Imran Khan in Russia and Washington’s intellectual crisis – The Diplomat
The pulse | Society | South Asia
Prime Minister Khan’s visit to Russia may not be a good idea, but the criticism from America’s intellectual elite reflects a deep-seated colonial mentality.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s official visit to Russia at the height of the Ukraine crisis has drawn criticism in the United States, with some members of the Washington think tank and academic community criticizing the visit for its poor timing, poor perspective and his irrational political behavior on the part of Pakistan. Khan’s visit may or may not be a good idea, but the criticism of America’s intellectual elite reflects a deep-rooted colonial mentality.
Khan’s trip had been planned for a long time and had nothing to do with the Ukrainian crisis or the emergence of the new cold war. Pakistan is squeezed by economic challenges. Cooperation with Russia in the field of energy and Afghanistan is a key element of the bilateral agenda of Khan’s visit to Moscow. Canceling the trip would send a strong political statement. Under these circumstances, continuing the journey is a rational decision. This then begs the question of why pundits in Washington are deriding the Pakistani Prime Minister’s trip to Russia.
The answer may lie in the strange expectation of Western powers that weaker countries like Pakistan should give up their long-term national interests to meet the short-term political interests of Western powers. Such expectations have their roots in the practice of colonial rulers circumventing the interests of locals to serve the larger interests of empires thousands of miles away. This is how European economies reached their peak and prestige – on the backs of colonized peoples whose interests were set aside for the benefit of the colonial powers.
This was, however, made possible not only by the military and economic conquest of territories, but also by the intellectual conquest carried out by scholars and writers who systematically stripped colonized peoples of their agency as rational actors, rendering irrelevant their voices and concerns for safety. , security and economic well-being.
The Empire may no longer exist; imperial practices, however, continue to thrive even today, especially in Western universities, think tanks and media houses, in terms of framing the “other” through loaded terms and narratives like “double game”, “sponsor of terror”, etc.
Therefore, when the Prime Minister of Pakistan decided to undertake an official trip to Russia, exercising Pakistan’s foreign policy agency and independence, there was a sense of surprise and shock within the Western politicians and analysts. Indeed, academic structures are still so used to presenting the postcolonial world as a naive intellectual subordinate or simply an accomplice.
The Western intellectual elite therefore resorts to training the weakest countries in critical and strategic thinking, with the underlying assumption that these countries are not capable of rational thinking.
This is yet another example of colonial legacy reinforcing the notion that “the West knows best” what is good or bad for the developing world that has been conveniently intellectualized as “fragile” and unable and unwilling to do what is best for the “international community.”
That such thinking continues to thrive in Western think tanks and universities in 2022 lays bare the colonial tendencies of the West. That the West continues to believe that rational choice, logic and knowledge are inherently Western traits that are absent in other parts of the world, especially places like Pakistan, lays bare its absolute arrogance. The West seems to believe that pragmatism is when powerful countries follow their national interest; when weaker countries try to do the same, they are accused of playing a double game, of being stupid or ridiculed for bad timing.
This inherent discrimination is so deeply ingrained and self-wired that even the most seasoned Western academics and analysts fall prey to it. However, there are still nuanced voices in the West that are really engaging with developing countries with the proper lens and language to really understand the situation on the ground.
Unfortunately, these voices are either not on social media or they don’t use it frequently to share their wisdom. What we are left with is a regressive and rather lazy Western intellectual elite who increasingly rely on social media for their contribution to analysis, instead of making the effort to genuinely engage with people and cultures they write about.
The net result is that the analyzes are rejected in most cases by locals who refuse the reductionist and erroneous characterization of their lives and surroundings by Western scholars deeply disconnected from the objects of their study in an otherwise deeply connected world.
Washington therefore suffers from confirmation bias, the effects of which are visible on the ground in policy and practice – its failure in the war in Afghanistan being the most recent.