Imran Khan vs. Pakistani army chief over US ties and Ukraine conflict

NEW DELHI: The political crisis in Pakistan appears to be deepening further amid the latest indications that Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country’s mighty military are no longer in agreement.
Pakistani army chief General Qamar Bajwa, who spoke at length during the Islamabad security dialogue, struck a divisive note with the beleaguered prime minister when he spoke about Islamabad’s ties with Washington and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
General Bajwa said Pakistan shares a long history of excellent strategic relations with the United States, which is its biggest export market. “We seek to expand our ties … without affecting our relationship with each other,” he said.
The comments, which followed Sunday’s no-confidence vote against Khan, are notable as Prime Minister Khan “almost” accused the United States of plotting to overthrow him.
In what appeared to be a slip, Khan on Thursday named the United States as the country behind the “threatening letter” which allegedly showed “evidence” of a foreign plot to overthrow his government. Khan later verified himself and said he was not talking about America but about a “foreign country which he cannot name”. But the reference to the United States was clear enough.
Khan added that the “threat note” not only demanded regime change, but made clear that he should be removed as prime minister.
The United States claimed that it had not sent any letters to Pakistan.
Later, Khan referred to the United States as a “powerful country” that supports India but is angry with Pakistan over its recent visit to Russia.
Khan lamented that while India appears to have escaped America’s wrath over its ties to Russia due to New Delhi’s “independent foreign policy”, Pakistan is being forced to toe the line.
Furthermore, General Bajwa has taken a tough stance against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, which contrasts sharply with the Pakistani government’s neutrality on the issue.
General Bajwa said he was deeply concerned about the conflict in Ukraine and noted that Pakistan had enjoyed excellent defense and economic relations with Kyiv since its independence.
He added that relations with Russia had been “cold” for a long time for many reasons.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Khan tried to foster strong ties with Russia and refrained from openly calling on Russia to invade.
Khan met President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on February 24, the day the Russian leader ordered a “special military operation” against Ukraine.
Khan also became the first Pakistani prime minister to visit Russia in 23 years after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited Moscow in 1999.
Earlier this month, Pakistan abstained from voting in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution calling on Russia to stop the war and urged that the conflict be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.
Loss of military support?
General Bajwa’s contrasting views come at a critical time for Khan – once a military favorite – as he desperately tries to maintain his grip on power.
Pakistan’s mighty military, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 73-plus years, has so far wielded considerable power in security and foreign policy.

Recently, Khan and Gen Bajwa also disagreed over the appointment of the ISI leader.
While Prime Minister Khan wanted General Faiz Hameed for the role, General Bajwa insisted on appointing Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, who eventually got the role.
Tough fight ahead for Khan
Earlier this week, Khan lost a majority in the National Assembly after defecting from his Pakistani party Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Two of its allied parties also withdrew their support and joined the ranks of the opposition.
Khan claimed that the opposition’s no-confidence motion against him was the result of a “foreign conspiracy” due to his independent foreign policy and that funds were funneled in from abroad to oust him from power.
He also hinted at a snap election after Sunday’s vote on the no-confidence motion.
Khan needs 172 votes in the lower house of 342 to foil the opposition’s bid to overthrow him. However, the opposition claims to have the support of 175 MPs and the Prime Minister is expected to resign immediately.
No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term. Furthermore, no prime minister in Pakistan’s history has ever been ousted by a motion of no confidence, and Khan is the third prime minister to rise to the challenge.
(With agency contributions)

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