A leaked cable from the Pakistani government has exposed the U.S. State Department’s efforts to persuade Pakistan to remove Imran Khan as prime minister in March 2022, over his neutral stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The cable, obtained by The Intercept, shows how the U.S. offered incentives and threats to Pakistan in exchange for Khan’s removal, and how the meeting triggered a series of events that led to Khan’s ouster, imprisonment, and political marginalization.
The Secret Meeting Between U.S. and Pakistani Officials
The cable is a classified document that records the meeting between Asad Majeed Khan, who was then Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., and two State Department officials, including Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs. The meeting took place on March 7, 2022, at a time when the U.S. was seeking international support for its condemnation of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
The cable reveals that the U.S. officials expressed dissatisfaction with Khan’s foreign policy, especially his recent visit to Moscow and his abstention from a UN resolution denouncing Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict. The U.S. officials warned that Khan’s position would isolate Pakistan from the international community and jeopardize its relations with the U.S. They also suggested that Imran Khan’s removal would improve the prospects of bilateral cooperation and regional stability.
The cable also indicates that the U.S. officials had knowledge of the internal dynamics of Pakistan’s politics, and hinted at the possibility of a no-confidence vote against Imran Khan in Parliament, which would require the support of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment. The cable states that the U.S. officials assured the Pakistani ambassador that they would respect any democratic process that would lead to Khan’s removal.
The cable was transmitted to Pakistan by the ambassador and labeled as “Secret”. It has not been published before and was provided to The Intercept by an anonymous source in the Pakistani military who said they had no ties to Imran Khan or his party. The Intercept has verified the authenticity of the cable by cross-checking its contents with other sources and reports.
The Implications of the Cable for Pakistan’s Politics and Foreign Policy
The cable has significant implications for Pakistan’s domestic politics and its relations with the U.S. It confirms the suspicions of Imran Khan and his supporters that his removal from power was orchestrated by the U.S. in collusion with his military and civilian opponents, who accused him of corruption and incompetence. It also shows how the U.S. exerted pressure on Pakistan to align its foreign policy with Washington’s interests, especially on the issue of Ukraine.
The cable is likely to spark controversy and debate in Pakistan, where Imran Khan remains a popular figure despite his legal troubles and political isolation.
Imran Khan was sentenced to three years in prison on August 5, 2023, on corruption charges that he claims are baseless and politically motivated. The sentence also bars him from contesting elections expected later this year.
The cable also sheds light on how Pakistan’s foreign policy changed after Khan’s removal from power. One month after the meeting documented in the cable, a no-confidence vote was held in Parliament, leading to Khan’s ouster. The vote is widely believed to have been backed by Pakistan’s military, which has a history of intervening in civilian affairs. Since then, Pakistan has reversed its position on Ukraine and expressed support for the U.S.-led efforts to counter Russia’s aggression.
The cable also reveals how the U.S. rewarded Pakistan for its cooperation on Ukraine by improving its relations with Islamabad. As promised in the meeting, the U.S. has increased its diplomatic engagement, security assistance, and economic aid to Pakistan in recent months. The U.S. has also sought Pakistan’s help in facilitating its withdrawal from Afghanistan and in promoting peace talks with the Taliban.
The cable is a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes diplomacy between two countries that have a complex and turbulent relationship. It demonstrates how the U.S. uses its influence and leverage to shape Pakistan’s domestic politics and foreign policy according to its strategic interests.
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