A new classified Pakistan government document obtained by The Intercept revealed Thursday that the State Department encouraged the Pakistani government in March last year to remove Imran Khan as prime minister over his neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to reports, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. and several State Dept. officials are currently subject to intense controversy and speculation in Pakistan over the past year as supporters of the former Pakistani leader and his military and civilian opponents jockeyed for power. The political fight happened Aug. 5 when Khan was sentenced to several years in prison on corruption charges and taken into custody for the second time since his ouster.
The former Prime Minister’s supporters dismissed the charges as baseless. The sentence prevents Khan from contesting elections expected in Pakistan this year.
According to the Intercept, a month after the meeting with American officials documented in the leaked Pakistani government document, a no-confidence vote occurred in the Pakistani Parliament, leading to Khan’s removal from power, with the vote allegedly being organized with the backing of Pakistan’s armed forces.
Following the vote of no confidence, Khan and his supporters have conflicted with military and civilian allies, whom Khan says created his removal from power at the request of the American government.
The text of the Pakistani cable, produced from the meeting by the ambassador and transmitted to Pakistan, has not previously been published and allegedly reveals both the methods that the State Dept. deployed to push against Khan, promising warmer relations if Khan were to be removed from office and isolation if he were not.
According to the Intercept, the document includes an account of the meeting between Assistant U.S. Sec. of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, and Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Asad Majeed Khan.
Days before the meeting, Lu was questioned at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing over the neutrality of India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan in the Ukraine conflict, responding to a question from Senator Chris Van Hollen about the recent decision by Pakistan to abstain from a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s role in the invasion.
“Prime Minister Khan has recently visited Moscow, and so I think we are trying to figure out how to engage specifically with the Prime Minister following that decision,” Lu told Van Hollen.
During the meeting with Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Lu spoke about the Biden administration’s displeasure with Pakistan’s stance in the conflict. The document reveals that Lu raised the issue of a no-confidence vote against Khan, stating that “all will be forgiven in Washington because the Russia visit is being looked at as a decision by the Prime Minister.”
The Assistant Secretary warned that Pakistan faces marginalization from Western allies if the issue was unresolved. Pakistan Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan said that he was frustrated by the lack of engagement from American leadership, which “created a perception in Pakistan that we were being ignored or even taken for granted.”
The next day after the meeting, Khan’s political opponents in the Pakistani government moved toward a no-confidence vote on the Prime Minister.
Responding to the allegations, the U.S. State Dept. has denied that Lu urged the Pakistani government to oust the Prime Minister.
“Allegations that the United States interfered in internal decisions about the leadership of Pakistan are false. They have always been false, and they continue to be,” said State Dept. spokesperson Matthew Miller told The Intercept.
“Nothing in these purported comments shows the United States taking a position on who the leader of Pakistan should be,” Miller said.
“Let me just say very bluntly there is absolutely no truth to these allegations,” said State Dept. spokesperson Jalina Porter to reporters.