Sultan M Hali
It has become part of the vogue for those indicted on corruption charges to take potshots at Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. Some individuals, who may be in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)’s cross hairs, find it opportune to fire broadsides at the former cricketing hero, only to divert attention from their own shenanigans or claim that the PM has had them hauled before NAB in a vindictive act. Although the NAB is an independent body and does not administratively come under the Prime Minister, yet such falsehood is spread only to hide their own shame.
A former cricket baron, who may have corruption investigations carried out against him for financial wrongdoings during his tenure as head of the Cricketing Board of Pakistan, has become habitual in targeting Imran Khan and making him the target of his ire through his regular Op-Eds in an English weekly. In his latest venomous piece, ‘Hercules Unchained’, the author mocks the Prime Minister’s recent sojourn to the US. The “informed” writer claims: “It appears that the sole aim of Mr. Khan’s visit was to establish a ‘personal rapport’ with President Trump and charm him to death so that the US is more sympathetic to Pakistan’s myriad internal trials and external tribulations, so that the US trusts Pakistan not to play ‘double games’ as in the past but also understands why Pakistan cannot fully and quickly deliver Washington’s foreign policy agenda in the region in view of the “complex situation” in Afghanistan. Equally, Pakistan hopes Washington will not lean on FATF and the IMF to tighten the screws. If this mission has been accomplished, then Mr. Khan can genuinely claim to have secured a great diplomatic success. But the jury is out on this critical matter.”
First things first, Imran Khan does not need to charm anyone. In his heydays, Imran was revered for his prowess as a cricketing all-rounder, both a fast bowler and batsman and later as the Captain of the team who won the World Cup for Pakistan. His charming demeanour, athletic build and Hollywood good looks endeared him to even non-cricket-playing nations. Now a sexagenarian, it is Imran’s achievements as a politician charged with the urge of pulling Pakistan out of the doldrums that wins the respect for him. Earlier this year, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who is also the Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, visited Islamabad and was deeply taken in by Imran Khan’s development plans for Pakistan. The Senator, who is a close ally of the US President, vowed to urge President Donald Trump to meet Imran Khan to boost Washington’s Afghanistan peace efforts, calling the Pakistani Prime Minister an “agent of change”.
The meeting ultimately took place and Imran Khan mesmerized an audience of 28,000 during his address to the mammoth crowd at the Capital-One Arena in Washington DC. The meeting between Trump and Imran was instant chemistry as was visible from the body language of both leaders. Amidst the bonhomie and camaraderie, President Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The moment was caught on international media’s cameras but our “conscientious objector”, in his opinion piece, says “The PTI government is crowing about Trump’s offer to “mediate” the Kashmir dispute as a great initiative by PM Khan. There is no such mention in any press briefing or statement by the US State Department or White House, and New Delhi.” True that events moved rapidly, and New Delhi scrapped the special status of India-occupied Kashmir (IoK) leading to heightened tension between New Delhi and Islamabad but Trump’s offer was repeated again and is not “President Trump’s statement as another one of his notorious gaffes” as claimed by the writer of the Op-Ed.
The erudite scholar surmises that President Trump referred to the possibility of “incentivizing” Pakistan in the distant future only if and this is the Big IF – Pakistan were to “do more” to facilitate the US end-game in Afghanistan. True, but the columnist must surely know that relations with the US although improving since the meeting, remain transactional. The US desires a smooth pullout from Afghanistan while Pakistan is seeking peace in the war-ravaged country. If Pakistan can deliver the Taliban on the negotiation table, it will be an achievement. Imran Khan has sought neither pelf nor pecuniary rewards for himself or Pakistan. All he seeks is acceptance of Pakistan’s narrative and respect for its solidarity.
The “learned” columnist states that the Trump Administration is also in hurry to announce a “successful” pullout from Afghanistan in the election year. Jeeringly, the columnist comments: “If Imran Khan can deliver on this external agenda no less than on his internal reform program, he will truly deserve a second World Cup Trophy.” Would the writer begrudge Imran the achievement? Being a stakeholder in “peace in Afghanistan”, if the Pakistani Prime Minister’s efforts see fruition, it will be commendable and make Imran Khan a candidate for the coveted Nobel Peace Prize.
Ultimately, the critic grudgingly acknowledges ‘Mr. Khan has also warned about the likely regional and global consequences of a US-Iran armed conflict, especially during the current window of opportunity to “sort out” Afghanistan. This is a bold and timely intervention, for which he must be praised, given President Trump’s hostile attitude towards Iran and countervailing military moves in the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz.’
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.