Tharoor Line | Imran Khan's 'khuddar qaum' ploy is a subtle attack on Pak military

Imran Khan. File photo/ PTI

One of the more interesting sidelights of the political drama next door that resulted in the defenestration of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was his reference to India in a public speech as a "khuddar qaum" (a self-respecting people).

Imran Khan’s point, during his national address on the eve of the contentious no-confidence vote that removed him, was that “no superpower can dictate terms to India".

As he explained: "We and India got our independence together but Pakistan gets used as a tissue paper and thrown away."

Earlier, the Pak PM had lauded India's independent foreign policy, referring specifically to New Delhi's decision to buy oil from Russia amid global sanctions.

"I laud India today... they have always had an independent foreign policy. India is part of the Quad alliance with US... and it calls itself neutral," he declared with wistful admiration.

No one in New Delhi got excessively carried away by the outgoing Pakistani Prime Minister’s uncharacteristic praise for a country he had bashed on every available platform for the last few years.

The reason was simple: it was clear his remarks in fact had another target. It was one more salvo in his ongoing battle with the Pakistani military, which had orchestrated his rise to power and then decided to let him fall.

The military, he was implying, was subservient to American interests, and was acquiescing in a US-led assault on Pakistani sovereignty to get rid of him.

Praising India, in other words, was just a subtle way of attacking the military, which no Pakistani leader could afford to do directly.

Under Imran Khan, Pakistan had moved away from its previous faithful allegiance to Washington’s policies, even as the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan had dramatically reduced America’s dependence on Pakistan for logistics support for its troops in that country.

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Combo image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Left) and Imran Khan. File photo: Agency

Instead, Pakistan’s alliance with the Taliban in that country, its own increasing violent religious extremism, and growing reliance on China for funding and infrastructure support, were all greeted with increasing dismay in Washington.

President Biden has ostentatiously failed to return Imran’s congratulatory call on his election a year and a half ago, an insult that has not escaped notice in Islamabad.

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US president Joe Biden. File photo: Reuters

In turn, Imran signalled a strategic turn towards Russia, finding himself in Moscow on the very day that Russian troops marched into Ukraine.

Instead of cancelling his appointments and going home, he continued with them, met President Putin even while he was orchestrating his reviled invasion, and in an unguarded moment allowed himself to be filmed saying that “it was an exciting time to be here”.

If many in Pakistan believe there may be some truth in Khan’s fevered accusations about an alleged U.S. conspiracy to oust him, there were enough grounds in his own conduct to justify such an overthrow.

But others are quick to point out that neither Imran nor Pakistan are important enough in post-Afghanistan Washington for any US Administration to take the trouble to mount a coup against him. Interestingly, though, Imran’s belated rhetorical tribute to India may in fact have revealed New Delhi’s greater acceptability to the powerful Pakistani military.

Last week, Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, allegedly Washington’s favourite in Islamabad, called once again for improved relations with India.

Though, in his first speech as Prime Minister, Shahbaz Sharif ritually raked up the Kashmir issue, New Delhi will be watching the political drama in Pakistan closely for confirmation of a new willingness there to cultivate the “khuddar quam”.

For a change, the new government in Islamabad will find us receptive.

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