaving no room for neutrality.

The kinds of threat that Donald Lu, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, is reported to have used in the case of Imran Khan are reserved for those countries like Pakistan that have found that 100% subservience to the United States has not been beneficial to them.

It seems impossible for the U.S. to understand this simple logic: The interests of the United States are not necessarily those of other countries.

Khan’s meeting with Putin and the potential of Pakistan-enabled end of hostilities between U.S. and Russia

Imran Khan’s meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 24 seems to have been another reason why the U.S. government wanted Khan removed from power.

The meeting had been scheduled long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Instead of cancelling his long-planned visit, he went to meet with Putin with the consent of Pakistan’s army chief, but did not make any statement about Ukraine.

Khan’s cultivation of close ties with Russia and adopting a neutral position on Ukraine, like India, was another irritant for the U.S. government.

Washington fails to see the positive side of neutrality: Pakistan could play an important role in bringing the U.S. and Russia together, as it did in arranging the first secret meeting between the two estranged powers, the U.S. and China.

The major Pakistani newspaper Dawn revealed that former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger had recognized Pakistan’s “key” role in arranging his secret visit to Beijing in 1971, which helped establish formal U.S.-China relations.

Sacrifices that Pakistan made to help U.S. in its war on terror

Before Imran Khan, the preceding governments sacrificed close to 80,000 Pakistani civilian lives and 6,500 soldiers in America’s so-called war of terror, incurring also financial losses of billions of dollars.

Before Khan, the U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan, with tacit approval of the previous Pakistani governments, killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis.

Those attacks indiscriminately killed civilians, hitting bus stations, wedding parties, funeral processions, and, in one case, an elderly woman who was picking okra.

It was atrocities like these that made Pakistan’s author Mohsin Hamid write in his novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” “No other country inflicts death so rapidly upon the inhabitants of other countries, frightens so many people so far away, as America.”

Acting as a sovereign leader, Khan ordered all those drone attacks to be stopped. With that important step, Khan helped reduce terrorism within Pakistan.

With the spineless and incompetent interim government of Pakistan that has replaced Imran Khan, the country is poised to slip back into U.S. vassalage, to the grave detriment of Pakistan’s sovereignty and well-being of its citizens.

Terrorism inside Pakistan

Before Imran Khan, Pakistan’s own citizens had launched terror campaigns against the Pakistani government for caving in to U.S. pressure and allowing drone attacks that killed their innocent family members on a daily basis.

It must be noted that those victimized Taliban had nothing to do with the terror group Al Qaeda that had attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001.

The Afghan Taliban’s ambitions and actions were limited to their native country. Unlike Al Qaeda, they had no international agenda or ambition and had never been anti-American.

U.S. President Barack Obama had at first made that important distinction but, in the Afghan War hysteria, lost that common sense, and started pursuing the insane policy that all “military-age males,” as young as 16 years old, be treated as a potential terrorist, subject to elimination.

Other examples of indirect colonialism by U.S. government

Since the United States has interfered negatively and disastrously in the internal affairs of more than 70 countries in its regime-change misadventures since the Second World War, it is not possible to enumerate all those cases. Just a few more examples will suffice.

In 1953, the U.S. colluded with the British government to overthrow the democratically elected Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and replaced him with the dictator, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran, who did whatever he was asked to do by the United States.

Like Imran Khan, Mosaddegh was putting his national interest above the greed of foreign imperial powers that tried to force him to accept an insultingly low royalty from its own oil.

In Khan’s case, he rejected U.S. military bases in Pakistan and refused to let his country be used as a “hired gun” to fight for the U.S. in its so-called “war on terror,” which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistanis and billions of dollars worth of damage.

For Pakistanis, a more accurate phrasing would be calling it the “war of terror.”

Another example of U.S. indirect colonialism and regime change by interference in another country’s internal affairs is the September 11, 1973 U.S.-backed coup in Chile, in which the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and replaced with the dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

All of the above regime-change operations resulted in massive violence, unrest, and loss of lives.

Comparison of Imran Khan with those politicians who want to replace him

As for the people who brought the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan, they have been proven to be ill-educated, incompetent, and corrupt, always putting personal interest above the national interest.

The Panama Papers revealed that the Nawaz Sharif family has laundered enormous sums of money out of Pakistan and put it in foreign banks.

As for the other clan, the Zardaris, they have also illegally moved billions of dollars out of Pakistan. Their leader, Asif Ali Zardari, was known as Mr. 10%, because for every government contract during the time when his wife Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister, his share was automatic 10%.

