Even those who casually follow South Asian affairs know that Prime Minister Khan despises the Hindu nationalist policies of India’s ruling BJP, which he’s described as fascist, Islamophobic, and regionally destabilizing. He’s also personally criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi on multiple occasions. That’s why nobody could have expected that he’d praise India of all countries during a rally ahead of what’s shaping out to be the most pivotal week of his political career.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan unexpectedly praised rival India’s foreign policy towards Russia during a rally on Sunday ahead of a scheduled no-confidence motion later this week that some observers suspect is secretly orchestrated by the US. He said that “I salute India today. It has an independent foreign policy. India is a member of Quad alliance which also has United States as a member. But it is importing oil from Russia which is facing sanctions. It calls itself neutral. India has a foreign policy dedicated to its people.” These surprising remarks deserve to be interpreted.
Even those who casually follow South Asian affairs know that Prime Minister Khan despises the Hindu nationalist policies of India’s ruling BJP, which he’s described as fascist, Islamophobic, and regionally destabilizing. He’s also personally criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi on multiple occasions. That’s why nobody could have expected that he’d praise India of all countries during a rally ahead of what’s shaping out to be the most pivotal week of his political career. The purpose behind doing so was severalfold, though, which will now be explained.
First, Prime Minister Khan is showing that he’s objective enough of a national leader to give credit where it’s due despite his multiple problems with India and its leadership. Like that neighboring country, his has also impressively practiced a policy of principled neutrality following the onset of Russia’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine. He also condemned those nearly two dozen Western ambassadors in Islamabad who recently broke protocol by publishing a letter demanding that Pakistan turn against Russia in spite of this indisputably being against that South Asian state’s national interests.
Building upon the above, the second purpose behind his praise of India is to explain how a country can properly balance between rival partners like Russia and the US. Pakistan is in a similar position vis-à-vis those two Great Powers as well as China and the US. Under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Khan and his patriotic team, Pakistan released its first-ever National Security Policy in January that officially promulgated the policy of refusing to participate in bloc politics. It’s doing its best to put this into practice but that entire strategy might be threatened if a US-backed opposition comes to power.
Third, Prime Minister Khan is implying the international legal reality that India and Pakistan are equal members of the community of nations that shouldn’t be treated differently despite practicing the same policy vis-à-vis Russia. American-affiliated India is still importing oil from US-sanctioned Russia without any consequences thus far from Washington so it follows that similarly American-affiliated Pakistan shouldn’t be faced with any consequences either for going through with its reported gas and wheat deals with US-sanctioned Russia.
The fourth purpose of the Prime Minister’s praise of India was to draw global attention to the concept of principled neutrality being practiced by that country and his own. He likely knew that his words would generate headlines across the world and thus wanted to ensure that everyone is aware that neutrality still exists despite unprecedented pressure by the US-led West to side with it in that declining unipolar hegemon’s Hybrid Wars on Russia and China. India’s stance towards Russia is the perfect example of principled neutrality since it’s the largest and most populous country in the world that’s practicing it.
And finally, the last point that the Pakistani leader wanted to convey is that principled neutrality is a foreign policy dedicated to one’s people and which advances its practitioner’s objective national interests. Those states like India and Pakistan that practice it are proudly rebuffing unprecedented US-led Western pressure to surrender their strategic sovereignty at the expense of their people’s interests. Capitulating to such foreign forces would be an unforgiveable dereliction of their leaders’ duty to their citizens. Prime Ministers Khan and Modi are therefore practicing the most pragmatic policies possible.
Having explained the severalfold strategic purposes behind Prime Minister Khan’s praise of India’s foreign policy towards Russia, observers should hopefully have a better understanding of what motivated his unexpected remarks. It all makes sense when considering the larger contexts in which they were made connected to this week’s no-confidence motion against his government, the recent intensification in the New Cold War’s Western Eurasian theater between Russia and the US, and the policy of principled neutrality being practiced by his country, India, and many other Global South states.