On top of a truck, surrounded by a huge crowd, Imran Khan visibly enraged, repeated the statement that became a rallying cry for his millions of supporters.
O Pakistan said the deposed former prime minister, was being ruled by “traitors” installed by “a foreign conspiracy” hatched by the United States.
Khan was speaking on Thursday morning in the capital, Islamabad, in what he said was “the biggest protest ever” in the country’s history, after protesters clashed with security and he was forced to shut down. the event.
But his words were accompanied by a warning: “I am giving this imported government six days to declare new elections. Otherwise, I will return to Islamabad with 2 million people.”
Rapturous cries of support and indignation against the United States and the current Pakistani administration echoed through the crowd.
Khan’s allegations that there was a US-led conspiracy against him have become a staple of the many rallies he has held across Pakistan in a bid to return to power following his April 10 ouster in a motion of censure. parliamentary.
The allegations have hit a young population in a country where anti-American sentiment is common and anti-conventionalism is being fueled by a growing cost-of-living crisis.
But Khan’s critics say there is a problem with his claims: there is no evidence of a conspiracy.
Both the US and Pakistani militaries have vigorously denied Khan’s allegations, and the former prime minister has refused to offer any substantial evidence to support them.
“Imran Khan is trying to take advantage of anti-American sentiments to mobilize support,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US and the United Nations. The “loyal group of Khan supporters [está] ready to dismiss the facts and believe his foreign conspiracy narrative, even if there is not a shred of evidence to support it.”
The goal, Lodhi said, is clear: Khan sees the possibility of using decades-old animosities as his path back to power.
What are Khan’s conspiracy allegations
Khan has repeatedly claimed that Donald Lu, assistant secretary in the US office of South and Central Asia Affairs, met with Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington in March and told him that Khan should be removed from power in a motion to censorship.
Khan told CNN on Monday that Lu had threatened that Pakistan would “suffer consequences” unless he was removed from power.
“There is no truth to these allegations,” a US State Department spokesperson told CNN, having previously denied involvement in Khan’s ouster.
When asked to provide evidence of his allegations, Khan said there were notes taken from both the US and Pakistani sides at the meeting, but did not respond directly when asked if he would make any notes public – for each of the allegations.
He also said with evidence that a cipher – a coded diplomatic cable – describing the details of the meeting sent by the Pakistani ambassador was forwarded to Pakistan’s office. Khan stated that he submitted the minutes of that meeting to the National Security Council of Pakistan (CSNP).
The CSNP firmly rejected Khan’s accusations last month, saying in a statement that they “found no evidence of any conspiracy”.
Khan also said he was aware that his official visit to Moscow in late February, coinciding with the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, likely angered US officials.
Furthermore, Khan has previously accused Pakistan’s military and the opposition led by current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of conspiring with the US, which both deny.
“People are so outraged and insulted that these criminals were foisted on us,” Khan said.
A story of distrust
To understand how even the flimsiest of conspiracy theories can prove to be such a potent mobilization tool in this democracy of 220 million people in South Asia, experts point to a mutual distrust that has been festering for decades.
It’s a remarkable time period spanning wars on Pakistan’s gates, perceived betrayals, special forces operations, and rogue CIA contractors. According to Islamabad-based political analyst Hussain Nadim, against this backdrop, the claims “of foreign conspiracies don’t seem too strange.”
In fact, they are even “believable,” he said.
Much of the distrust stems from events in neighboring Afghanistan, where many Pakistanis blame US actions for destabilizing their own country – including attacks by Afghan-based militants on Pakistani soil.
The chaotic scenes of Afghans desperate to escape the Taliban advance are fresh in the minds of Pakistanis, who remember the Afghans clinging to the wheels of planes taking off from Kabul airport in August 2021. And as the security situation escalates deteriorates, many Pakistanis feel that they will pay the price.
The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks – when it launched its hunt for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network – only deepened the divide.
While Pakistan was early to sign on to George W. Bush’s “war on terror”, many in the Muslim-majority country saw the invasion – and subsequent war in Iraq – targeting Islam.
A series of war controversies exacerbated this sentiment; Islamabad has accused the US of killing thousands of Pakistanis in drone strikes on Pakistani soil and felt humiliated when the US failed to give advance notice of the Navy Seals attack on bin Laden’s hideout in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad in 2011.
The country’s anger was exacerbated after a fake vaccination program the CIA promoted in an attempt to collect DNA samples to verify bin Laden’s presence at the compound. The operation was a success in the eyes of Americans, but Pakistanis responded with skepticism, anger and violence over vaccines.
In 2011, an American CIA contractor named Raymond Davis killed two Pakistani men in Lahore. Davis claimed he shot the men in self-defense when they tried to rob him at gunpoint, but authorities at the time called the case a “clear murder.”
He was charged with murder and illegal possession of a firearm, but was acquitted after more than $2 million in compensation was paid to the victims’ families. The incident has heightened tensions between the two nations, with Congress warning Pakistani leaders that billions of dollars in US aid could be jeopardized if Davis is not released.
Such events caused “irreparable damage to trust”, according to Hassan Kamal Wattoo, a lawyer and columnist from Islamabad, who added that this is “giving credence to the belief that shadowy figures are conspiring against Pakistan from afar”.
This troubled history goes some way to explaining why, even when Khan was in office – save for a brief period of sympathy with former US President Donald Trump – he was eager to play the anti-American card.
Now that he is seeking a return to power, Khan is looking for a familiar tool to rally support, said Madiha Afzal, a foreign policy researcher at The Brookings Institution.
“This is part of a long history of conspiracy theories gaining traction in Pakistan, especially about the role of the West in the country,” she said.
“It’s something his supporters believe blindly.”
Khan’s stellar career in cricket has ensured his enduring appeal with voters. Riding a wave of popular support, he was elected four years ago with a promise to eradicate poverty and corruption and build a “new Pakistan”.
According to Afzal of the Brookings Institution, Khan’s supporters were drawn to the former prime minister’s argument that it is the corruption of the traditional parties “that ruled Pakistan for much of its democratic period that is where the root of the problems lies.” of Pakistan”.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif – who has led the campaign to remove Khan from the post of prime minister, along with his ruling Muslim League of Pakistan party – is an heir to the steel dynasty facing allegations of unresolved corruption. resolved.
His brother, Nawaz Sharif, is a former prime minister who was three times accused of corruption and barred by Pakistan’s highest court from holding political office.
According to former Ambassador Lodhi, there is now “a wave of sympathy for Khan” because of the way he was overthrown.
And attorney Wattoo said Khan’s supporters see him as an “independent and fearless alternative to a more conventional political elite.”
What happens next?
Whether this support will be enough to return Khan to power remains to be seen. But what seems clear is that, with more than a month into office, Shehbaz Sharif’s government has done little to deal with the rising inflation and economic crisis that contributed to Khan’s ouster.
While the government on Thursday lifted the cap on fuel prices, which will allow for the approval of a much-needed agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), financial journalist Ariba Shahid, who is based in Karachi, said the power struggle is only making things more difficult.
“This need for political influence is costing Pakistan’s long-term average inflation a rapidly depreciating rupee and eventually higher taxes to make up for the large deficit,” she said.
Meanwhile, Khan’s popularity “has soared to unprecedented levels,” said political analyst Nadim.
For his supporters – mostly young, middle-class people who are tired of corruption and the political elite – Khan is still the obvious choice as the country’s leader.
“(His expulsion) gave him victimization and made him a political tragedy,” Nadim said, adding that it was “two very powerful emotions” that galvanized Khan’s public support.
Source: CNN Brasil