Imran Khan screams conspiracy as his government falls and Pakistan is pushed into the abyss of electoral uncertainty.
Islamabad has often been called the conspiracy theory capital of the world. Everything that happens is attributed to a conspiracy or to use the Urdu word – “saazish”. Only no one knows the identity of the conspirators. There are only insinuations and innuendoes pointing in a very general direction; never anything specific. And yet, strangely enough, even though the alleged conspirators are some shadowy figures, everyone seems to know about the conspiracy! Pakistan’s obsessions with manufacturing conspiracy theories reached the next level recently after Prime Minister Imran Khan waved a ‘letter’ at a public rally and warned his audience of a deep conspiracy that had been hatched by the ‘international establishment’ to destabilise his government and oust him from power. One of his cronies, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, even claimed that Imran Khan was fighting on two fronts – against the ‘international establishment’ (read the Satanic America and West) and the ‘local establishment’ (read the Pakistan Army and the politicians working for it).
Faced with a No-Confidence Motion against his government, this ‘letter’ was supposed to be the trump card, or the ‘surprise’, that Imran Khan was going to spring on the opposition and put it on the defensive. Imran alleged that he had been threatened in this letter by foreign powers who saw him as an obstacle because he was defending Pakistan’s national interests and pitching for an ‘independent’ foreign policy and defying the West. Initially it was assumed that the ‘letter’ Imran was waving was the one that EU ambassadors based in Islamabad had written to the Pakistan government urging that it condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But this letter was already public and known to everyone anyway. There was also a lot of scepticism because no one, even in Islamabad, was ready to believe that any country would be so indiscreet as to issue a threat to another head of government and that too in writing. Analysts in Pakistan compared Imran Khan’s waiving of the ‘letter’ to something that one of his predecessors Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had done in 1977 when he was facing an opposition agitation against rigged elections. But as the old adage goes: History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce.
With inconvenient and uncomfortable questions being raised even by journalists who had been working more as party spin doctors than as professional media personnel, Imran Khan and his closest confidants were slowly forced to start coming clean. It turned out that the ‘letter’ was not a letter but a memo that had been sent by the Pakistan Embassy (arguably in Washington) to the Foreign Ministry informing it of a conversation with some senior US official and the memo writers own interpretation and assessment of what was being conveyed. In other words, it was an internal communication, and not a ‘threat’ issued by another country. According to reports, the military establishment was aware of this memo and didn’t consider it a direct threat. And yet, Imran Khan was advised by his courtiers like Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf to use this memo to try and regain lost political support. At the very least, float the narrative that the great crusading
Khan had been done down by corrupt and venal politicians who were working at the behest of the evil West that couldn’t countenance a self-respecting, patriotic Pakistani leader like Imran Khan. One of Imran Khan’s cronies went to the extent of insinuating that there was a clear threat of assassination that could be construed from the ‘letter’ (or memo). Suffice to say, an routine, internal foreign office communication was used to allege a foreign conspiracy against the Imran Khan regime.
Journalists who were briefed on the ‘memogate’ were only given the gist of what was contained in it. They were also informed of how the government interpreted the contents of the memo. But the memo was only waved at them, not shown to them. The language and contents, allegedly very harsh and threatening, has not been made public. Even the name of the country has not been mentioned – everyone and his aunt knows that it is the US; nor has the name or designation of the official been made public – it was the US Under Secretary of State meeting the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington. Apparently the Imran Khan regime feels disclosing these details would violate the Official Secrets Act and will ruin relations with the unnamed country. But it is quite clear that by bringing the memo’s contents (or at least the gist of it) will only foul relations with that country (USA) even more. The US State Department has meanwhile denied having written any such letter to the Pakistani Prime Minister.
The gist of the memo is actually not surprising. Given that Imran Khan has taken a strident stand against the US, it is natural that the Americans aren’t exactly found of him. From what has been reported in the Pakistani media, the memo claimed that the US official told the Pakistani Ambassador that relations between the two countries would remain rocky as long as Imran Khan was at the helm of affairs. It was also conveyed that going forward, the relationship would depend on the success of the No-Confidence Motion. If Imran Khan survived the Motion, then relations would deteriorate and there would be “serious consequences”. If however the Motion succeeded, relations could start moving towards normalcy. That the meeting took place a day before the No-Confidence Motion was submitted is being presented as evidence of a conspiracy by Imran Khan and his cronies. They ask how the US official knew about the no trust move. But the fact is that the move was being discussed since January last and by end February the draft of the no-trust move had been finalized and was being regularly reported in the Pakistani media. In other words, the no trust move was no secret, even less an international conspiracy. Secondly, all the US official was telling his Pakistani interlocutor was that given Imran Khan’s attitude and approach, there was no possibility of any positive movement in bilateral relationship. How the Pakistanis have construed this to be a threat, or a regime change conspiracy, or even an assassination plot is quite bewildering and bizarre.
Clearly, the entire “Memogate” conspiracy is nothing but a self-serving, fabricated controversy, manufactured only to burnish Imran Khan’s political credentials. But in trying to protect his politics, Imran Khan has caused grievous harm to Pakistan’s interests and damaged its relations with the US and its allies.
Far from protecting Imran Khan, this controversy will only become another nail in his political coffin.