The Intercept has published a document from a source in the Pakistani military that shows a U.S. diplomat targeting Pakistan’s ousted prime minister for “taking such an aggressively neutral position” on the Ukraine war.
A secret cable obtained by The Intercept suggests that a U.S. diplomat — with the approval of the Biden White House — urged the Pakistani government to remove Imran Khan, who was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote last year and later imprisoned on corruption charges that he says are politically motivated.
According to the March 7, 2022, cable, which The Intercept published in full but acknowledged it could not authenticate, U.S. diplomat Donald Lu told the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. that “people here and in Europe are quite concerned about why Pakistan is taking such an aggressively neutral position” on the Ukraine war.
The U.S. had publicly criticized Khan for going ahead with a previously planned trip to Moscow and meeting with President Vladimir Putin as Russian forces began invading Ukraine in February 2022. The cable says Lu reiterated the Biden administration’s concerns but added, “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.”
“Otherwise, I think it will be tough going ahead,” Lu added.
The cable states that Lu “could not have conveyed such a strong demarche without the express approval of the White House, to which he referred repeatedly.”
Strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan during Khan’s tenure were public knowledge, but The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim and Murtaza Hussain wrote Wednesday that the cable “reveals both the carrots and the sticks that the State Department deployed in its push against Khan, promising warmer relations if Khan was removed, and isolation if he was not.”
“One month after the meeting with U.S. officials documented in the leaked Pakistani government document, a no-confidence vote was held in Parliament, leading to Khan’s removal from power,” Grim and Hussain noted. “The vote is believed to have been organized with the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military. Since that time, Khan and his supporters have been engaged in a struggle with the military and its civilian allies, whom Khan claims engineered his removal from power at the request of the U.S.”
[Related: Craig Murray: The Silence on Imran Khan]
On Tuesday, an order from Pakistan’s election commission barred Khan from public office for five years. Khan is expected to challenge the decision, and he is currently appealing his three-year prison sentence.
Pakistan dissolved its parliament on Wednesday, setting the stage for a new election in the wake of Khan’s arrest.
During a press briefing following The Intercept‘s report, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller denied that the U.S. had any “preference on who the leadership of Pakistan ought to be.”
When urged to address Lu’s specific comments, which appear to express a preference for Khan’s ouster, Miller said he couldn’t speak to the veracity of the cable but suggested that Lu’s reported comments might have been “taken out of context.”
Grim and Hussain reported Wednesday that the State Department “has previously and on repeated occasions denied that Lu urged the Pakistani government to oust the prime minister.”
“On April 8, 2022, after Khan alleged there was a cable proving his claim of U.S. interference, State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter was asked about its veracity,” the pair wrote. Porter replied, “Let me just say very bluntly there is absolutely no truth to these allegations.”
Hussain wrote on social media that The Intercept obtained the secret cable from “a source within Pakistan’s military establishment who said they had been disillusioned by the impact of the crisis on the institution and wished to alert the public and fellow servicemembers of the documented truth of the story.”
As Grim and Hussain reported:
“While the drama over the cable has played out in public and in the press, the Pakistani military has launched an unprecedented assault on Pakistani civil society to silence whatever dissent and free expression had previously existed in the country.
In recent months, the military-led government cracked down not just on dissidents but also on suspected leakers inside its own institutions, passing a law last week that authorizes warrantless searches and lengthy jail terms for whistleblowers. Shaken by the public display of support for Khan — expressed in a series of mass protests and riots this May — the military has also enshrined authoritarian powers for itself that drastically reduce civil liberties, criminalize criticism of the military, expand the institution’s already expansive role in the country’s economy, and give military leaders a permanent veto over political and civil affairs.”
Sunjeev Bery, director of the advocacy group Freedom Forward, wrote in response to The Intercept story that “the U.S. has spent decades interfering in Pakistani democracy and perpetuating poverty and political dysfunction in the country as a result,” citing past U.S. supportfor Pakistan’s military dictatorships.
“It is deeply depressing to me that the Biden administration continues this path today,” Bery added.
Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
This article is from Common Dreams.