US denies seeking regime change in Pakistan, says it supports constitutional process

Washington is closely following developments in Pakistan, says a US official

Reuters file
Reuters file

By Chidanand Rajghatta

Published: Mon 4 Apr 2022, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Mon 4 Apr 2022, 10:51 PM

The United States has rejected charges by Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan that Washington is trying to engineer a regime change in Islamabad - including his naming of an American official who he said sent threatening messages calling for his ouster - while expressing support for a constitutional process and rule of law in the country.

"There is no truth to these allegations. We respect and support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law," a state department spokesperson said on Monday, even as Pakistan plunged into a political crisis, with opposition parties accusing Khan of subverting the constitution by torpedoing a vote of confidence that he appeared certain to lose.

The US official said Washington is "closely following developments in Pakistan," even as the matter of constitutional propriety was taken to the country's Supreme Court which adjourned a hearing on the matter till Monday.

The US statement in the context of charges by the opposition of Khan's constitutional impropriety suggested implicitly that it did not approve of his moves.

Earlier, Khan dropped all pretence of the US role he had alleged by euphemistically referring to a "foreign power" rather than naming it directly. In a meeting with his partymen over the weekend, he went even further, directly named Donald Lu, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, as the person who purportedly sought a regime change in Islamabad if ties between the US and Pakistan were to improve.

Lu, a 30-year veteran of the State Department, is a former ambassador to Albania and Kyrgystan, and is currently the State Department pointperson for the region.

According to Khan, Lu had held out threats to Pakistan in a meeting with Pakistan's outgoing Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan, warning there could be implications if he (Imran Khan) survived the opposition’s no-confidence motion in the National Assembly.

While Khan initially alleged there was a "letter" to this effect, it transpires that what he was referring to were minutes of a meeting Lu purportedly had with the Pakistani envoy, which Khan's critics say could well have been the ambassador's version or interpretation of Lu's assessment of the situation.

In fact, according to Pakistani analysts, the so-called "letter" from Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan are actually minutes of the meeting which itself is doctored because it is dated March 7, whereas the US official's engagement with the Pakistani envoy was on March 16, following which the ambassador even thanked him for his "perspectives."

But according to Khan, the US sent "threatening messages" through the Pakistani envoy in language that is "undiplomatic" and "arrogant." He also accused lawmakers of his own party who have deserted him and signed up with the opposition in the no-confidence move, of consorting with the US Embassy in Islamabad oust him from power.

Ties between Washington and Islamabad have been on a downslide in recent years, and they have hit a trough after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a move that reduced Pakistan's salience. Khan's aides have also expressed resentment that President Joe Biden has not even telephoned him after coming to the Oval office.

The latest crisis appeared to have been aggravated by Khan visiting Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, literally even as Russian troops were rolling into Ukraine. While the US was restrained in its criticism of the visit, Khan and his supporters allege that the move to oust him is payback for the "independent" foreign policy he is pursuing.

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