- He succeeded in charming the whole USA
Even before Prime Minister Imran Khan sat foot on US soil, his charm offensive began. Undoubtedly it was a difficult trip. The USA and Pakistan had grown apart over the years with the mistrust increasing by the day. From Salala to Dr Aafia Siddiqui to Shakil Afridi to nurturing the “eternal enemy” of Pakistan to siding with the Afghan Taliban, it was a downhill journey filled with complaints by both sides. Trump took office, believing he could do what none other could and make Pakistan dance to his tune, even at the cost of our national interests. As the time passed and the global geo-political landscape started shifting, perhaps so did the advice he received and his perceptions.
Still, it was the Pakistan that India was up against and mind you, India has the economic “might” and swayed the USA in its favour. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent over Rs20 billion building a campaign of “global isolation” targeting Pakistan, with all his political experience, “wisdom”, economic might and strategic alignment with the USA.
if handled properly, this foundation laid by PM Khan during his maiden US visit can lead to a dynamic and successful foreign policy leading to long-term economic and trade benefits for Pakistan
Then, along came Khan and it all changed. He delivered for Pakistan what no Pakistani Prime Minister before him could, even in more conducive circumstances, and he did it with dignity and poise.
The first masterstroke was delaying the IMF programme and strengthening ties with Turkey, Kuwait, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and so on, showing the USA that Pakistan can survive without its aid and influence and will only talk on equal terms without having to compromise on its national interests for peanuts.
The next outstanding and brave move was to hold a public gathering in an arena in the USA, something that no Pakistani Prime Minister had ever done. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had done it with extensive resources and PR machinery. Khan did it better without any of that. He took a commercial flight with a small team, stayed at Pakistan’s embassy and his party PTI organised the public gathering on its own.
This was not all. Khan used the opportunity brilliantly to pre-emptively counter the narratives of the opposition by highlighting his anti-corruption drive back home as well as his vision for a rising Pakistan. The results were astounding. Trump in his meeting, wished him success for his anti-corruption drive and couldn’t help but keep using the term “very popular leader” for him. Trump seemed to have been trumped by Khan. The opposing narrative, built carefully and with the help of expensive PR firms, died before it could even begin during this trip.
Put simply, Imran Khan won over the USA even before he and Donald Trump spoke about the key issues facing both countries and laid the groundwork for a proper and long-term bilateral relationship. In the words of Adam Gerry:
In a country (USA) that since 9/11 was programmed by the controlled news media to hate Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in the same country where Islamic societies are often misunderstood and in a country where arenas are usually filled with sporting or music events rather than anything remotely political, Imran Khan stole the show. Even if his rally was played for few seconds on America’s notorious television news programmes, this has been a great victory for Pakistan. Because all it takes are a few seconds of footage from that Imran Khan rally to change perceptions of Pakistan from one that is wholly negative to one that is self-evidently optimistic and indeed one that is truly inspirational.
Prime Minister Khan has done something for Pakistan that, let alone his countrymen or contemporaries, even the European allies of the USA find hard to do. He conquered the heart and soul of the USA with his charm offensive coupled with his dignity and topped up with his poise and sincerity.
Even forgetting Khan’s confidence and poise or even wearing of the national dress of Pakistan and the game-changing public gathering in USA, the way he put forth Pakistan’s case and advocated for us all was heartening.
He was put a tough question on Iran and handled it intelligently, keeping a balance and pushing forward the case for peace in the region. Faced with the question about 3,000 American deaths in Afghanistan, he reminded the world of over 70,000 Pakistani lives lost. Asked about Shakeel Afridi, he raised the issue of Aafia Siddiqui just as he had promised to do.
That was not all, faced with questions, planted to attack the institutions, he brilliantly defended Pakistan. On the issue of PTM activists, he highlighted the initiatives taken for FATA, including mainstreaming, and the breach of law by PTM activists. It was not just that he did it all without any paper slips, but that he did it in a manner which reflected his sincerity, confidence and conviction. And these were what won over the Americans just like they won over the Pakistanis.
Some critics pointed out that he did not get any “money”. They’re right. In fact, he openly shared that he didn’t even ask for any aid but he won something much greater for Pakistan. He won the respect of the global super power and the Western world with a seat for Pakistan on global stage ensuring Pakistan is both heard and respected. And let me share, if handled properly, this foundation laid by PM Khan during his maiden US visit can lead to a dynamic and successful foreign policy leading to long-term economic and trade benefits for Pakistan.