Operating under the pretense of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law, key figures within the US political landscape, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his associates Victoria Nuland and Donald Lu, have been instrumental in steering Pakistan toward a pseudo-military rule.
According to a leaked classified cable dated March 7, 2022, the US State Department actively encouraged the Pakistani government, including its influential military officers, to remove Prime Minister Imran Khan due to his neutral stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This leaked cable has sparked intense debates, controversies, and speculations in Pakistan, as both supporters of Imran Khan and his opponents, whether military or civilian, vie for control. The culmination of this political struggle occurred on August 5, 2023, when Khan was sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges, marking his second incarceration since being ousted from power.
Imran Khan’s defenders vehemently dispute the charges, and this sentence effectively precludes Pakistan’s most prominent political figure from participating in the anticipated upcoming elections.
Roughly a month after the meeting described in the leaked document, a parliamentary vote of no-confidence was orchestrated, leading to Khan’s removal from office. This vote was reportedly orchestrated with the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military. Since then, Khan and his supporters have engaged in a protracted battle with the military and its allied civilian factions. Khan alleges that his removal was instigated at the behest of the US.
The leaked cable provides insights into the carrots and sticks employed by the US State Department to influence Khan’s fate. The document highlights promises of improved relations if Khan were removed from power and warnings of isolation if he remained in office.
The leaked document, labeled “Secret”, chronicles a meeting between State Department officials, including Donald Lu, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and Asad Majeed Khan, then Pakistan’s ambassador to the US.
An anonymous source within the Pakistani military provided this document to Blitz, a newspaper known for its stance against militancy and in favor of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression. The document underscores the US’s disapproval of Khan’s foreign policy stance regarding the Ukraine conflict. These positions reportedly shifted after Khan’s removal from power, culminating in a thawing of US-Pakistan relations, as promised during the meeting.
The leaked cable discusses a meeting that occurred two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a period coinciding with Khan’s visit to Moscow, which had strained US-Pakistan relations.
Donald Lu, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on March 2, just before the meeting, was questioned about the neutrality of Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka in the Ukraine conflict. In response, Lu stated, “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”. The implication was that US officials were unhappy with Khan’s lack of communication on this issue.
The day before the meeting, Khan openly challenged European calls for Pakistan’s support of Ukraine. In response, he rhetorically questioned, “Are we your slaves?” He asserted Pakistan’s stance as a friend to multiple nations, including Russia and the US, while maintaining non-alignment.
During the meeting, as detailed in the leaked document, Donald Lu expressed US dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s neutral stance on the Ukraine conflict. He questioned the validity of such neutrality, and according to the document, conveyed that this stance was Prime Minister Khan’s policy. Lu then broached the topic of a no-confidence vote, asserting that if it succeeded, Washington would overlook past concerns, essentially forgiving Khan. However, if Khan remained in power, the path forward would be challenging.
Donald Lu warned that maintaining this course could lead to Pakistan’s marginalization by Western allies. He suggested that Khan could face isolation by Europe and the US if he clung to power.
The Pakistani ambassador expressed frustration with the US’s limited engagement and perceived disregard for Pakistan’s perspective. The discussion concluded with the ambassador hoping that the Russia-Ukraine issue wouldn’t detrimentally affect bilateral ties. Lu acknowledged that while there was damage, it could potentially be rectified if the political situation shifted, as the removal of Khan would likely lead to a swift resolution.
Shortly after this meeting, on March 8, Khan’s political opponents advanced the no-confidence vote in Parliament.
In recent times, Pakistan’s military-led government has tightened its grip, not only on dissidents but also on potential leakers within its own institutions. A new law authorizes warrantless searches and lengthy prison sentences for whistleblowers. The military’s influence has expanded, further eroding civil liberties, criminalizing criticism of the military, and bolstering its economic and political dominance.
The US response to these developments has largely focused on bolstering military-to-military ties. The ongoing repression of the press in Pakistan has escalated, resulting in the death of prominent journalist Arshad Sharif and the detention of journalist Imran Riaz Khan.
Imran Khan’s removal from power adds his name to a long list of Pakistani politicians who have faced the military’s wrath. His imprisonment and subsequent inability to contest the upcoming elections are seen by many as attempts by the military to prevent his party’s participation. Khan’s ouster resonates with the wider issue of US involvement in removing a popular prime minister, adding to the perception of Pakistan’s lack of true independence.
Khan’s challenges, imprisonment, and political struggles underscore the complex interplay between Pakistani politics, military influence, and US involvement, ultimately shaping Pakistan’s democratic landscape and international relations.
Amid mounting evidence, questions loom over the role of the Biden administration in the events surrounding Imran Khan’s ousting from power and subsequent imprisonment in Pakistan. The silence from Biden’s officials in the face of these developments raises concerns about their commitment to democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in the region.
While Biden’s administration remains tight-lipped about their alleged involvement in engineering Khan’s fall from grace, critics contend that their actions have indirectly contributed to Pakistan’s drift towards a pseudo-military rule. The absence of a public admission of such actions underscores the complexity and opacity of international politics.
With the apparent “mission accomplished” in Pakistan, suspicions have been stoked about the Biden administration’s broader agenda. Observers note an escalating pattern of intervention into the internal affairs of multiple countries globally, Bangladesh being one of them. Disturbingly, there are claims that the administration is tacitly supporting the return to power of the ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). This has sparked fears that such a resurgence could potentially pave the way for a neo-Taliban state in Bangladesh.
As these global geopolitical maneuvers unfold, questions surrounding the Biden administration’s motivations and long-term implications continue to reverberate. The delicate balance between preserving democratic norms and pursuing strategic interests remains a focal point of discussion and concern for international observers.