The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

It has slowly dawned on Imran Khan, that should he become prime minister again, he might need the United States.

Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former prime minister, said in a recent video message: “We wanted to get cheap Russian crude oil just like India but that could not happen as unfortunately, my government fell due to a no-confidence motion.”

In recent months, Khan has stopped apportioning blame for his ouster on the United States, instead, blaming Qamar Javed Bajwa, the former head of the country’s powerful army. Khan’s change of tune was abundantly clear when in an interview with the Financial Times in November, stated that he was ready to put the past behind him and seek to have a productive relationship with Washington.

Previously, Khan has taken the position that Pakistan’s relationship with Washington was akin to a “master-slave/master-servant relationship.”

Khan’s interview with the Voice of America in February was notable because he categorically said that Washington was not responsible for his ouster. Khan said that Bajwa had conveyed a false impression to Washington that he was “anti-American.” Khan has repeatedly stressed that having a good relationship with Washington was necessary.

In recent weeks, while several U.S. lawmakers have spoken to Khan and expressed their support, they have voiced concerns regarding human rights issues. In March, Rep. Brad Sherman (R-CA) raised concerns over human rights violations and freedom of speech under the current government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Sherman also wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concerns regarding human rights issues and democracy in Pakistan. Sherman wrote in his letter: “I urge the authorities to make sure that going forward political figures or citizens who simply want to demonstrate are not subjected to anti-democratic consequences.”

Khan’s attempts toward mending ties with Washington are evident from the fact that in 2022, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, his political party, had hired two lobbying firms.

Several reasons have been cited for Khan’s efforts towards reducing tensions with the West, and the United States, in particular.

Khan realizes that if he were to again become prime minister, Pakistan’s economy would need some support from Washington. The United States could play an important role in easing the terms and conditions of IMF loans. It has become evident that countries that have bailed Pakistan out in the past, namely China and Saudi Arabia, will only help up to a point.

Maleeha Lodhi, writing in Dawn, suggests: “Countries Pakistan has relied on for funds now seem fatigued and overburdened by its ‘requests.’ This is evidenced by delay in their financing commitments coming through.”

During Khan’s previous tenure as prime minister, ties with Saudi Arabia had witnessed a downward slope, while China had expressed its unhappiness regarding the progress of various infrastructure projects.

Khan also realizes that it is not just the country’s military, but a large section of the elite, including many of his supporters, which wants a working relationship with Washington.

Pakistan is faced with multiple economic and political challenges and the current coalition government seems to be on a weak wicket. It remains to be seen if in the general elections, Imran Khan can rely on his supporters to win, and whether his overtures toward Washington will yield any benefits if he does return to power. Given the changing geopolitical situation, there are of course numerous other factors which will influence the overall trajectory of Pakistan-U.S. relations.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India.