The political landscape in Pakistan has been marred by controversy and uncertainty, particularly surrounding the removal of Imran Khan as prime minister. Recent revelations have shed light on a classified Pakistani government document obtained by The Intercept, which suggests that the U.S. State Department played a significant role in encouraging Khan’s ouster over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This article aims to delve into the details surrounding this revelation, the subsequent political chaos in Pakistan, and the implications for U.S.-Pakistan relations.
The Meeting and Encouragement for Removal
In a meeting between Pakistani Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan and U.S. State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, the issue of Pakistan’s stance on the Ukraine conflict was discussed. The leaked Pakistani government document, known as a “cypher,” reveals Lu’s forthright expression of U.S. displeasure with Khan’s supposedly neutral position on the Russian invasion. Lu indicated that if a no-confidence vote against Khan succeeded, it would lead to better relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. Conversely, if Khan remained in power, Pakistan could face isolation from its Western allies.
The Impact: No-Confidence Vote and Khan’s Removal
Approximately one month after the meeting with U.S. officials, a no-confidence vote was held in the Pakistani Parliament, resulting in Khan’s removal from power. The voice is believed to have been orchestrated with the support of Pakistan’s powerful military. Since then, Khan and his supporters have been engaged in a struggle with the military and its civilian allies, alleging that his removal was engineered at the behest of the U.S.
The Cable and Confirmation
The contents of the Pakistani cable obtained by The Intercept are consistent with reporting in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and elsewhere, corroborating the circumstances of the meeting and the details within the cable itself. The cable emphasizes the U.S.’s objections to Khan’s foreign policy on the Ukraine conflict. Interestingly, these positions were swiftly reversed after Khan’s removal, as promised during the meeting, leading to improved relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.
U.S. Denials and Pakistani Frustrations
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly denied the allegations that Lu urged the Pakistani government to remove Khan from power. State Department spokespersons have emphasized that the U.S. does not take positions on the leadership of foreign countries. However, Khan’s supporters and many Pakistanis have expressed frustration with what they perceive as a lack of reciprocity in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, with Pakistan expected to support U.S. interests without receiving the same in return.
Political Chaos and Crackdown in Pakistan
Khan’s removal has plunged Pakistan into political and economic turmoil. Protests against his dismissal and the repression of his party have swept the country, hampering its institutions and exacerbating the economic crisis triggered by the Russian invasion’s impact on global energy prices. The military-led government has also imposed extreme censorship and cracked down on dissent, leading to the detainment of thousands of civil society members and journalists. These sweeping attacks on democracy have largely gone unnoticed by U.S. officials, raising concerns about human rights and democratic backsliding in Pakistan.
Military’s Role and Disillusionment
The Pakistani military, which has long been seen as the real powerbroker in the country’s politics, has faced growing disillusionment from both the public and members within its own ranks. The military’s involvement in the political struggle against Khan, coupled with its exploitation of fallen service members for political purposes, has contributed to widespread disenchantment with the armed forces. Many fear that the military’s actions could lead Pakistan down a path similar to the 1971 crisis that resulted in the secession of Bangladesh.
Realignments and Pakistan’s Shifting Foreign Policy
Following Khan’s removal, Pakistan’s foreign policy has undergone significant changes. The country has tilted towards the U.S. and Europe, abandoning its previous posture of neutrality in the Ukraine conflict. Pakistan has emerged as a supplier of arms to the Ukrainian military, with images of Pakistan-produced shells and ammunition frequently surfacing on the battlefield. This realignment has resulted in increased military cooperation between Pakistan and Ukraine, and a potential defense pact between Pakistan and the U.S. has been approved by the Pakistani Parliament.
Khan’s Legal Troubles and Allegations
In addition to the political and economic challenges, Khan himself faces numerous legal troubles. He has been targeted for discussing the secret cable and potentially violating state secrets laws. Khan’s claims of U.S. involvement in his removal have been revised over time, suggesting that the U.S. may have played a role, albeit manipulated by the Pakistani military. The entire disclosure of the cable has allowed for a deeper evaluation of the competing claims and sheds light on the U.S.’s potential encouragement for Khan’s removal.
The revelations surrounding the U.S.’s alleged role in Imran Khan’s removal as prime minister have added another layer of complexity to Pakistan’s political landscape. The leaked cable and subsequent events underscore the delicate balance of power between the U.S., Pakistan, and the military within the country. The implications for U.S.-Pakistan relations and the future of democracy in Pakistan remain uncertain. As the nation grapples with political turmoil and economic challenges, it is crucial to closely monitor the evolving dynamics and their broader regional implications.