By Andrew Korybko – Apr 25, 2022
Pakistani Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal unwittingly sparked a diplomatic scandal after declaring during a press conference that he doesn’t want his country to turn into Cuba. The remark was made in response to former Prime Minister Imran Khan previously praising that island nation for its independent foreign policy. He was ousted earlier this month in a no-confidence motion that he claimed was a US-orchestrated regime change as punishment for his independent foreign policy, particularly its Russian dimension, but which the opposition insists was a constitutional process and therefore perfectly legal. His removal directly led to the country’s most intense political crisis in decades that’s subsequently resulted in society’s polarization over Pakistan’s future trajectory.
Minister Iqbal’s comment wasn’t appreciated by Cuban Ambassador to Pakistan Zéner Caro, who tweeted the following while linking to an article citing the former’s remarks: “Fortunately, Minister Ahsan Iqbal’s disrespectful mention of Cuba in his press conference in Lahore does not represent and has nothing to do with Pakistanis’ true respect and deep affection for Cuba.” That prompted Minister Iqbal to tweet this back to him: “Excellency! We have deep respect for the people of Cuba and our deep affectionate relations with Cuba. We can’t forget how Cuban doctors played heroic role in after math of 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. My remarks were only in the context of foreign policy.”
Shortly after this, former Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari shared several tweets critical of the incumbent Planning and Development Minister. She wrote: “Ahsan Iqbal’s ignorance or desperate desire to please his US regime change conspiracy masters has now led him to demean Cuba by saying he doesn’t want Pakistan to become like Cuba! We would fare a lot better if we had Cuba’s nationalist commitment to stand up against US bullying. Our people would fare much better had we developed a public health system like Cuba’s—recognized as one of the best globally. Our people would have fared a lot better if social welfare had been our priority as in Cuba.”
Former Minister Mazari continued by adding that “Cuba is a country that fought hard to win freedom and rid itself of US interference where US had imposed a clause in Cuba’s constitution to maintain control over its policies—Platt Amendment. Castro got rid of it. Sadly Pakistan doesn’t even need a formal Provision to succumb to US diktat! Also do remember this small but strong nationalist state’s military and other assistance to a faraway country in Africa—Angola—in its struggle for independence against a brutal colonisation. Finally, let us not forget the help Cuba gave us in 2005 earthquake followed by public health scholarships.”
Her final criticism was to write: “Shame on you Ahsan Iqbal for insulting our friend and a proud nation Cuba. Even being a US stooge should have some limits—don’t insult other countries because of the US! #MarchAgainstImportedGovt.” Former Minister Mazari’s input fueled speculation that incumbent Minister Iqbal didn’t just commit a faux pas by mentioning Cuba in a negative way during his recent press conference, but that he might have at the least had a Freudian slip in sharing his worldview, if not deliberately disrespected that country in order to please the same Americans that she claims brought him and the rest of the new authorities to power. It’s therefore worthwhile to analyze this more deeply.
There are only two realistic explanations for what just happened: the first is that it was a faux pas and the second is that it was a Freudian slip. The last theory alleging that he did this on purpose presumes that he intended to make the comparison during his press conference, which probably wasn’t the case regardless of the speculative role that the US might have played in bringing him and the rest the new authorities in power. For that reason, this explanation is dismissed from the present analysis, which will only focus on the two most realistic ones. Regarding the faux pas, it’s indeed possible, especially considering how tense the domestic political situation is right now.
Former Prime Minister Khan’s praise of Cuba’s independent foreign policy was interpreted by his opponents as yet another example of his alleged “anti-Americanism” and not the way that his supporters saw it, which was an expression of his passionately pro-Pakistani worldview. Those who replaced his government clearly don’t agree with his way of seeing the world and might even have felt uncomfortable whenever he shared it, so it would naturally follow that they’d try to refute some of his most memorable points at every opportunity that they get. This could explain why Minister Iqbal might have had the impromptu idea to make what he in his mind thought was a clever partisan retort.
The second explanation builds upon the first and speculates that his worldview is actually comparatively more pro-American than the former government’s, to put it mildly. This train of thought implies that his critical remark about Cuba wasn’t just a faux pas, but a Freudian slip revealing more about his worldview, and by innuendo also that of the new authorities. Should that be the case, then it would hint that he—and by possible extension, the rest of the new authorities—are against the very principle of having an independent foreign policy because they might believe that it’s not worth the costs that would be imposed upon them by the US for practising it.
This worldview presupposes that Pakistan will eternally remain the US’ junior partner forever stuck in an unequal relationship with America within which only a minority of the population ever prospers. To give its adherents the benefit of the doubt, they might simply think that Pakistan will never have the comprehensive capabilities for sustaining independent policies so it should settle for whatever it can get from this admittedly US-dominated relationship. While respecting everyone’s right to hold whatever beliefs they might have, Cuba’s example of successfully practicing an independent foreign policy for decades challenges that particular worldview that Minster Iqbal might have been promoting.
Recalling that he clarified that his “remarks were only in the context of foreign policy,” it seems as though the second interpretation of a Freudian slip is the most credible since it’s more closely connected to his perspective on foreign policy than a faux pax would be. Regardless of whatever sparked the Pakistani-Cuban diplomatic scandal, however, its importance lies in the fact that the incumbent minister of a government that recently replaced its predecessor in scandalous circumstances publicly put down one of his country’s partners to at the very least make a partisan point against the previous government.
It’s extremely unlikely that he thought about the consequences of his remark otherwise he probably wouldn’t have uttered it since there’s no reason for the new authorities to complicate their relations with Cuba and thus risk fueling former Prime Minister Khan’s narrative that they’re all American puppets and so powerfully under its influence that they’re incapable of practicing an independent foreign policy. That, however, was precisely the impression that a substantial portion of the population had as articulated by former Minister Mazari. From the standpoint of the new authorities, this means that Minister Iqbal’s remarks were counterproductive to their domestic political interests.
The lesson that should hopefully be learned by the new authorities is that all remarks about other countries must be carefully thought out lest they unwittingly fuel former Prime Minister Khan’s narrative about their rise to power. Putting down a partner like Cuba just for the sake of making a partisan point against the previous government wasn’t the wisest move. Minister Iqbal likely regrets what he said but his attempt to repair the damage that he caused only made it worse. The inadvertently counterproductive comments by the new authorities in recent weeks suggest that they should exercise more prudence in expressing themselves in order to not further worsen domestic tensions by accident.
Featured image: The flags of Pakistan and Cuba together, representing the bilateral relations of the two countries. File photo.
Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.
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