The Dangerous and Duplicitous Infowar Against Imran Khan
Among the many reasons why Imran Khan’s PTI party swept Pakistan’s recent general elections while making major inroads in provincial elections was his party’s commitment to ending a systematic culture of corruption that existed among both of the national legacy parties as well as among regionally strong and fringe parties. As a result, PTI not only won at a national level but in so doing, helped to sweep away the power of the MQM in Karachi, erode the iron grip of PML-N over Punjab, as well as reduce the share of votes received by radical religious parties whose agitation politics has had a negative impact on Pakistan’s civil society for decades.
While Imran Khan’s foreign policy position of neutrality as a whole, scepticism combined with realism in respect of the US, robust clarity combined with an olive branch to India and steadfast fraternal relations with China has never been ambiguous, multiple media outlets are attempting to so discord over PTI’s foreign policy by taking simple statements out of context and in some cases by penning utter fiction as a means of discrediting Imran Khan.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in multiple stories, primarily from western outlets and occasionally from Indian outlets (later picked up by Pakistani outlets) implying that somehow the future of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is anything other than mutually assured from the perspective of both Beijing and Islamabad.
To understand this concept, one can learn much by studying the new Malaysian government led by the veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad. Like Imran Khan, Mahathir Mohamad is and always was an advocate of progressive nationalism with modern Islamic characteristics. While the multi-racial dynamic in Malaysia is different than the provincial/ethnic identities present in Pakistan, Mahathir’s approach to foreign policy was and remains similar to the course which Imran has promised to follow. Mahathir never hesitates to criticise the United States nor its allies (including Israel) while his relationship with China was and remains based on mutual respect tempered with a strong sense of Malaysian national pride.
Mahathir’s return to power this year at the age of 93 was in many ways a result of the same anti-corruption battle that characterised Imran’s campaign. Mahathir openly criticised his notoriously corrupt predecessor Najib Razak who is currently being investigated by the authorities for gross acts of corruption involving the abuse of power. Likewise, Imran’s effective predecessor and political rival Nawaz Sharif while presently out of prison is also being investigated for acts of corruption in respect of his ownership of multi-million dollar properties in London.
While the relations of both Pakistan and Malaysia with the Chinese superpower continued to progress along positive lines during the respective Premierships of Nawaz and Najib, it would be naive to suggest that two corrupt individuals somehow engaged in 100% ethical business deals with their Chinese partner. In other words, if corruption was the word of the day for both Nawaz and Najib, why should their joint projects with Chins be any different? This is not to say that China in any way bears responsibility for the actions of Nawaz and Najib. As a country that expects its international partners to exercise responsibility over their share in any and all joint projects, China does not exist to meddle in the internal affairs of foreign nations, whether such nations are run by men like Imran and Mahathir or whether they are run by men like Nawaz and Najib.
Because of this, China is not worried about the fact that some of the vanity projects of both Nawaz and Najib are now being reviewed by the new governments who were elected to do just that – review matters signed off for by predecessors whose domestic legacies had been rejected by the voters in a democratic election. China is in fact engaging in dialogue with both partners in order to reach a new understanding over projects that will be to the win-win benefit of all parties.
Thus while both Iman and Mahathir have both gone out of their way to clarify that their revision of various projects has everything to do with internal matters and nothing to do with negative views of Beijing, the Sinophobic media of the west and India continues to say otherwise in a clear attempt to manufacture a false narrative.
Far more than Malaysia, Pakistan’s economic future is dependant on healthy relations with its all-weather Chinese neighbour and not a single genuine statement from any PTI official has indicated otherwise. In fact, the high level contacts between the new government and Chinese officials demonstrates that if anything, PTI wants to make the most of Pakistan’s friendship with China and in so doing, making the most of opportunities often squandered by previous governments.
However, it is now clear that Pakistan must do as much as possible to fight the Sinophobic infowar which threatens to spread misinformation among Pakistanis at a fanatic pace. Take for example the scandalous article recently published in the London based Financial Times called “Pakistan rethinks its role in Xi’s Belt and Road plan“, insinuated that Pakistan is about to cancel important bilateral projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the new PTI led government of Imran Khan. The report was based on statements from Pakistan’s Adviser for Commerce, Textile, Industry and Production, and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood whose Ministry has now fully rejected the article while claiming that the Financial Times took his words completely and intentionally out of context.
