The attempt to change power in Pakistan attracts attention in Russia mainly because they see it as the hand of Washington, that is, the intrigues of the Anglo-Saxons against one of the key countries of the Islamic world, provoked, moreover, by its unwillingness to join the anti-Russian front. But the situation is both more complicated and more revealing for the entire outgoing world order. It is important for Russia to correctly understand the processes taking place there, and it is a pity that we have always paid little attention to Pakistan.
Therefore, the recent visit to Russia – the first at the highest level in this century – by Prime Minister Imran Khan was so significant. Vladimir Putin has never been to Pakistan, and the leaders of the Islamic Republic have not visited us since 1998. And this despite the fact that Pakistan is far from an ordinary country: the fifth in the world in terms of population (220 million), one of the nine nuclear powers. Yes, with a weak economy (about 40th place in the world), but with great potential and major geopolitical significance. But the meeting between Imran Khan and Putin took place on February 24, the day the Russian special operation in Ukraine began., and did not receive a noticeable resonance. Not counting how the West was outraged that Imran Khan did not condemn “Russian aggression”, but a few days later sharply responded to the open call of Western ambassadors to vote in the UN for condemning Russia: “You think we are your slaves who will do whatever they say?”
And now Imran Khan has been removed from power: Parliament has passed a vote of no confidence in his government, appointing the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (who was sentenced to prison and therefore lives in London ) as prime minister. Imran Khan did not recognize the legality of the vote and demands to dissolve parliament and call new elections, and rallies in support of him are taking place all over the country. But everything will be decided not on the street or in parliament, and depends on what the army says.
The old joke that all countries have their own armies and only the Pakistani army has its own state is not really a joke. The army not only plays a huge role in the life of Pakistan (as well as in the life of many Muslim countries, such as Egypt ), it is, in fact, the guarantor of the existence of the country as such. The country is partly artificial, because it was formed as a result of the division of British India and includes its Muslim part (and the name itself is translated as “country of the pure”). Pakistan is multiethnic and very religious, with an overwhelming Sunni majority, but Islam alone cannot hold its diverse provinces together. The cementing role is played by the army, and it was she who several times in the 75-year history of the country took full power into her own hands.
But now the army is silent: politicians sort things out among themselves. If the political crisis deepens, the army will have its say, but for now it is watching. The chief of staff, General Qamar Bajwa, does not intervene in the turmoil, but it is his word that will be decisive.
But what is the current Pakistani army? If earlier it was under the great influence of the Anglo-Saxons – education in the UK, military supplies from the USA, then in recent decades the situation has changed. Pakistani generals no longer want to depend on the West: ties with China are strengthening (they began back in the 60s), trust in the Americans has dropped sharply after the start of the war in Afghanistan, and even more so with the withdrawal of the States from Kabul. And thanks to the increase in military supplies from India, the Americans are no longer able to play on Pakistani-Indian contradictions, Pakistani generals do not trust their former closest ally.
Russia, which in the 1970s (due to our support of India in the war with Pakistan, which led to the secession of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh ) and in the 1980s (the war with our contingent in Afghanistan was fought based on bases in Pakistan), in fact, a military adversary, is now increasingly perceived as a partner. There are even joint military exercises, deliveries of Russian weapons have begun, and there are plans to build a gas pipeline. Moreover, Pakistan has become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which Russia and China are turning into the main one for ensuring the security of Asia. Bringing together Russia and Pakistan and common goals for Afghanistan: we need stabilization of the situation after the return to power of the Taliban and the restoration of the viability of the Afghan state.
Pakistan is sandwiched between two countries that are challenges to its very existence: on the one hand, India, with which it has a territorial conflict over Kashmir, and on the other, Afghanistan, the majority of whose population is Pashtuns, with even more of them living in Pakistan. Not a single Afghan government has recognized the Duran line, which separates the zone of settlement of the Pashtun tribes, and this is the state border between the two countries. That is, Pakistan’s foreign policy situation is the most difficult and security is not an empty phrase for it.
But the problem is that things are complicated inside Pakistan as well. Two clans have been in power for the last third of the century: Sharif and Bhutto (with a break for the rule of the military). They represent the two largest provinces, Punjab and Sindh, and the two largest peoples – their parties are built largely on a clan and regional basis. It is clear that this does not strengthen the unity of the country, moreover, it only increases corruption, managerial incompetence and instability.
Therefore, the appearance in politics of Imran Khan – a Pashtun by nationality (the third of the main peoples of Pakistan) and a legendary athlete, a former world cricket champion – meant an attempt to radically change Pakistani politics. He was both a protest against the clans and an attempt to rally Pakistan over the regional elites, while being a zealous Muslim and a supporter of strengthening independence. Naturally, he also had the tacit support of the army – and in 2018 his party won the parliamentary elections.
Was Imran Khan able to radically change the situation in four years? Of course not. The country is too complicated, and the clans are not going to give up their positions. Economic hardship will always be a cause for discontent, and attempts to remove Imran Khan have not stopped. And in the end, they led to the fact that the small coalition of Islamist parties that supported his party changed its position and went over to its opponents (among which are quite liberal, by Pakistani standards, Bhutto). Was it provoked by external forces? Imran Khan himself is convinced of this:
“The initiative to remove me from power is a clear US interference in our internal affairs. <…> Pakistan became an independent state in 1947, but today the struggle for freedom against a foreign plot to change the regime begins again. < …> The people of the country always defend sovereignty and democracy.”
It is clear that in this case there were some Anglo-Saxon games, but what is happening is still based on the internal problems of Pakistan, the vices of its internal political structure. Regional clans are corrupt and do not think in terms of national categories, do not believe in the strength of the country – and only as a result of this they are tied to external forces. At the same time, the national interests of Pakistan require not only to rise above clan thinking, but also to really strengthen its sovereignty and pursue an independent foreign policy.
This, by the way, is understood by the leadership of the Pakistani army, and many representatives of the Bhutto and Sharif clans. To gain real independence, Pakistan needs strong relations not only with China (providing real investment), but also with Russia, also because good relations with Moscow will help ease its fear of India.
It is clear that the Anglo-Saxons are categorically not satisfied with the strengthening of the Pakistani-Chinese alliance and Pakistani-Russian ties, but this is where the will of the national elite should manifest itself, its ability to play independently and defend national interests. For a nuclear power and one of the key countries of the Muslim world, this is a matter of principle: now it is making a choice that will determine its future. In addition, relying on the Anglo-Saxons (former colonizers and allies) is strategically unpromising – they will lose their positions not only in South Asia and the Greater Middle East, but throughout Eurasia.
And Russia is really interested in an independent and strong Pakistan – a very important ally in bui-lding a new security architecture in South Asia and in working on a new – post-Atlantic – world order.
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