‘It’s behind me’: Imran Khan takes a U-turn on ‘US conspiracy’ claim

PTI, Nov 14, 2022, 2:39 PM IST

Imran Khan has said he wants to mend relations with the US if re-elected and no longer blames it for his removal as Pakistan prime minister, apparently taking a U-turn after accusing Washington of engineering his ouster by supporting the then Opposition’s no-confidence motion. Khan, 70, who was ousted in April in a no-confidence vote had been claiming that he was the result of a conspiracy between prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and the US, a top security partner to Pakistan that has provided the country with billions of dollars in military aid. He had been claiming that the Opposition’s no-confidence motion against him was the result of a foreign conspiracy because of his independent foreign policy on Islamabad’s ties with countries like China and Russia and funds were being channelled from abroad to oust him from power.

In an interview with the Financial Times following an assassination attempt this month, Khan said he no longer “blamed” the US and wants a “dignified” relationship if re-elected. “As far as I’m concerned it’s over, it’s behind me,” he told the British financial newspaper of the alleged conspiracy, which both Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the US deny.

Khan has claimed that Donald Lu, the top American official dealing with South Asia in the US State Department, was involved in the ‘foreign conspiracy’ to topple his government. “The Pakistan I want to lead must have good relationships with everyone, especially the United States.

“Our relationship with the US has been as of a master-servant relationship, or a master-slave relationship, and we’ve been used like a hired gun. But for that I blame my own governments more than the US,” the newspaper quoted Khan as saying.

Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, suffered bullet injuries in the right leg earlier this month when two gunmen fired a volley of bullets at him and others standing on a container-mounted truck in the Wazirabad area, where he was leading the march against the government.

Khan has blamed Prime Minister Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Major General Faisal Naseer for hatching a plot to assassinate him.

The former cricketer-turned-politician said that early elections were the only way to restore political stability. He did not outline specific plans for the economy if he is returned to power but warned “it could be beyond anyone” if elections are not held soon. Khan accused the military of having previously weakened independent institutions and, together with political dynasties like the Sharif family, having acted as if “they’re above law”.

“The Army can play a constructive role in my future plans for Pakistan,” he said. “But it has to be that balance. You cannot have an elected government which has the responsibility given by the people, while the authority lies somewhere else.” Khan also criticised Pakistan’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, first started under his government in 2019 but revived by Sharif, for pushing austerity measures like higher fuel prices at a time of painful inflation.

IMF in July reached a preliminary staff-level agreement on the combined seventh and eighth reviews for a USD 6 billion loan facility for Pakistan.

The agreement paved the way for the release of the much-awaited USD 1.17 billion loan tranche that had been on hold since earlier this year. “When you contract the economy, and some of the IMF measures make your economy shrink, how are you supposed to pay off your loans, because your loans keep increasing?” he said. “Consumption has crashed…So my question is: How are we going to pay our debts? We are certainly going to head towards default.” Critics accuse Khan of further jeopardising this economic outlook by damaging relations with the US, IMF and other international partners on whom Pakistan depends for financing.

Khan admitted that a visit to Moscow a day before the Ukraine invasion in February — for which he claims the US retaliated against him — was “embarrassing” but said the trip was organised months in advance.

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