Korybko To Azeem Ibrahim: The US Would Support, Not Oppose, Another Pakistani Military Coup
For as accurately as this research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College described the tense socio-political run-up to what might soon be another conventional military coup in Pakistan, he nevertheless overlooked a few obvious factors that resulted in what’s arguably his inaccurate conclusion that the US would meaningfully oppose this scenario instead of at least tacitly support it.
The influential Foreign Policy magazine published a piece by Azeem Ibrahim on Monday about how “A Coup Would Put Pakistan Squarely in China’s Bloc”. He disclosed that he used to serve as a policy advisor for former Prime Minister Imran Khan (IK) from 2012-2014 but doesn’t have any professional contact with him at present. Ibrahim is also “a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, and a director at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington, D.C.”
His article argues that Pakistan might be on the brink of yet another military coup, one which he predicts would place it “truly within China’s sphere of influence, in time to take its place amid the autocracies forming part of the world’s growing, authoritarian, Beijing-led bloc.” Ibrahim’s forecast is based on the expectation that the West would likely respond to this regime change with sanctions, travel restrictions, the seizure of assets, and cutting Pakistan off from financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank.
In such a scenario, he writes, “Pakistan will then have few friends. The military, if it does successfully take power, is likely to look to China to bail it out. China does not want instability in Pakistan, a country heavily indebted to Beijing (Pakistan is the biggest recipient of loans from China’s Belt and Road initiative).” For as accurately as Ibrahim described the tense socio-political run-up to this possibility, he nevertheless overlooked a few obvious factors that resulted in what’s arguably an inaccurate conclusion.
First, while acknowledging IK’s claims about last April’s change of government, Ibrahim evidently doesn’t pay them much credence otherwise he’d know that the US has a stake in perpetuating the rule of its imported proxies that it helped install during that post-modern coup. This observation about his implied personal stance towards the year-long Pakistani Crisis influences his scenario forecast about the West’s reaction to any potentially impending conventional military coup.
Second, the whole reason why IK was overthrown in the first place through US-orchestrated but superficially “democratic” means that were domestically coordinated by Pakistan’s military-intelligence leaders was as punishment for his independent foreign policy. It therefore naturally follows that carrying out a conventional military coup aimed at preemptively averting the full restoration of Pakistan’s policymaking sovereignty would protect US interests and thus be tacitly endorsed by it.
Third, Ibrahim wrote that “[China] has long-standing ties with the Pakistan military”, but the US’ are much deeper and more politically meaningful. Leading military-intelligence members’ families study, live, and even own property and other investments in the US, not to mention the other bribery-like perks that the US is suspected of extending to them personally to expand its influence. China would retain economic-military ties with another coup government, but the US’ would be much stronger.
Fourth, perhaps due to his position as a research employee at the US Army War College, Ibrahim also doesn’t express any skepticism towards the US’ publicly stated commitment to “democracy”. This is indisputably a mistake since there’s no doubt that it regularly applies double standards towards a wide range of issues in pursuit of its interests even at the expense of its own reputation. These include Georgia-Moldova/Bosnia-Serbia, other countries’ US-inspired foreign agent laws, and the ICC, et al.
And fifth, the motivation for these double standards towards the scenario of a conventional military coup in Pakistan is to keep that country in the West’s “sphere of influence” amidst the impending trifurcation of International Relations into that bloc, the Sino-Russo Entente, and the Global South. The likely restoration of Pakistan’s policymaking sovereignty in the event that IK democratically returns to office could lead to it practicing a more effective balancing act in the New Cold War than at present.
Having explained the top five counterpoints to Ibrahim’s argument, it should also be said that his piece might inadvertently serve to influence US decisionmakers to broker a deal between IK and The Establishment in order to avert the scenario that he warned about. Banning the ousted leader’s PTI and other irresponsible moves that risk pushing Pakistan closer to the worst-case scenario of civil war could ultimately result in the end of US influence there despite its short-term strengthening.
For instance, the destabilization of Pakistan could simultaneously unleash strategically disadvantageous consequences for China, Iran, Taliban-run Afghanistan, and Russian–friendly India, all of whom the US has an interest in punishing through Hybrid War means for various New Cold War-related reasons. That said, it also spikes the long-term chances of an anti-American Iranian-like people-driven popular revolution that could culminate in the full expulsion of US influence in Pakistan for the indefinite future.
Depending on the cost-benefit calculations that US decisionmakers are likely already running, they might wager that it’s better to broker a deal between IK and The Establishment in order to retain some – but importantly not all – of the influence they regained over the past year instead of risk losing it all. There’s already social media chatter that something of the sort is being informally considered, though it’s unclear whether these rumors have any credence to them, let alone if they’ll actually unfold.
Speculation aside, the case can be made that the most responsible course of action that the US can take for ensuring its long-term interests in Pakistan is to implement aforesaid scenario, even if Ibrahim’s inaccurate prediction unwittingly influences decisionmakers to do so. In the event that a conventional military coup occurs, however, there shouldn’t be any doubt among observers that it would have been approved in advance by the US and have its tacit support for the reasons explained in this analysis.