China’s President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan
From denying having any knowledge of human rights abuses against Chinese Uighurs, to claiming he had raised the issue with China behind closed doors, Imran Khan has now stated that Pakistan accepts China’s version as opposed to accounts of witness statements cited by rights groups, or Western governments because “we have a relationship of trust with China” so we trust them completely.
Imran Khan was speaking to members of the Chinese news media who were visiting Islamabad as part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Thursday. He, correctly, cited the hypocrisy of those who ignore the rights abuses in Kashmir or Palestine, but appeared completely oblivious of the irony of his own hypocrisy on the issue.
Khan also routinely denies human rights abuses within Pakistan, because these abuses are mostly by the army, on whose support he rode to power, and still remains.
What we see in him, is that he nakedly swings back and forth between countries he thinks he can put his hands in the pockets of.
When soon after assuming power Imran Khan went with General Bajwa and met with President Trump, the duo dumped China and CPEC and all work on it stopped—except on Facebook. The Chinese were furious, but they were lied to. The swing to the West was supposed to bring a windfall, but it brought only the IMF programme, horrendous taxes, inflation, plummeting of the rupee, tanking of the economy, and no free dollars came forth.
And then came President Biden in January 2021, and matters took a turn for the worse between Pakistan and the US. President Biden has not once called Imran Khan and that is rankling him. He arranged a paid-for interview with some commercial website and made the famous “absolutely not” remark to the anchor of the show upon being asked whether Pakistan would give bases to the US. He was possibly trying to become relevant and/or drive up the price of providing bases. If not that, he was certainly targeting the domestic audience, evident from the praises touts sang.
But the sad reality, for him and his local patrons, is that the US has never asked for bases from Pakistan this time around. By bringing this up again and again, perhaps he is trying to tell the US that: "we are here, please talk to us about bases."
However, Biden has made it very clear that the US has several tricks up its sleeve to collect intelligence and does not need bases for it.
Whether it will work is anyone’s guess. But far as I can estimate, the current junta’s sheer incompetence is visible to all and the Chinese would not be an exception. Therefore, I would not expect the CPEC to restart till this junta remains in place. Result: out in the cold with no real friends in the world.
The most shocking aspect of Imran Khan’s remarks though, was praise of the Chinese political system and denigration of democracy.
This was the second time he attacked democracy, saying, “Until now, we had been told that the best way for societies to improve was through Western democracy. The CPC has introduced an alternative model and they have beaten all Western democracies in the way they have highlighted merit in society" adding that society only succeeds when it has systems in place for holding the ruling elite accountable and ensuring meritocracy.
"Until now, the feeling was that electoral democracy is the best way to bring leaders on merit and hold them accountable. But the CPC has achieved much better [outcomes] without democracy. Their system for sifting through talent and bringing it up is better than the democratic system," he said.
Imran Khan also praised the "flexibility" of the system.
"In our society and in Western democracies, it is difficult to bring change as you are bound by rules and regulations," he said, lamenting the fact that democracies only plan for "the next five years".
He said that leaders like Chinese President Xi Jinping worked their way up from the bottom. "One can only become a leader after going through a long struggle. This process is not present in Western democracies. An American president doesn't go through this rigorous process."
Whether he was taking a pot shot at President Biden is unclear. But his arguments against democracy were completely unhinged.
The Chief Executive of the country was brown-nosing the Chinese political system, condoning Uighur rights violations, and attacking democracy.
He demonstrated complete lack of concern with the security issues facing Pakistan in the face of impending fall of Kabul to the Taliban, as if to say: “I’m here to make speeches, and you deal with the rest.”
What transpired at this security briefing is worth a mention.
According to sources close to those present at the briefing, General Bajwa informed the audience that his outfit had tried its best to get Taliban to abide by the peace deal and get its share of power via negotiations, but that the Afghan Taliban was not listening. Nothing new there, but it is interesting that now he admits it.
Bajwa also said that should the Taliban take over militarily, Pakistan will face a huge violent blow back since the TTP and TTA are on the same page. Again, this is something everyone and their aunt has known for years, but something the Pakistan army kept denying and differentiating between good and bad Taliban, and provided sanctuaries, funding, and logistical support and safe havens to the so called ‘good Taliban.
He wanted to know that if Kabul falls to the Taliban, would Pakistan recognise its government and what policy the politicians would advise. The answer to his first a question was ‘no’. And the answer to his second question from one MNA was, “did you ask us about the policies you have framed in this regard for the last twenty years, that you are now asking us for the policy?”
It is very clear now to the security establishment that it is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and that there will be blowback whichever decision is taken, such is the mess it has created. Therefore, it now wants politicians to own the mess. Perhaps the politicians will bail them out again, but the public is very clear about who landed us in this mess.
But Imran Khan’s complete lack of interest in the country’s affairs is only matched with his desire to rule this country as a lifetime President or Prime Minister via a fascist system.
Currently, the de jure system is democratic and he presides over the country because of the support of the army—the same army whose briefings he does not bother to attend. His love for autocrats and autocracy surfaces again and again—but the way he is defying and annoying the army again and again, one is not sure how long the army will bear him.
(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)