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Why is Khan blaming the West for his downfall?

Haroon Janjua Islamabad
March 31, 2022

The premier has lost support in parliament after key coalition partners decided to support the opposition's no-confidence vote. Instead of stepping down, Khan is accusing a "foreign power" of plotting his ouster.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan attends a military parade to mark Pakistan National Day in Islamabad on March 23, 2022
Analysts say that Khan should not expect the military to rescue him at this pointImage: Anjum Naveed/AP/picture alliance

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has claimed that a foreign conspiracy is being hatched to topple his government amid an upcoming no-confidence vote against him.

In a public rally on Sunday, Khan spoke about a "letter" from a "foreign power" as "proof" of the conspiracy.

The center-right premier accuses Pakistani opposition parties of colluding with the West to oust him.

"We have been threatened in writing, but we will not compromise on national interests," he said, without naming the country in question.

On Wednesday, Khan discussed the alleged document with some local journalists but didn't show it to them, in compliance with the national security act.

"The letter is quite serious and threatening," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told DW.

Khan alleges foreign interference amid no-confidence vote

Khan's supporters are claiming that the US is trying to destabilize the government.

The US State Department has denied these reports and said "there is no truth to these allegations."

Analysts say Khan is trying to turn the public against the opposition by accusing the West.

"Bringing foreign policy into the public domain could be disastrous. The government's position on this matter is damaging for Pakistan," Abdul Basit, former Pakistan High Commissioner to India and former ambassador to Germany, told DW.

Basit added that diplomatic norms don't allow foreign officials to make statements against other countries and their governments.

Khan is facing the toughest political challenge of his three-and-a-half year tenure as prime minister, with many lawmakers from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and key coalition allies supporting a no-confidence vote in parliament set for April 4.

Opposition parties blame Khan for economic mismanagement and a crack down on political opponents and civil society activists. Since Khan took reins of the country in 2018, inflation and unemployment have increased manifold.

Khan's anti-US posturing

Analysts say that Pakistan is heading toward early election regardless of the outcome of the no-confidence vote, and that Khan believes anti-US rhetoric could help escort him back to power should the country go to early polls.

"I would be quite surprised if a foreign country had so much at stake in Pakistan these days that it would be willing to orchestrate an effort to oust Khan," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW.

"One could talk about all the meddling that the US has done in the past, but given everything it has on its plate right now, it seems questionable that it would suddenly accord special significance to the internal politics of Pakistan," he added.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani political analyst, says that a "standard diplomatic cable is being used as a political instrument" in an attempt to save Khan's government.

"The premier has clearly chosen an anti-West platform for the next elections," he added.

Khan visited Moscow last month and held a meeting with President Vladimir Putin the same day Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, Khan has been presenting himself as an "anti-West" leader to his supporters, the one who has the guts to stand up against "imperialists."

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 24, 2022
Khan has been posturing himself as an 'anti-West' leaderImage: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Getty Images/AFP

"Khan has likely already annoyed quite a few countries because of his sharp anti-West criticism in recent weeks. For Khan's government to now imply that the US has sought regime change in Pakistan certainly won't play well in Washington," Kugelman underlined.

"I also imagine this messaging has made the Pakistani military unhappy. The generals appear more positive about the idea of a continued partnership with the US than the civilian leadership does," he added.

Khan 'on his own now'

The Pakistani military has so far remained neutral in the political crisis. Analysts say this has put Khan in a vulnerable position, as he has tried to use generals' support to thwart previous conflicts.

"I don't think that Khan can expect to be rescued by the military at this point. His relationship with army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa appears to be irreparable, and the broader military likely isn't pleased with him either. Khan is on his own now," Kugelman said.

"He has blamed the opposition and external forces for his predicament, but at the end of the day he only has himself to blame. And that's not only because of his governance failures but also because of his refusal to reach across the aisle and work with rivals. He has remained a highly partisan prime minister, and at a moment when he needs all the help he can get, he's struggling," he added.

'State of press freedom completely rotten in Pakistan'

Edited by: Shamil Shams

Haroon Janjua
Haroon Janjua Journalist based in Islamabad, focusing on Pakistani politics and societyJanjuaHaroon