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Top secret diplomatic cable purportedly shows US effort to oust Pakistan's PM over his 'neutral position' on Ukraine
EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images

Top secret diplomatic cable purportedly shows US effort to oust Pakistan's PM over his 'neutral position' on Ukraine

The State Department is denying an explosive report alleging the United States government facilitated the ouster of Imran Khan as Pakistan's prime minister last year.

On Wednesday, the Intercept published a top-secret Pakistani diplomatic cable suggesting the U.S. government supported Khan's ouster because he was, in the eyes of U.S. officials, too neutral on the Ukraine-Russia war.

What are the allegations?

In a controversial no-confidence vote last April, the National Assembly of Pakistan ousted Khan from office.

That vote took place about one month after State Department diplomats met with then-Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Asad Majeed Khan. At that March 2022 meeting, a top U.S. diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, purportedly communicated that Washington wanted Khan deposed from power.

The problem? U.S. officials were enraged that PM Khan had traveled to Moscow in February 2022 — meeting with Vladimir Putin just hours after the invasion of Ukraine — and that he had taken, according to the diplomatic cypher, an "aggressively neutral position" on Ukraine.

"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," Lu allegedly said at the meeting.

According to the cable, Lu then threatened that it would be "tough going ahead" for Pakistan if PM Khan remained in power. Even worse, Pakistan risked being marginalized by western allies.

"[H]onestly I think isolation of the Prime Minister will become very strong from Europe and the United States," Lu allegedly said.

In his transcription, Ambassador Khan recounted that he told Lu that his stance was "completely misinformed and wrong." At the end of the cable, Ambassador Khan explained in a summative "assessment":

Don could not have conveyed such a strong demarche without the express approval of the White House, to which he referred repeatedly. Clearly, Don spoke out of turn on Pakistan’s internal political process.

The day after that meeting, the process to remove PM Khan from power was initiated.

For his part, PM Khan has repeatedly made reference to the diplomatic cypher, the Intercept noted, and current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has also confirmed its existence.

What did the State Department say?

The State Department has previously denied playing a role in Khan's ouster. On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller reiterated those denials.

"With respect to the comments that were reported, I’m not going to speak to private diplomatic exchanges other than to say that, even if those comments were accurate as reported, they in no way show the United States taking a position on who the leader of Pakistan ought to be," Miller said at a press briefing.

"As we’ve stated, they’re false," he said of the allegations. "They’ve always been false, and they remain false."

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