Asif Ali Zardari is suspected of having Benazir Bhutto’s brother Murtaza Bhutto assassinated when he ran against Benazir to become Pakistan’s prime minister. Murtaza’s daughter, the famous journalist and author Fatima Bhutto, has spoken out about her father’s assassination.

Besides robbing the country of its people’s wealth, other ramifications of such money-laundering are huge for a developing country like Pakistan.

To take money out of the country, the thieves have to convert it from Pakistani rupees to dollars, pounds, or other foreign currencies. When the amount is billions of dollars, it creates a shortage of foreign currency, and reduces the value of the local currency, leading to inflation and poverty.

In comparison, Imran Khan has a clean track record of no corruption, investing his own money to open two universities and three cancer hospitals. He is highly educated and perhaps the only unselfish Pakistani political leader in the past half century.

When Khan became prime minister, Pakistan was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

Through personal efforts and charisma, Khan arranged to get close to $6 billion from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to pay off the IMF, so the country could be saved from defaulting on the loan.

Despite Covid-19, global skyrocketing inflation, and zero cooperation from the opposition parties, whose only focus was to make him fail, Khan was able to reduce the national deficit from the time of Nawaz Sharif’s administration.

In three years, Khan helped create 5.5 million jobs. He also introduced health cards for the poor to provide them free healthcare.

Khan’s “No one will sleep hungry” program in the country’s most vulnerable populations looked after the very poor.

He also encouraged exchanges between students from private and public schools to promote national integration.

At the time of his ouster, Pakistan’s economy was growing by 4.3% and the country had low unemployment, some of the highest tax collection rates in history, large remissions of money into Pakistan from abroad ($31 billion according to Imran Khan in his speech in Lahore, Pakistan, on April 20, 2022), high yield per acre in all major crops, and the biggest exports in the country’s history.

A notable step that Imran Khan’s government took in March 2019 was initiating the program called Ehsaas (meaning compassion). It is a welfare and poverty-alleviation program to uplift the poor and reduce income inequality.

As of 2021, this program has two major components. One is Ehsaas Emergency Cash (introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic), and the other is Ehsaas Kafalat (meaning sufficiency). Kafalat expanded its coverage from 7 million people to 10 million people in 2021.

During the pandemic, monthly stipends were given to 13.2 million Pakistanis.

Another major achievement of Imran Khan is that he helped rid the country of terrorism. Pakistanis and foreign visitors could walk the streets without fear of being kidnapped for ransom. That freedom had never been possible during the Zardari and Nawaz Sharif eras, when terrorism was rampant and no one felt safe.

It was not in Khan’s power to control the world-wide phenomenon of inflation, which was made worse in the case of Pakistan because of hoarding and arbitrary price fixing by the wealthy mafia, whose sole goal from the very beginning of Khan’s term as prime minister had been to remove him from power.

One way for them to achieve their goal was to worsen the inflation. They did not care for the suffering of the masses.

Imran Khan is not perfect. No one is. He made some mistakes. Everyone does.

But given the overwhelming odds against him, he did accomplish a great deal.

I have yet to see anyone in U.S. media mention the important fact that Imran Khan served as the chancellor of University of Bradford in England for nine years, from 2005 to 2014. He left that prestigious and honorable position to pursue his political career in Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s and Pakistan’s future, and the prudent direction for the U.S. to take

From the massive demonstrations inside and outside Pakistan in support of Imran Khan, he seems certain to return to power as soon as the next election takes place, if it is free and fair.

It would be wise for the U.S. government to drop its ill-advised anti-Khan stance, because he is the undoubted leader of Pakistan.

Khan has declared many times that he is not anti-America, anti-India, or anti-anyone. He welcomes friendship of all, but slavery of no one. He is everyone’s partner in peace, but no one’s partner in war.

Khan believes in settling all political problems through negotiations and diplomacy, never through military action.

Perhaps the United States and Israel, the two countries notorious for military action rather than dialogue, could learn something of value from Khan’s approach to solving political problems.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Steven Hayden

    2022-05-17 at 09:44

    Stalin wrote the Constitution of DPRK and DPRK has never has a coup. European oligarchs wrote the constitution of former British colonies including Pakistan allowing unelected Supreme Court to remove unruly Presidents. Lula was removed using Brazil Supreme Court. Oligarchs knew the Supreme Court could remove unruly Presidents of former British and Spanish colonies. From 2002 to 2020 most world heroin came from Afghanistan and moved through Pakistan for export. Corrupt Pakistan oligarchs in concert with NATO moved heroin made profits and influenced Pakistan politics. NATO used old ties with Pakistan narco trade and oligarchs to control Imran Khan opposition. The constitution of the former colonies serves not the local poor but the oligarchs who drafted it.

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