Last year, the US State Department reportedly pressured Pakistan to remove its popular Prime Minister, Imran Khan, due to his neutral stance on the conflict in Ukraine, according to a secret diplomatic cable obtained from a Pakistani military source. The cable, documenting a meeting between US State Department officials and Pakistan’s ambassador to the US on March 7, 2022, raised concerns about Pakistan’s neutrality on Ukraine.
In the cable, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, expressed concerns about Pakistan’s neutral position on Ukraine. He singled out Prime Minister Imran Khan as the sole person responsible for this policy. Lu warned his Pakistani counterpart that people in the US and Europe were worried about Pakistan’s stance and suggested that if a no-confidence vote against Khan succeeded, all would be forgiven in Washington.
However, Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan defended Pakistan’s position, explaining that it was a shared stance across the government. Despite this, Lu insisted that it was the Prime Minister’s behavior that was the problem. He implied that if Khan were removed from office, the US would consider forgiving Pakistan’s neutrality on Ukraine.
Following the meeting, Ambassador Khan noted in his documentation that the threat seemed to come directly from the White House, prompting him to recommend a strong diplomatic response. Khan later claimed that the US was behind his removal after he was ousted following a no-confidence vote in April, as Lu had suggested.
Khan’s successor, Shehbaz Sharif, confirmed the existence of the cable and admitted that some of its messaging was inappropriate. However, he stopped short of acknowledging its confirmation of Khan’s claims.
The US government has consistently denied pressuring Pakistan to remove Khan. While the obtained document does not constitute a direct order, it contains strongly-worded threats and hints at rewards for compliance. The cable confirms that these messages were seen as coming directly from President Joe Biden.
Shortly after Khan’s removal, Pakistan reversed its neutrality on Ukraine and began providing significant amounts of weapons to Kiev. This move was seen as a demonstration of Pakistan’s loyalty to Washington. In return, the Pakistani military reportedly received a defense pact covering joint exercises, operations, training, basing, and equipment.
Despite polls suggesting that Khan would easily win an election if allowed to run again, he was sentenced to three years in prison last week on corruption charges. This prevents him from participating in the upcoming elections expected to take place this year. Since his removal from office, Khan has faced numerous charges, ranging from insulting state officials to terrorism. Last month, it was announced that he would also be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for revealing the contents of the cable documenting the alleged conspiracy against him.
In conclusion, the leaked cable suggests that the US State Department pressured Pakistan to remove its Prime Minister, Imran Khan, due to his neutral stance on the conflict in Ukraine. The cable highlights the concerns of US officials regarding Pakistan’s position on Ukraine and hints at potential rewards for compliance. Khan’s subsequent removal from office and Pakistan’s shift in policy on Ukraine seem to align with the contents of the cable. However, the US government denies any involvement in Khan’s ouster. Khan’s successor has acknowledged the existence of the cable but has not fully validated Khan’s claims. Nevertheless, Khan continues to face legal challenges and has been prevented from participating in future elections.