Despite rumors of an impending coup, Pakistan looks on course for early elections. But an Imran Khan win would see big changes to ties with the U.S.
Events have been moving fast in Pakistan in the last few months. Yet while the country’s longest lasting democratic government has been widely reported as being on the brink of a coup, rumors of its death have been premature. Indeed, the classic standoff between civilian government, the military and the justice system seems to have been tempered by another element – the free media and its counterpart, informed public opinion. The likely scenario if all factions hold to the status quo will be an early election following the March vote for the Senate.
This will be an opportunity for emerging leader Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf,or the Movement for Justice Party, to step into the political space being created, and to prove that Pakistan’s fragile democracy really has taken root. In a CNN interview on January 22 with Fareed Zakaria, Khan stated his ambition is to end “the war with no objectives,” as well as to put an end to corruption, the deepening sense of gloom, the unprecedented inflation and the sense that “Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world.”
Khan’s call for peace is also a powerful protest against the United States and its policies in this turbulent area of the world. Anti-U.S. feeling is strong in Pakistan ever since the killing of Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan refuge, something that caused major embarrassment to the military establishment and its intelligence service, the ISI. Relations with the U.S. became even frostier in November, when 24 Pakistani troops were killed in a NATO aerial attack on two border outposts. Pakistan still doesn’t accept the U.S. account that puts partial blame on Pakistani forces.
Then there’s the recall of Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, also in November, which has broken the communication established between the two countries. Haqqani, a key ally of President Asif Ali Zardari, was well regarded by the Obama administration. He’s now said to be under virtual house arrest in a presidential guest suite in Islamabad because of his implied role in asking for U.S. help should there be a coup in Pakistan. He denies that he wrote the memo or that he asked an American businessman of Pakistani origin, Mansoor Ijaz, to deliver it to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.
Ijaz was scheduled to arrive in Pakistan before January 24 to give evidence before the judicial panel investigating the allegations, but he is reportedly refusing to enter the country because of fears over his safety. In the meantime, the government announced on January 19 a “parliamentary review of bilateral relations,” saying this was the reason a visit by U.S. Special Envoy Marc Grossman was rebuffed. Grossman is currently touring the region for consultations over the peace process with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan is said to be annoyed about not being informed about such talks and the opening of the office in Qatar. Pakistan had recently also asked Washington to reschedule a visit of the Central Command head Gen. James Mattis to the country, saying that “Pakistani leaders were busy with an internal political dispute.”
Another point of tension is the closing of NATO supply routes by Pakistan as retaliation for the fatal airstrikes in November. Pakistan plans to reopen these routes, but will impose tariffs on supplies, both to express their anger and to raise funds for the government. At present, the United States is paying six times as much to send war supplies to troops in Afghanistan through alternate routes, and hundreds of vehicles stacked with goods and fuel are still being held at the border.
Photo Credit: World Economic Forum