Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s allegations that the US backed an attempt to oust him in April 2022 put a spotlight on Washington’s involvement in regime changes
When former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan lost power in April 2022, he effectively built a narrative around an alleged US-backed plot to oust him. The allegation resonated and helped him rally a groundswell of support. His party swept by-polls and held big rallies across Pakistan ahead of the general elections this year despite Khan’s lackluster performance as the prime minister. Khan called the alleged move to oust him a blatant American interference in domestic politics even as Washington denied any role in his removal.
Allegations of American interference have been repeatedly made in Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s prime minister in the 1970s, was executed on trumped-up charges after the secretary of state Henry Kissinger is said to have warned to make a ‘horrible example’ of Bhutto over his refusal to give up the nuclear programme in 1976.
Bhutto’s execution followed a military coup and a campaign to remove him from power as Khan faced in months ahead of his removal. Khan cited a series of meetings of opposition leaders with American diplomats to back his allegations.
Khan’s accusation of the plot to oust him also resonated against the backdrop of the US-backed regime change operations including in neighbouring Iran.
Iranian leader Mohammad Mossadegh was removed from power for his defiance over oil nationalistion. The defiance forced President Dwight Eisenhower’s end the non-interventionist policy in 1952
The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIPC), Britain’s most profitable company in the 1950s, managed to get a monopoly over Iranian oil through a deal with Iran’s monarchy. Mossadegh ended this and prompted his removal.
Iran’s oil propelled high living standards in Britain while Iranians lived in poverty despite the abundance of black gold. American author-journalist Stephen Kinzer told Democracy Now in 2008 that Britain had no oil or colonies with petroleum and every factory in England, car, truck, and taxi was running on oil from Iran. He added oil from Iran 100% fuelled the Royal Navy as it projected British power globally and that AIPC ‘would not give in one inch.’
Eisenhower saw Mossadegh’s nationalisation project as a threat to multinational enterprises. Kermit Roosevelt, an agent of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was accordingly rushed to Tehran to remove this threat. He would accomplish the job of overthrowing Mossadegh in three weeks in August 1953.
Mossadegh, a democratically-elected leader, was banished and would spend the rest of his life under house arrest in his native village.
Described as the region’s ‘first liberal leader’, Mossadegh was a rationalist who hated obscurantism. He believed in secularism and pluralism. But his ideals counted for nothing as his idea of national sovereignty clashed with the West’s economic interests.
The Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who took power after the coup, would become the face of American manipulations. The US rewarded him handsomely and gifted him a nuclear programme through a civil nuke cooperation pact in 1957.
The CIA and Israeli spy agency Mossad trained Shah’s secret police force, which sustained his repression and would eventually prepare the ground for Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution.
The revolution led to the creation of an adversarial republic to the US in 1979 and a system of governance that allows clerics absolute political and legal authority.
The system is a far cry from Mossadegh’s idea of constitutionalism and civic nationalism. A lawyer who studied in France and Switzerland, Mossadegh symbolised secular nationalism in Iran.
A 444-day seizure of the American embassy and captivity of diplomats in Tehran followed the revolution. Kinzer has argued the crisis was not a result of ‘nihilistic rage’ but to prevent a repeat of the 1953 coup, which CIA agents operating from the embassy carried out.
The US retaliated by sanctioning Iran. It backed Iraqi dictator Saddam’s invasion of Iran while the revolution also prompted the Soviets to invade Afghanistan to prevent its export to its backyard. The US resorted to the perversion of jihad to defeat the Soviets, which would imperil world peace by leading to the creation of groups such as al-Qaeda.
Iran, meanwhile, fended off Saddam’s invasion for eight years until Tehran was forced to agree to a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in September 1988. The truce came after Americans brought down an Iranian civilian aircraft.
The downing signalled to Iran the US was now openly siding with Iraq in the 20th century’s longest war, which is estimated to have left around a million dead. Saddam’s use of chemical weapons also forced Iran to accept the truce.
Iran also survived American sanctions, which have left around 2,000 people dead in over 200 accidents blamed on the curbs that prevented Tehran from buying aircraft parts.
Iran has overcome the odds and emerged as one of the world’s top cement, steel, and automobile manufacturers on the back of the Middle East’s most extensive industrial base.
In a The Diplomat piece in 2015, Richard Javad Heydarian said Iran is among the top countries in nanotechnology and stem-cell research as well as ranked as the world’s 17th biggest producer of scientific papers in 2012, ahead of Turkey and Israel.
Maryam Mirzakhani, the winner of the first woman Fields Medal recognising outstanding mathematical achievement, is among the top scientists Iran has produced. Iran has also managed to maintain a military strength that poses the most potent threat to Israel, whose survival and security have been of central importance to the US in the Middle East.
The US invasion for another regime change in Iraq in 2003 by ousting Saddam on the pretext of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, too, benefitted Iran. The war and the American occupation of Iraq that followed, directly and indirectly, claimed about half a million Iraqi lives from 2003 to 2011.
The US left Iraq after the regime change in 2011 after the loss of 4,500 American lives and $1 trillion to the economy. It ended up benefitting Iran by helping Tehran create a corridor of influence up to the Mediterranean. Iran used the corridor to keep Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria and support Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hoshyar Zebari ouster in 2016 as Iraq’s finance minister because Iran distrusted him for his links to the US highlighted the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq after the regime change.
From cosmetics to eggs, milk, yogurt, and chicken, Iraq is dependent on Iran for virtually everything, which helps Tehran exercise an influence it would not have managed without the American intervention for regime change in 2003.
Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide
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