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US May Exploit Imran Khan’s Arrest to ‘Limit’ Pakistan's Cooperation With Russia: Experts

© AP Photo / Muhammad SajjadSupporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan block a road as protest against the arrest of their leader, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan block a road as protest against the arrest of their leader, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. - Sputnik India, 1920, 10.05.2023
Reacting to Imran Khan’s arrest, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington wants the “rule of law” to be followed in the nation.
The arrest of ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan by Pakistani paramilitary Rangers at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday could be exploited by the US to expand its “influence” and effectively “limit” Islamabad’s cooperation with Russia, experts have told Sputnik.
“American ingress in the Pakistani power system is well-entrenched and deeply rooted. Imran Khan, too, is not opposed to the US. However, there is only a different approach: that Pakistan will not fight anyone's war anymore. Such a policy could have saved Pakistan in the long run from many strategic blunders,” stated Abdullah Khan, the Director of Islamabad-based think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS).
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters of former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran clash with police amid teargas during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Peshawar on May 9, 2023. - Sputnik India, 1920, 09.05.2023
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The think-tanker noted that the western powers have always kept “tools” at their disposal to strategically coerce Islamabad, with the ongoing debt talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) being the latest case in point.
“Despite fulfilling all the demands, the IMF is not signing the agreement with Pakistan, and hell bent to push it for financial defaults. The international financial institutions are just one of the tools the West uses to coerce smaller nations,” Khan said.
The Pakistani government is currently awaiting a $1.1 billion tranche from the IMF, which is part of a larger $7 billion loan facility signed in 2019.
The expert noted that, although Pakistan has been trying to establish a “balance” in its foreign policy vis-à-vis US and Russia as well as China, there are efforts by “great powers” to bring back their influence.

US Could Use Pakistan for ‘Encirclement of Russia’

Vladimir Sotnikov, Director of Russia-East-West Center for Strategic Studies and Analysis, said that Pakistan has always been a “sweet spot” for Americans, as he noted the formal alliance between the two countries during the Cold War.
He said that Pakistan’s strategic location was especially “important” for the US, since it borders Afghanistan. The expert added that Washington was also “interested” in “numerous connections” between the Pakistani military and the Afghan Taliban*.
“I think that the Americans could use Pakistan in some definite near future in order to channel the encirclement of Russia, channel it in such a way that the Pakistanis stop cooperating with Russia if possible and seriously limit their cooperation,” Sotnikov remarked.
During the ‘War on Terror’, Islamabad was designated as a “major non-NATO ally” by Washington.
He reckoned that Washington is currently attempting to bring back Islamabad to its “orbit of influence” after Khan’s ouster in a parliamentary no-confidence motion last year.
The expert noted that Khan was firm on reducing Islamabad’s dependence on the US and charting a “third path”, which involved maintaining cordial ties with the US, its “all-weather ally” China as well as Russia.
Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers and Pakistani commandos from the Special Service Group (SSG) participate in a ceremony as they wrap up their two-week military exercise in Jhelum on November 24, 2011. - Sputnik India, 1920, 02.05.2023
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The ex-PM has directly blamed the US for plotting his ouster, saying that it has been unhappy with its overtures to Russia and the fact that he was pursuing an “independent foreign policy”.
Importantly, Shehbaz Sharif’s government has also sought greater cooperation with Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Pakistani number Bilawal Bhutto Zardari held consultations on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) meeting in India last week.
As per a Pakistani statement, both the ministers vowed to “work closely for further deepening cooperation in food security, energy and people to people contacts” between the two nations.

‘Internal Factors’ Played a Bigger Role in Khan’s Arrest

The experts said that the “internal factors” played a bigger role in Khan’s arrest than the fact that he chose to pursue an “independent foreign policy”.
“It is known that Pakistan is a country that has survived several military coups, and the military still plays a very large role in making key decisions in foreign policy and in the field of domestic policy,” remarked Solitnikov.
He noted that there was a “clear rejection” of Khan’s policy by Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence establishment.
Days before his arrest, Khan blamed a senior official of Pakistan's spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for plotting his failed assassination bid last year.
“I think that now there is a situation where Imran Khan, apparently, will no longer be allowed by the military to participate in the political struggle, because the military has said its word. That would mean that Islamabad is now immersed in a very turbulent internal development,” Sotnikov said.
There have been major demonstrations in all the major Pakistani cities since Tuesday after Khan was arrested at the court.
In fact, Khan’s supporters have also targeted military installations, including vandalizing and setting on fire the residence of the Pakistan Army Corp Commander in Lahore.

‘Politically-Motivated’ Arrest

Abdullah Khan said that the ex-Prime Minister has always been seen as a “threat” by the current rulers.
“Imran Khan has also openly challenged Pakistan's powerful military establishment, which, in fact, had supported him to come into power back in 2018. The ruling political alliance is running away from elections because all the opinion polls suggest Khan's party may come into power with bigger margins if immediate elections are held. So, we can say the arrest is a politically motivated action,” said Khan.
He underscored that Khan has been arrested for a case in which the ex-leader and his wife received a parcel of land from a property tycoon to run the Al-Qadir University.
The expert questioned why the property tycoon hadn’t been arrested till now.
“The case is a weaker one, and he may get the bail. However, there are other cases pending, and he may remain in prison for some time,” stated the Islamabad-based think tanker.
*under UN sanctions