Encryption theory and Pak-US links

Pakistan and the United States of America recently celebrated 75 years of ties between the two countries at a time when former Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed the United States for toppling his government. He built his anti-American narrative on the basis of a “cipher”, but suffered a setback with two back-to-back audio leaks from Imran Khan on the same issue and his conversation with party leaders.

While the government has ordered an investigation into the two audio leaks, the report that said encryption is missing from the PM House, sparks further controversy. But recent audio leaks from the former and incumbent prime minister have raised serious national security questions.

Regardless of the outcome of these leaks and the cipher, Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), are still defending their position that the current government is “imported” and came to power with US backing to convenience with local actors.

The fact remains that anti-American sentiments always sell in the market and Imran and his party will not let them die out until the next election. Pakistan and the United States have historically had a “love and hate” relationship that has seen many ups and downs, trust and mistrust, even to the extent that at times its impact has been felt on the political scene.

When the first Pakistani Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, decided to visit the United States and, as many believed, gave preference to the United States over the USSR, subsequent events led to the ban of left-wing politics in Pakistan. Years ago, I interviewed a senior official at the US Embassy in Islamabad who confirmed that in the early years the US encouraged countries that discouraged communist activity.

Pakistan also joined CETO and CENTO during the Cold War, but withdrew from both under the government of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who instead joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Later, he also tried to form an Islamic and Third World bloc. But, earlier in 1956, Pakistan also signed on to a US-sponsored “Atoms for Peace” civilian nuclear program. Under this program, many young scientists went to the United States for training. Pakistan also got help from the United States in other areas.

The first major shake-up in ties between the two countries came when, during the 1971 war, most Pakistanis expressed disappointment with the role of the United States and raised questions as to why the 7th American fleet had not come to help Pakistan in the war against India.

Pak-US relations remained strained during the first PPP government, particularly over Pakistan’s decision to launch its nuclear program after India conducted the first nuclear test.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, during his visit to Islamabad, tried to persuade Bhutto to shut down the nuclear program. In case of refusal, he was threatened and warned of the disastrous consequences.

Bhutto’s government was overthrown following a political crisis and martial law was imposed on July 5, 1977. Within two years, Bhutto was executed in what was described as a “murder judiciary”.

Following these events, relations between the two countries resumed, particularly after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. This led to the US-backed Afghan jihad and provided massive financial aid as well as weapons to the Afghan mujahideen. Billions of dollars had come to Pakistan for the Afghan war that lasted almost ten years.

What happened in the aftermath of 9/11 – the US-led coalition attack on Afghanistan – changed the situation and led to nationwide anti-American protests in Pakistan, mainly by religious parties. It also gave birth to an otherwise low-key politician, namely Imran Khan.

Pakistan has become the “home” of terrorists or terrorist networks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups. The American attack against Afghanistan in October 2001 provoked a new anti-American wave in Pakistan. This time, the religious parties which, unlike the first Afghan war, refused to support the American attack. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties, led the anti-American movement.

The MMA also gained electoral support, as in the 2002 elections it became a powerful group and formed the government in the struggling Khyber Pakhtunkhaw (KP). It also gave a boost to Imran’s ‘anti-war’ narrative when he called the military operation against militants in North and South Waziristan, Malakand, Swat unwarranted. It also resulted in his only electoral victory and, for the first time, he was elected as an MP.

When Imran came to power in 2018, his goal, among others, was to solve the Afghan problem. The controversy over the transfer of former DG ISI, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed in October 2021 was also related to Afghanistan.

Which led to the March Crisis which resulted in a vote of no confidence against him, Imran blamed the United States and felt that since he visited Russia during the Ukraine conflict, the Americans did not were not happy with him. So, they hatched the plot and through this cipher through the then Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, Asad Majeed, conspired against his government.

While Imran Khan and his party still defend the narrative it was this figure that led to regime change through a no-confidence motion, the PDM coalition government believes these audio leaks revealed the former Prime Minister. And now reports suggest they are considering action against him.

As for Pak-US relations, they would continue to see ups and downs as Americans know the intricacies of Pakistani politics, and they also have a global history of maintaining ties with friends and foes.

The writer is a columnist and analyst for Geo, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

Sharon D. Cole