When it comes to inflammatory anti-American rhetoric, few politicians can match Pakistan’s
Since Parliament ousted him as prime minister in April, Mr. Khan has made restoring the country’s national pride—fatally wounded by Washington in his telling—the centerpiece of his campaign to reclaim power. In interviews and speeches, Mr. Khan accuses the U.S. of imposing a “master-slave” relationship on Pakistan and of using the Islamic nation like “tissue paper.” Mr. Khan wants his country to emulate India, which he lauds for its independent foreign policy.
In a land steeped in anti-American sentiment, such rhetoric plays well. His supporters trumpet his implausible claim that Prime Minister
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leads an “imported government” put in place by scheming American diplomats. That pride in defying America explains Mr. Khan’s praise for India, which otherwise might seem odd—particularly coming from a man on whose watch bilateral ties with New Delhi declined precipitously.
Mr. Khan’s rhetoric is tinged with envy. The U.S. maintains close ties with India, even though its government frequently defies Washington’s wishes. In his speeches, Mr. Khan points out that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hasn’t prevented India from deepening ties with Moscow. If India can buy Russian oil, he asks, why can’t Pakistan?
He misreads both the historical record and the causes of Pakistan’s decline on the world stage. Contrary to his claims, the U.S. has treated Islamabad generously, sometimes to the detriment of American interests. If Washington now favors India, Pakistan has only itself blame.
Take the charge that America treats Pakistan as a slave nation. As
a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, pointed out in a TV interview last week, that’s false. “If Pakistan had truly been a slave of America, then it wouldn’t be a proud nuclear weapons state,” she said. Nor could Islamabad have resisted U.S. pressure early in the Cold War to forgo deeper ties with China. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ms. Lodhi said, Pakistan ignored U.S. charges that it was playing a “double game”—aiding the terrorist groups Washington gave it cash to fight—and maintained ties with the Taliban.
Pundits can debate whether the diplomatic achievements Ms. Lodhi lauds truly benefited Pakistan, but there’s no denying the thrust of her argument. For decades Islamabad benefited from American largess while doggedly pursuing its own interests, even when they contradicted U.S. policy. President Trump famously summed up this reality in a tweet in 2018: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”
Unlike Mr. Khan’s concocted claims about the U.S.’s role in his ouster—like previous prime minister, he actually lost his job because he fell out with the army chief—his observation about India’s independent foreign policy at least has a factual basis.
As a member of the Quad—which includes the U.S., Japan and Australia—India enjoys close ties with the U.S. President Biden has met with Prime Minister
virtually or in person, at least eight times, most recently at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia. At the same time, India remains a major importer of Russian weapons, has steadfastly refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has dramatically stepped up imports of Russian oil and fertilizer. Last fiscal year Russia accounted for a mere 2% of India’s crude-oil imports and 6% of its fertilizer imports. So far this year Russian oil makes up 15.6% of India’s oil imports and 21.7% of its fertilizer imports. According to energy analytics firm Vortexa, Russia was India’s top supplier of oil last month, ahead of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
In Mr. Khan’s imagination, India’s autonomy derives from defiant leadership that refuses to bend to Western pressure. In reality, it reflects fundamental economic and geopolitical realities. India has a large economy and shares U.S. concerns about the unchecked rise of China. Pakistan is bankrupt and a de facto client state of Beijing. It’s no surprise that Islamabad is far less influential than New Delhi.
During the Cold War, well-run U.S. allies such as South Korea and Taiwan used their proximity to Washington to build competitive economies. Pakistan’s leaders—especially its powerful army—focused instead on exporting jihad and enriching generals with real-estate deals. India too struggled economically after its independence, weighed down by socialist policies, but in 1991 New Delhi began implementing reforms. Islamabad, meanwhile, continued business as usual.
Mr. Khan shows no understanding of this history, but its ramifications are obvious. India’s $3.2 trillion economy is more than nine times as large as Pakistan’s. India’s foreign-exchange reserves ($545 billion) are about 70 times Pakistan’s. India has produced more than 100 companies with an opening valuation of $1 billion. Pakistan has none.
Nobody can blame Imran Khan for seeking self-respect for Pakistan. But the first step toward achieving that is to accept reality instead of looking for convenient scapegoats. Nothing is helped by selling your people delusions.
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