“Are we your slaves?”. This sentence carries with it the anger of the Prime Minister, our political system, our people, and the entire global south, tired and exhausted from a century of American hegemony. Imran Khan now finds himself in a unique position, one that no other Pakistani premier has found himself in in the past seventy years. Before him stands two choices. Either he capitulates to Western hegemonic powers, or he forges a new path, for himself, his party, and his country. This unique choice might perhaps be his most tangible legacy.

Over the past half-century, Pakistan has repeatedly, often without question, served as an American client state, central to its foreign policy in both South Asia, and the Middle East. It aided the United States against Soviet-backed socialists in Afghanistan. It assisted the United States in wars in Somalia and Bosnia. Finally, and perhaps most damagingly, it did the American’s bidding in the war on terror, at the cost of its economic, social, and political destruction. According to the state, we lost 83,000 lives and over a hundred billion USD. Despite everything Pakistan has done, and everything it has sacrificed it still faces sanctions through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and exclusion from Western financial systems. Even the foreign office, in its own words, realises that “only politics can keep Pakistan on the FATF ‘grey list’”. For further evidence of duplicity in American foreign policy and broken promises, it need look no further than its neighbouring Iran. According to IAEA, Iran followed the nuclear deal agreed by the United States, alongside a host of other powers, and yet still faced punishment. Pakistan, Iran, and other countries in the global south, now ask themselves, “what does our servitude and compliance get us?”. Slowly, it has dawned on us, that regardless of our friendship and allegiance, we still find ourselves reprimanded, punished, and outcast.

Perhaps previous leaders did not have a choice, and were forced into servitude by circumstance. Upon the inception of the war on terror, we were told to comply or to be bombed into the stone age. Sanctions and debt were dangled over our heads and avoiding the West’s ire was crucial to our survival as a country. Now, China’s meteoric rise paves the way for a new path. The keys to the international market are no longer monopolised by the West via the IMF, SWIFT and its private banking system. China is slowly, but steadily, creating an alternative to Western-led institutions. They have loaned Africa over 150 billion USD over the past two decades, and is now the top lender to the continent, while providing significant relief on the repayments. They have also developed their own global payment system, the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS), as an alternate to SWIFT, to ensure that they and their allies cannot be cut off from the international market by revoking access to SWIFT. They further developed their own card scheme, UnionPay, as an alternative to Visa and Mastercard. Each of these moves has been part of a broader, methodically planned attempt by China to ensure that they, and their allies, cannot be cut-off from global commerce for political rebellion against Western hegemony. This path is not painless, Chinese debt isn’t free, Xi Jin Ping isn’t Santa Claus, a majority of world commerce is still in USD and China’s alternate financial systems are still nascent. Exiting the Western financial system entirely may not be an option. However, there is, at last, another path, one that we can leverage to our advantage, and Imran Khan is making that known to the West.

In all our entanglements with the West, our interests have always been thrown aside, and never more obviously than now. Reports are that the Prime Minister’s trip was to secure a crucial natural gas deal, worth 2.5 billion USD. We’re one of the poorest countries in the world, where gas is rationed, and people go hungry and cold because of it. Thus, when we were asked to cancel our trip and follow the West’s sanctions on Russia, Imran Khan must have thought what 220 million others were thinking, “When do we get to think of our own interests?”. The answer is now. The Prime Ministers’ rebukes of the West can be a one-off, one of his many off-the-cuff statements that have not led to systemic change. Or perhaps, they could be a sign of what’s to come. A new world order is being formed in front of our eyes, one where NATO and the United States are in the backseat. The liberal order is unraveling, sabotaged by the US’s own non-compliance with the UNSC, UNHRC and repeated flouting of international law in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either we can cling to our old relationships that brought us nothing but pain and misery, or we can become one of the pioneers of this new world. The choice is ours, and his.