If one thing is true about human nature, it is that everyone loves a good conspiracy. The stakes are sensational, the ending is grand and most of the characters are faceless aliens – impossible to prove, and easy to believe in.

Pakistanis cannot resist a good story either, conspiracy or otherwise: cars run on water, astronauts find their faith on the moon and Freemasons control children’s movies. By the time the truth wheezes its way to the front, the conversation is already over.

So it was that Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his main event rally last week, cried interference: the cost of non-alignment was that a shadowy cabal was coming for him. “Attempts are being made to influence our foreign poli­­cy from abroad,” he said. “We have been aw­­a­­r­­e of this conspiracy for months.” Imran Khan even waved a letter (contents unrevealed) as proof.

To any such claim, two reactions were immediate and expected: the liberal commentariat fainting with anger and the province of WhatsApp uncles declaring victory.

Foreign conspiracy?

In fairness, both sides have a point. To start with the first conceit – that the West could care less about Pakistan, and that the global hegemon is actually kind, enlightened and to be crawled closer to – is a tad innocent.

After all, one does not need to be a conspiracy buff to know that the Beltway has played havoc with this country: “diplomats” murdered two Pakistanis in the street, their convoy crushed a third to death. “Vaccine drives” turned out to be Central Intelligence Agency intel ops, worsening violence against actual polio workers. “Ambas­sa­dors” were useful saps who – as the commission under Justice Qazi Faez Isa determined – wrote servile memos to America’s military chief inviting foreign occupation. All of this has happened.

And all of this will happen again: the imperial interest – in a country with nuclear weapons, the world’s fifth-largest population and geography’s most tragic crossroads – runs broad and deep.

Yet at the same time, none of this is of principal importance. That is where the logic of the other camp – the kind that says foreign powers are perpetually out to get us – falls apart. Even if the conspiracy is to be believed, the prime arbiters of Pakistan’s destiny have always been Pakistanis themselves. To paraphrase another Western conspirator, foreign powers cannot destroy Pakistan. Only Pakistanis can do that.

Those close to Imran Khan say the letter is real. His critics deem it a stage prop. Whatever the case may be, it was not a Western conspiracy that forced Usman Buzdar on Punjab, or that made the same page turn into separate books for Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the two major reasons that have led to this no-confidence crisis.

It likely was not a Western conspiracy in the past either: Imran Khan’s invoking the parallel of Zulfi Bhutto suffers from the exact same issues. By 1977, the Federal Security Force was torturing political opponents, police were opening fire on protesters in Karachi, brigadiers were throwing down their weapons in Lahore, and the money the Pakistan National Alliance was receiving was from Punjab’s industrial groups – a fact Bhutto himself mentions in If I Am Assassinated.

Bhutto’s advice

That Henry Kissinger wanted Bhutto out because of the bomb can easily be believed of that old vampire. But that the Americans then worked to install the Zia regime – which lied and lied all the way to nuclear capability, and to which Jimmy Carter cut off all military aid after the coup – has little link with reality.

As eyewitnesses both sincere to Bhutto (Salmaan Taseer) and disillusioned by him (Rafi Raza) have written in their books, claims of an international conspiracy never landed. It was, wrote the former, “unflattering to Pakistanis” to pretend otherwise: “There is little doubt that right-wing forces did indeed come together in a well-laid plan to remove Bhutto from office, and there is equally little doubt that funds from dispossessed industrialists … were used to fuel the agitation. But neither Bhutto nor his spokesmen were able to prove the charge that it was a foreign conspiracy, and the accusation came full circle when members of the Pakistan National Alliance solemnly alleged that the Russians were financing Bhutto’s struggle for political survival after his removal from power.”

To return to the present, and Imran Khan’s address, no foreign conspiracy can succeed if local conditions are favourable. Imran Khan is right to say that a “no-camps” policy is in Pakistan’s interest. Equally, that Western diplomats are chafing under his rhetoric, and would rather that others be running things, is not quite beyond imagining.

But the PM is mistaken in thinking his foremost problems are not domestic. The predecessor whose name he took, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, once said of his own, Ayub, “I would argue with him, pay attention to the working class, but he was terrified only of big power conspiracies. He was always afraid of the Central Intelligence Agency or something and felt he could always handle the people.”

Whether or not Bhutto followed his own advice, Imran Khan still can.

This article first appeared in Dawn.