Earlier today, just hours after the death of imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was reported, President Joe Biden addressed the nation and spoke the plain truth. “Putin,” he said, “is responsible for Navalny’s death.”

The swiftness and clarity with which the Biden administration responded to the Navalny death contrasted with its garbled, slow response to another assassination attempt: the, thankfully, failed one on former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

When Khan was shot on November 3, 2022, it took the Biden administration more than seven hours to issue a statement — five hours later than Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. By that time, it was well after midnight in Pakistan.

In his reaction to the Khan shooting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a false equivalence between Khan and his opponents, calling on “all sides” to refrain from violence. There were no calls for justice from Washington, let alone an investigation.

The contrast between Washington’s responses to both events reflects why many in the non-Western world or the so-called Global South increasingly view U.S. claims to global leadership with skepticism. They rightly see the United States as selective in its invocation of human rights, morality, and the “rules-based order.”


Target Khan

On November 3, 2022, at least one gunman fired his weapon at Khan’s motorcade as the ex-cricket star was traveling on what his party billed a “Long March” toward the capital — part of a push for early elections. Khan knew he was a marked man: he was at odds with the leaders of his country’s powerful army.

In April, Khan was deposed through a vote of no-confidence measure orchestrated by his former allies at the top of the Pakistan Army. Khan also alleged a U.S. role in his removal — and a Pakistani diplomatic cable leaked to The Intercept indicates that a senior Biden administration official indeed signaled to the military leadership in Rawalpindi that the bilateral relationship would improve were Khan removed.

“All will be forgiven,” if the no-confidence vote against Khan succeeded. That was the assessment Donald Lu, the top State Department official for South Asia, shared with Pakistan’s envoy to Washington in a March 7, 2022 meeting, according to the cable, also known as a cipher.

Khan was a thorn in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, opposing the provision of secret counterterrorism bases to Washington and the normalization of relations with India without meaningfully addressing the political rights of the suppressed Kashmiris. (The U.S. wants India to be able to divert resources away from the Kashmir region disputed with Pakistan toward China instead.)

Khan, in consultation with his military, had just returned from Moscow on a pre-planned visit that ultimately coincided with Putin’s announcement of the invasion of Ukraine. The optics were certainly bad. And Pakistan’s then-army chief, it appears, blamed it all on Khan. The Biden administration, under pressure from Congress to force countries in the Global South to side with the West, seemed to feel the removal of Khan as an easy, costless win.

It indeed paid off. Just three months after Khan’s ouster, the U.S. killed al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone attack that used Pakistani airspace. The Pakistani military also began providing Ukraine with arms in its war of attrition with the Russian invaders. And the Pakistan Army pushed forward plans for a cold peace with New Delhi.

For Khan, the cipher was a smoking gun. And as any politician would, he went to town with it. Leveraging this mantle of righteous victimhood along with his successor’s abysmal handling of the economy, Khan’s popularity rating skyrocketed. Removed from power, he wanted the country to go to elections, confident he’d return with a robust mandate. (His party’s victory in this month’s general elections shows he was right.)

Washington’s Deadly Silence

The U.S., we are told, stands for democracy and liberty across the globe. In many cases that is true. Washington, for example, is outspoken on the plight of the Uyghur Muslims in China as virtually every single Muslim-majority state is silent. For centuries, America has been a refuge for the world’s downtrodden and oppressed — even as the enslaved and indigenous were persecuted.

But the U.S., when it wants, can with the flick of a switch turn off its concern for democracy and human rights. The world sees this today in Gaza, where thousands of Palestinian children have been killed by Israel and tens of thousands are now orphaned. In response to the Hamas terror attacks of October 7, Gaza’s civilians — men, women, and children — have been decimated by Israeli arms paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

The Global South sees America’s double standards. It sees when White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby cries and when his eyes remain dry. It sees when civilians are deemed victims of criminal acts or mere collateral damage.

The fight of the Ukrainians and Russian dissidents like the late Navalny is “our own,” we are told. Our very way of life is threatened by the spread of authoritarian, revisionist powers like China and Russia, and by might making right. But the fight of the Pakistanis to determine their own political future is not our own — at least when their military is helping keep Ukrainians free. Pakistanis be damned. When South Africa took the bold step to hold Israel to account using the very international system the U.S. claims to uphold, Washington stood on the other side.

The U.S., when it wants, can pack a mighty punch for the greater good. Under the Magnitsky Act, it will sanction officials responsible for assassination attempts like the one on Khan. But after Khan was struck, the Biden administration made no attempt to hold those responsible to account. Instead, it later greeted them in Washington.

Unsurprisingly, the investigation into Khan’s assassination has hit a dead end. The country’s military is emboldened. It knows the White House won’t do a thing.

In December, Secretary of State Blinken hosted Pakistan’s army chief and de facto ruler, Gen. Asim Munir. If the Biden administration cared about democracy and civil liberties in Pakistan, it would have deferred the visit until at least after free and fair elections were held. Instead, it hosted the military leader, signaling that the bilateral relationship would not be impacted by the already-delayed elections.

As for those elections, they were subject to massive rigging both before and after the voting took place. Even after the polls, victorious candidates with Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI), continue to be kidnapped by the country’s security forces. Yet the broad-scale rigging and use of violence, in the words of the State Department, are mere “irregularities.”

For Washington, Putin’s authoritarianism is never an irregularity and Ukrainians are never collateral damage. It is clear that for Washington, all lives do not matter.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.


Comments are closed.

Exit mobile version