While in recent days a lot of attention has been focused upon the political events in Pakistan (the vote of no confidence on April 3, 2022, will decide Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s fate), what was interesting to see was an address by the Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at a two-day Islamabad Security Dialogue on April 2, 2022.
Imran Khan has accused the US for plotting his downfall, pointing to a ‘threat letter’ and citing his independent foreign policy (especially support for Russia) as the main reason for the same. During his address to the nation on Thursday, March 31, 2022, Khan said that the US was keen to dislodge him (though later on he said that mentioning the US specifically was a slip of tongue), and also said that the opposition was working against the national interest at the behest of certain forces abroad.
It would be pertinent to point out that while Khan’s anti-West tirade has drawn criticism from the opposition parties, the military, too, has not been particularly happy with his remarks. Significantly, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek E Insaaf led coalition had lost the support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) on March 30, 2022, and was left with the support of 164 legislators in the national assembly, while the magic number is 172.
Last month, Khan had lashed out at Islamabad-based Western envoys (including those of EU member countries) after 22 of them had written to the Pakistan Prime Minister seeking Pakistan’s support on the Ukraine issue (Pakistan had abstained from voting in favor of a UNGA resolution criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine). Khan had said that Pakistan is nobody’s slave.
During his address at the Islamabad Security Dialogue — which was held a day before the vote of confidence in Pakistan — Bajwa said:
We share a long history of excellent and strategic relationship with the US, which remains our largest export market. We seek to continue our ties with both countries [China and the US].
While it is true that ties between the US and Pakistan have deteriorated significantly (US President Joe Biden has not called Imran Khan after taking over), it would be pertinent to point out that there are lobbies in both Washington and Islamabad which are in favour of mending ties and at least having a working relationship. Both the US and Pakistan worked closely on the issue of Afghanistan, and given Islamabad’s economic challenges it needs to have a working relationship with the US (especially with regard to assistance from international organisations like the IMF) and the European Union (EU), and cannot look only to Beijing. In recent months, senior officials within the PTI government have repeatedly batted for improving Pakistan-US economic ties.
Interestingly with regard to the Ukraine crisis, Bajwa criticised Russia’s invasion, while batting for immediate cessation of hostilities. Said Bajwa:
despite legitimate security concerns of Russia, its aggression against a smaller country cannot be condoned.
Bajwa’s address and the criticism of Imran Khan’s anti-West/US pitch by opposition parties in Pakistan clearly points to the fact that, while in recent years due to the changing world order and the geopolitical architecture of South Asia, Islamabad may have moved closer to China and to an extent Russia, there is a realisation that Pakistan cannot further damage its relations with the West, and needs to strike a genuine balance between China/Russia and the West.