The US government put pressure on Pakistan to remove Imran Khan when he was the prime minister over his neutrality towards the Russia-Ukraine war, ‘The Intercept’ reported on Wednesday (Aug 9), citing a secret diplomatic cable obtained from a Pakistani military source.
The diplomatic cable cites a meeting between the US State Department officials and Pakistan’s ambassador to the US on March 7, 2022, where Khan’s stance on the Russian invasion was discussed.
The diplomatic meeting occurred two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine when Khan was en route to Moscow—a visit that infuriated Washington.
“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 told his Pakistani counterpart as per the cable, known internally as a “cypher”.
When Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan tried to clarify Pakistan’s position on Ukraine, Lu retorted that it was the PM’s behaviour that is “problematic”, and added 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,” Lu appears to threaten, according to the diplomatic cable, and added that Europe will follow the US lead in the “isolation of the prime minister".
US reportedly wanted Khan out
According to the document, the discussion concluded with the Pakistani ambassador expressing hope that the issue of the Russia-Ukraine war would not “impact our bilateral ties.”
Lu reportedly told him that the damage was real but not fatal, and with Khan gone, the relationship could go back to normal.
Incidentally, two days before the meeting on March 2, Lu was summoned to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to discuss the neutrality of India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
When Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen asked Lu about a recent decision by Pakistan to abstain from a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s role in the conflict, the US official said, “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.”
Khan knew US wanted him to step down
Ever since his ouster, former prime minister Imran Khan had been blaming the US for influencing a no-confidence motion against him that also saw the involvement of the powerful military establishment and his political rivals.
Months after his exit, Khan in his nationwide rallies constantly raked up the cypher and the alleged US conspiracy against his government.
"Well, the cypher is a reality. It was an official meeting [that] initiated [conversation on] both sides, between Donald Lu, the undersecretary of state for South Asia, and the Pakistan ambassador, and this was brought to the National Security Committee and Cabinet," Khan told VOA in an interview earlier this year.
"Having said that, it's in the past; we have to move on. It's in the interest of Pakistan to have good relations with the US, and that's what we intend to do," he said.