Did Ilhan Omar Just Function As An Unofficial US Emissary To Imran Khan?
Congresswoman Omar’s position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee coupled with her passionate fight against Islamophobia and fiery critiques of some aspects of American foreign policy, both of which she shares with former Prime Minister Khan, make her the perfect unofficial emissary to meet with Pakistan’s top opposition leader during its ongoing political crisis if that’s indeed the role that she might have speculatively fulfilled in discretion while visiting his home to discuss the plight of Muslims across the world.
Pakistan’s political crisis, trigger by former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s accusations that his ouster was really a US-orchestrated regime change to punish him for his independent foreign policy (especially its Russian dimension) but which the new authorities insist was a purely constitutional and therefore legal process, shows no signs of abating anytime soon. The former premier will speak at a Twitter Spaces session on Wednesday, followed by holding a major rally in Lahore the day after on Thursday. Ahead of the first event and coming right after the huge rally that he held in Karachi on Saturday, he hosted US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at his home, who visited Pakistan as part of an American delegation.
Former Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted that the two discussed Islamophobia, which they’re known so widely across the world for passionately fighting against. Considering the fact that Congresswoman Omar also serves on her country’s House Foreign Affairs Committee, it might speculatively be the case that she functioned as an unofficial US emissary to Pakistan’s most popular opposition leader. That wouldn’t be surprising either since informal meetings such as her visit to his home to discuss Islamophobia are how international diplomacy is sometimes conducted in the real world.
Former Prime Minister Khan and Congresswoman Omar are also both known for their fiery opposition to some aspects of American foreign policy, he much more than her nowadays seeing as how he’s publicly accusing the US of literally carrying out a conspiracy against Pakistan to have him ousted as punishment for his independent foreign policy. Seeing as how Pakistan is a decades-long American partner who’ll always remain regionally important, it therefore follows that the US might have wanted to discretely discuss some sensitive matters with him as he continues leading his country’s undeclared revolution. If that’s indeed its intention, then there’s nobody better to do this than Congresswoman Omar.
She and former Prime Minister Khan share a sincere passionate for fighting against Islamophobia and they’re also staunch critics of some aspects of American foreign policy. Congresswoman Omar is therefore someone who the former premier might regard as a credible and trustworthy unofficial US emissary to candidly engage with. After all, he’s certainly caught Washington’s attention following his very scandalous accusations of its alleged conspiracy against him and the massive popular movement that he’s leading across the country in response. Although Pakistan’s stakeholders might feel uncomfortable publicly acknowledging it, the country is truly in the throes of an intense political crisis.
Not only does this domestic instability risk harming Pakistan’s objective national interests, but also those of its decades-long American partner in the region. The US cannot improve relations with that country while it’s being rocked by enormous rallies railing against Washington’s alleged overthrow of its government. This makes it very politically difficult for newly inaugurated Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to make any progress on that front, not to mention US President Joe Biden, whose Democrat Party is facing a fierce challenge from the Republicans ahead of the fall midterm elections. The optics of the US improving ties with a country rocked by nationwide anti-US protests could turn voters against him.
To be clear, these anti-US protests and former Prime Minister Khan’s related rhetoric that inspired them are solely critiques of America’s foreign policy, not of its people, culture, or whatever else. In fact, many Pakistanis either have family living in the US, have studied or visited there themselves, or hope to do so sometime in the coming future. They’re not anti-American in any bigoted way, only in terms of their political worldview (as is their right) due to their country’s experience of being mistreated by the US over the decades. Nobody should ever have been under any other impression either since former Prime Minister Khan has been abundantly clear about this, including during his Karachi rally on Saturday.
This means that there isn’t anything “ideologically inconsistent” about him meeting with Congresswoman Omar, nor in her speculatively functioning as an unofficial US emissary due to her membership on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s her professional responsibility, after all, to perform such duties if her country requires it. Of course, it takes two to tango as they say but it wouldn’t be unimaginable that former Prime Minister Khan might have been receptive to these speculative efforts even if he didn’t expect her to possibly play this role while meeting with him at his home to discuss Islamophobia.
That scenario would actually be multilaterally beneficial for all – the US, former Prime Minister Khan, and newly inaugurated Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government – because it’s in everyone’s interests to resolve Pakistan’s intense political crisis as soon as possible, ideally through some mutually acceptable compromise. The ousted premier insists that this can only come about through immediate, free, and fair elections while his replacement doesn’t seem interested in budging on his refusal to do so. As for the US, it either realized what a mess it made if one believes that it’s responsible for this crisis or regrets that it’s being blamed for the constitutional process that removed former Prime Minister Khan.
Either way, America wants to improve ties with Pakistan, but the problem is that it thus far hasn’t been interested in doing so on its former leader’s terms of treating that country with the respect that it deserves as the US’ equal in the eyes of international law. President Biden, for example, never called former Prime Minister Khan despite him helping to evacuate civilians from Afghanistan, including Westerners, women, and children. That arrogant refusal fed into speculation that the American leader himself might have personally authorized the former Pakistani leader’s ouster. The only way that Pakistani-American ties can realistically improve is if former Prime Minister Khan endorses this outcome.
It would therefore make sense from an American strategic perspective to have the same congresswoman who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and who’s already part of a preplanned delegation to Pakistan to meet with him to discuss their shared passion in fighting Islamophobia and to perhaps also probe whether he’d be interested in utilizing her to unofficially send some sort of message to the US. In fact, she might even have discretely conveyed a speculative message from the US during their talks too. What’s most important to note about all of this, however, is that their meeting didn’t occur in secret.
This contrasts with the meetings that members of the former-opposition-turned-ruling-coalition reportedly had with US officials over the years. The intrigue associated with them fed into speculation that the recent change of government in Pakistan that involved some of those very same former opposition figures playing very prominent roles could have actually been part of a US conspiracy exactly former Prime Minister Khan claimed. By making his meetings with US officials public, the ousted premier is preemptively dismissing any of the intrigue associated with other political figures’ reported such meetings. They can’t fault him for meeting with her when they reportedly met with US officials too.
Observers can only speculate whether Congresswoman Omar discretely passed along a message from the US during her talks with former Prime Minister Khan about Islamophobia and possibly even asked if he had any message of his own to convey to American officials. Her position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee coupled with her passionate fight against Islamophobia and fiery critiques of some aspects of American foreign policy, both of which she shares with former Prime Minister Khan, make her the perfect unofficial emissary to meet with Pakistan’s top opposition leader during its ongoing political crisis. No one knows for sure if this happened, but if it did, then it wouldn’t be a bad thing.