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Report: Secret documents reveal US instigated Imran Khan’s removal from power

August 10, 2023 at 1:37 pm

Former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. [Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images]

The US encouraged the Pakistani government to remove Imran Khan as prime minister over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to a classified Pakistani government document obtained by the Intercept.

Diplomatic cable, marked as “Secret”, exposed the pressure applied by the US on Pakistan officials in a 7 March 2022 meeting, to push for Khan’s removal, offering improved relations as an incentive while hinting at potential isolation if he remained in power.

The document, referred to internally as a “cypher”, details the closed-door discussion between US State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Asad Majeed Khan, who was Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time. This document was provided to the Intercept by an anonymous source within the Pakistani military, asserting no affiliation with Khan or his political party.

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The US expressed dissatisfaction with Khan’s foreign policy stance regarding the Ukraine conflict. This stance was swiftly reversed after Khan’s subsequent removal, leading to an improvement in relations between the US and Pakistan, in line with the promises made during the meeting.

The diplomatic engagement occurred approximately two weeks after the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, coinciding with Khan’s visit to Moscow – a trip that triggered frustration in Washington. Just days prior to the meeting, Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu had faced inquiries from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Pakistan’s neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.

Concerns in Washington also escalated because a day before the secret meeting, Khan addressed a rally and responded directly to European calls that Pakistan rally behind Ukraine. “Are we your slaves?” Khan thundered to the crowd. “What do you think of us? That we are your slaves and that we will do whatever you ask of us?” he asked. “We are friends of Russia, and we are also friends of the United States. We are friends of China and Europe. We are not part of any alliance.”

During the secret meeting with Pakistan’s Ambassador Khan, Lu candidly conveyed America’s unease about Pakistan’s ostensibly neutral stance on the Ukraine crisis. The secret document quotes Lu as questioning the feasibility of such neutrality and expressing bewilderment about Pakistan’s position. Lu indicated that internal discussions within the US National Security Council pointed to the prime minister’s influence on this policy.

Lu raised the prospect of a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Khan, suggesting that a successful vote would mitigate Washington’s concerns. Conversely, he implied that Khan’s retention could lead to challenging diplomatic circumstances ahead. Lu warned that Western allies might marginalise Pakistan and even isolate it if the situation persisted.

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“I think if the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington because the Russia visit is being looked at as a decision by the Prime Minister,” Lu said, according to the document. “Otherwise,” he continued, “I think it will be tough going ahead.”

Following this exchange, the Pakistani ambassador voiced hope that the Ukraine conflict would not impair bilateral relations. Lu acknowledged that damage had already occurred but suggested that with Khan’s removal, the relationship could quickly normalise. He underscored the potential impact of the “political situation” in Pakistan on the diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The day following the meeting, on 8 March, Khan’s political opponents within Parliament advanced a crucial procedural step toward initiating a no-confidence vote against him.

Following his removal from power, Khan has been in a long running legal and political battle with the current regime. On Saturday, the former prime minister was arrested from his residence in Lahore after he was handed a jail term in a corruption case.