The Atlantic

Pakistan’s Pivot to Asia

Imran Khan is addressing his nation's challenges by choosing liberally from a menu of Western and Asian futures.
Source: Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters

Just a few years ago, the news out of Pakistan would have sent official Washington into a tailspin. But with cable TV broadcasting Trump nonstop, few bothered to even note that a champion cricketer turned populist firebrand, Imran Khan, won the election as prime minister this summer. Nor did many pause over the fact that Khan won that election with the backing of an increasingly pro-Chinese military, or that he promised to pull Pakistan “out of the War on Terror,” or that he’s now presiding over a financial collapse. The most significant coverage Khan gets is as a comic oddity on The Daily Show, where he’s been mocked as an “even more tanned version of Donald Trump.”

The Trump effect means that America is missing the new geopolitics emerging across the world. Nowhere have I felt this more intensely than in Pakistan, where I traveled to interview the then-candidate Khan last October. Khan is much more than a celebrity clinging to his looks and lusting for power. He provides a glimpse into what the post-American world might look like: a chaotic stage where strongmen find themselves buffeted by Western, Arab, and Chinese forces.

When I arrived at my hotel in Islamabad, staff complained about how quiet things had become. Just a few years ago, at the height of the War on Terror, the capital had been abuzz with journalists and CIA agents in transit out of Afghanistan. Now, I was told, the most common guests were Chinese

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