Washington took issue with the PM’s neutral stance on Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
The US State Department pressured Pakistan to remove its popular prime minister, Imran Khan, last year over the latter’s neutrality regarding the conflict in Ukraine, The Intercept reported on Wednesday, citing a secret diplomatic cable obtained from a Pakistani military source. The cable documents a meeting between US State Department officials and Pakistan’s ambassador to the US on March 7, 2022.
“People here and in Europe are quite concerned about why Pakistan is taking such an aggressively neutral position” on Ukraine, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu warns his Pakistani counterpart in the cable, blaming the PM alone for the offending policy.
While Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan attempts to correct the American, pointing out that Pakistan’s position on Ukraine is shared across the government, Lu counters that it is the PM’s behavior that is the problem, but that “if the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington.”
“Otherwise, I think it will be tough going ahead,” he threatens, adding that Europe will follow the US’ lead in the “isolation of the prime minister.” Ambassador Khan reflects in his notes that the threat seems to be coming directly from the White House and suggests a strong diplomatic response.
Khan, who apparently obtained a copy of the cable in the weeks following the meeting, pointed at the US as the director of his ouster after he was removed following a no-confidence vote last April – just as Lu had suggested.
His successor, Shehbaz Sharif, admitted the cable existed and that some of its messaging was inappropriate, but stopped short of acknowledging its confirmation of Khan’s claims.
Washington has categorically denied pressuring Islamabad to remove Khan. While the document obtained by The Intercept does not technically constitute a direct order, it attaches strongly-worded threats to noncompliance, hints at rewards for obedience, and confirms both were viewed as coming directly from President Joe Biden.
Immediately following Khan’s ouster, Pakistan reversed its neutrality on Ukraine, demonstrating its fealty to Washington by supplying copious amounts of weapons to Kiev. Its military was reportedly rewarded with a defense pact covering “joint exercises, operations, training, basing and equipment.”
While polls have suggested Khan would easily win an election were he permitted to run again, he was sentenced to three years in prison last week on corruption charges, blocking him from contesting elections expected to take place this year. He has been charged with numerous crimes since his ouster, from insulting state officials to terrorism, and last month it was announced he would be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for revealing the contents of the cable documenting the conspiracy to oust him.