Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts How Populist Politicians are Isolating Pakistan

How Populist Politicians are Isolating Pakistan

In late November, while Imran Khan, an athlete turned populist politician, was lambasting the United States and inciting his party workers to stop NATO supplies on the streets of Pakistan, there was an Iranian door opening on the other side of the world that could also mean the closing of Pakistan’s door as a strategic geo-political partner to the United States.

Confused Pakistani political elites will likely respond. So what? We don’t need the United States. All of this could be true, if Pakistan wasn’t so financially dependent on the aid, trade and military support from the United States, and other NATO countries. Governance, economic and social structures have been paralyzed or dismantled in Pakistan over the last five years, with still no sign of resurrection even though a new Government is in place. Pakistan is by no means self-sufficient, nor it is rich with any natural resource that other nations would go against the global grain to acquire.

Pakistan’s politicians need to stop and ask themselves, given its current precarious state of affairs, what exactly does Pakistan have to offer when its neighbors are leveraging the diplomatic game better and smarter than it is? The socio-economic gains that Pakistan’s neighbors are making come at the cost of potential economic opportunities. If Pakistan was internally stable and its political elite had the attitude to build global alliances, their neighbors’ successes would only add to their own with the opening of trade routes, strengthening of cooperative relationships and broadening of investment opportunities.

US-Iranian relations are thawing, NATO troops are pulling out of Afghanistan and China and India’s economic growth and regional dominance are here to stay. The region is rapidly transforming as leaders of Pakistan’s neighbors are steering their respective nations away from conflict and towards sustainable peace and prosperity. In contrast, Pakistani politicians, in particular Imran Khan, instead of navigating the nation towards capitalizing on changing times are pushing Pakistan towards global isolation and lost opportunities, in their futile quest to fuel populist anti-American sentiments and find enduring affection in the hearts of militants and extremists. What a disservice Imran Khan is doing to the people and the future of Pakistan.

I think, after the strengthening of US-India strategic ties, it is the thawing of US-Iran relations where Pakistan will feel the greatest hit. The United States could further shift the realization of its interests in the region by expanding its partnership with the Shia-dominated Iran to provide a land link to Afghanistan, thus further lowering its tolerance for the growing dominance of Sunni extremists and terrorists in Pakistan. The drone attacks against which Imran Khan is zealously protesting will not only continue, but will expand as long as militancy is harbored within Pakistan’s borders. He forgets that drone strikes are a response to terrorists acting with impunity in the region, not the other way around; he also forgets that drone strikes are an alternate solution in the absence of resolve by Pakistani politicians to wholeheartedly act against extremist and terrorists; let’s not forget militancy is the actual problem in Pakistan. 

With the weekend protests and the NATO supply blockage, Imran Khan has further damaged Pakistan’s global image, fueled lawlessness by inciting people who could commit acts of violence, caused Pakistan to violate international agreements with NATO, threatened to disrupt much needed jobs of all those Pakistanis associated directly and indirectly with transporting NATO supplies and lastly cemented the idea that the Taliban sympathetic Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif just cannot and will not act against anyone or anything that is causing real harm to Pakistan.

With “saviors” such as these, Pakistan is in no need of any other enemies; both internal and external.

Raza Bokhari is the International Spokesperson for General Pervez Musharraf, the Former President of Pakistan. He is a Trustee of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Vice Chairman of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and Past President of Pakistani American Public Affairs Committee. The opinions expressed here are his own.