According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce and Textile, “The statements attributed to Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce and Textile have been taken out of context and distorted“. The Ministry further said that Pakistan rejects the article entirely “especially the title” while going on to call CPEC a “national priority”.
China likewise refuted the content of the article, describing the FT piece in the following way,
“Such ill-intentioned reports based on distorted and misquoted information only demonstrate that the report contributor has total ignorance and neglect of the CPEC or China-Pakistan traditional partnership”.
t is the latter part of the statement which is the most important in the context of the Financial Times article that is clearly part of the wider Sinophobic campaign in western and Indian media which has recently focused on China’s growing partnerships with the developing nations of Africa. But unlike China’s relations with multiple African states, some of whom had few profound contacts with Beijing in the 20th century, China’s relationship with Pakistan is among the most consistent of any neighbourly partnership in the world. Indeed, long before China became a global economic superpower, Beijing and Islamabad had incredibly close relations. The fact that since 1978 China has gone from a nation of overwhelming poverty to a nation about to dethrone the United States as the world’s largest overall economy, yet is still as close with Pakistan as it ever was, is a testament to the fact that the good neighbourly relationship in question has not shifted as so many Cold War era partnerships have radically done and continue to do in the 21st century.
China’s contemporary partnership with Pakistan has grown and developed as both countries have internally grown and developed. While Pakistan’s economic development is at a different stage than China’s, both countries look to pursue the path to a moderately prosperous society with national characteristics. The One Belt–One Road initiative has been a crucial mechanism through which both nations can build upon their traditional partnership to help achieve substantial economic growth on a cooperative win-win basis.
Because of this close and growing partnership, the fact that the Financial Times would attack such a partnership as opposed to the straw man targets that include Sino-Sri Lankan or Sino-Pan African relations, is indicative of a new level of intensity in the hybrid infowar against China. If one were to compare the anti-Chinese infowar to a traditional military battle, it could be said that the enemy has pivoted away from targeting the nation’s hinterlands and has dropped bombs on the nation’s capital. Because the Sino-Pakistan relationship has led to the development and growth of CPEC and because CPEC is the central artery of One Belt–One Road, a fake news story indicating that CPEC may be stalled is nothing less than an outright provocation designed to sow discord between two of the world’s longest standing allies.
The ultimate aim of such provocateurs is to isolate China from major east-west trade routes as a “death” of CPEC would mean that with Myanmar in the midst of western provoked conflict and the Strait of Malacca being a de-facto US controlled shipping route – China would effectively be boxed into its own national seas without having an easy route into the Afro-Bengal Ocean.
For Pakistan, the aim of the provocation is to completely isolate the country by cutting off from its economic lifeline to north-east Asia, thus leaving the country surrounded by hostile forces in India and Afghanistan along with a temporarily economically crippled Iran.
The fact that the provocation was placed in a once “respectable” newspaper combined with the fact that the attack on Sino-Pakistan relations is as brazen as it is based on falsehoods is likewise instructive as it indicates that there are no depths to which the western liberal media will not sink in order to attempt and sabotage CPEC. In many ways the Financial Times article in question is even more scandalous than the kinds of things written in Indian media because the staff at the Financial Times would be well aware that due to an unfortunate lingering colonial mentality in south Asia, many Pakistanis would more readily believe a western source than an Indian source even though in the year 2018 they both have near identical agendas.
The conclusion for Pakistanis to reach is that they must be on guard against a perfect storm of anti-Chinese fake news deriving from stories planted by India in Pakistan’s own liberal media as well as stories from western outlets that many Pakistanis still respect. The aim is to isolate Pakistan totally from all of its neighbours and in so doing, leaving the country economically barren and depressed unless Islamabad comes crawling back to a scoffing US on its hands and knees. While Pakistan’s state institutions are well aware of this strategy, the people themselves must be aware of it, as it is the people who are being directly targeted with misinformation which if believed could destroy Pakistan’s best chance of achieving its developmental goals.