Imran Khan’s “Interrogation” A Publicity Stunt?

Imran Khan

When Sheikh Rashid was detained by authorities at a US airport earlier this year, I predicted that Imran Khan would be next. Looks like I was right. But is this incident everything that it’s being made out to be? Or is there more to the story…

In case you haven’t heard already, Imran Khan was on his way to a fundraising tour in the US when he was briefly delayed by US officials at an airport in Canada who wanted to ask him some questions. According to a report in Express Tribune on 27th October, “Khan was questioned for half an hour”. The details of those questions is not exactly known. Imran Khan insists that he was asked about his position on drones, and Tweeted from the airport:

I was taken off from plane and interrogated by US Immigration in Canada on my views on drones. My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop

Imran Khan makes a good point here. His views on drones are well known, so why would US officials need to spend one half hour asking him about them? Something seems strange.

Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy Richard Hoagland reinforced this view when speaking to journalists in Peshawar earlier this week, saying that “A lot of the story that went out was not very accurate but played up for political purposes”. The American DCM later posted on Twitter that Khan’s questioning had “Nothing to do with drones – he brought it up”.

Here’s how Imran Khan described the conversation in a phone call to CNN:

“I kept asking them what was this all about, and then one guy interviewed me and he was so confused, he had no idea what he was saying,” Khan told CNN by phone from Seattle, another stop on his trip.

“He was talking about some fund-raising, so I asked him to come to the point, and he said, ‘We’re worried you might use violence against drones.’ I mean, it was so ridiculous, I didn’t even know how to answer it.”

What’s interesting is that this is different not only from Imran Khan’s original description – “interrogated…on my vies on drones”, but also how Imran Khan has been describing the incident to journalists here in Pakistan, where he claims that he was interrogated about his position on drones for “three or four hours”.

“I am cool. Such intimidating tactics cannot faze me. I was absolutely not upset at having to spend three or four hours at an airport against my will. It’s not a big deal for me”, Imran told reporters in the federal capital.

Imran, who has been a vigorous critic of US drone attacks and even led a rally to the tribal belt in protest, regretted the government’s silence on the maltreatment he had received in Canada.

“I am the head of a major political party of Pakistan and my detention and interrogation by US immigration authorities in Canada is in fact an insult of the entire Pakistani nation.”

Talking to CNN after the incident, Imran Khan claimed that he was asked about his fundraising plans in America, and that the issue of drones only came up at the end. The Americans insist that he’s the one who brought up drones, that they never even asked. But talking to reporters in Pakistan, Imran Khan tells a much more exciting story of his courage in the face of ‘intimidation’.

PTI was once seen as an emerging force in Pakistan’s political scene, only to see it’s prospects quickly fall. Earlier this week, PTI canceled internal party elections after discovering that only 350,000 members, or are actually eligible to vote in Pakistan. The most recent voter rolls include over 84 million people, meaning that PTI voters amount to about 0.4% of the population. The Kaptaan’s ‘tsunami’ is starting to look like more like a leaky faucet.

Was his so-called interrogation a political overreach by an empire mad with power, or a last ditch effort by a desperate politician about to be bowled out? It’s not hard to see who stands to benefit from the incident – Imran Khan gets to look like the fearless leader standing up to the world’s super power, while the US looks like the world’s bully. Perhaps the most telling thing about the incident, though, is just how little attention it got him. After giving him millions, I wonder if Imran Khan’s American supporters aren’t starting to feel a little bit like phuddoos.

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