ISLAMABAD: The government confirmed on Wednesday that its allegation about a foreign conspiracy against the prime minister was based on a diplomatic cable received from one of the country’s missions abroad.
At a rally in Islamabad on Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed that the opposition’s no-confidence motion against him was a result of a “foreign conspiracy” because of his external policy and funds were being channelled from abroad to oust him from power.
Though he did not initially provide specific details about the threatening letter, he subsequently opened up a bit because of critics doubting his claim. The government initially offered to share the letter with the chief justice of Pakistan, but later the prime minister also briefed his cabinet members about the contents of the letter.
In view of the legal bar on disclosing classified documents, a group of journalists were then provided with minutes of the cabinet meeting at their interaction with the prime minister.
State Department says no US government agency or official sent letter to Pakistan
No foreign government was named in that meeting, but the media persons were informed that a Pakistani envoy was told by a senior official of the host country that they had issues with Prime Minister Khan’s foreign policy, especially his visit to Russia and the stance on the ongoing Ukrainian war.
The Pakistani envoy was further conveyed that the future trajectory of relations between the two countries was contingent upon the fate of the no-confidence motion that the opposition parties were then planning to bring against the prime minister. The envoy was warned of serious implications if Prime Minister Khan survived the no-trust vote.
The cable was reportedly sent on March 7, a day before the opposition submitted the no-confidence motion and requisitioned a National Assembly session for voting on it.
Meanwhile, it has separately emerged that the cable was sent by Pakistan’s then ambassador to United States Asad Majeed on the basis of his meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu.
Ambassador Majeed has now moved to Brussels for taking up his new assignment and has been replaced by Ambassador Masood Khan.
Contradictory claims have emerged from Islamabad and Washington about the meeting between Ambassador Majeed and Lu after PM Khan’s claim.
A senior Pakistani official told Dawn the language used in the meeting by the American side was unusually harsh.
Meanwhile, Americans deny in private discussions that any specific message was delivered to the Pakistani envoy.
It is a well-known fact that the administration of US President Joe Biden was uneasy with Mr Khan’s trip to Moscow that coincided with the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
US State Department had publicly voiced those concerns and both sides acknowledge that there had also been a communication between them ahead of Mr Khan’s Moscow trip in which an attempt was made to dissuade him from undertaking the visit.
Later on March 1, Islamabad-based Western diplomats had also issued a statement, urging the Pakistani government to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine and support a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) calling on Moscow to stop the war.
Pakistan went on to abstain in the UNGA vote and demanded that the conflict be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.
The other issue the Americans reportedly had was with Mr Khan’s foreign policy.
A couple of Pakistan’s former envoys to the United States told Dawn American officials usually did not brandish threats during official meetings though their tone would vary from situation to situation.
Besides, countries routinely keep expressing displeasure or concern over others’ actions in bilateral engagements.
They said that even if threats were made in extreme situations, that was done in a subtle manner and, more importantly, a plausible deniability is maintained. “They will certainly not do so in the presence of note takers,” one of them quipped.
The two former ambassadors further observed that under PM Khan, the fundamentals of foreign policy had not changed except that he was more vocal. Therefore, it was difficult to understand why they would have an issue with his policy now, they maintained, adding that Islamabad had not threatened US interests either.
Interestingly, there were no signs of a rupture or new tensions in ties until Mr Khan went public with the threat.
Islamabad hosted Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya for the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting held last week.
After a meeting with Ms Zeya, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted: “Bilaterally, Pakistan has a longstanding relationship with the US and we believe a regular and structured dialogue process [was important] to promoting our bilateral and shared regional objectives. We look forward to commemorating Pak-US 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties this year.”
Even Ambassador Majeed thanked Mr Lu on Twitter for participation in an embassy event on March 16.
US diplomats in Islamabad were not demarched even after the disclosure.
A Western diplomat thinks that it has happened because someone had to be scapegoated for the current political crisis and there could have been no better option than the United States.
ANWAR IQBAL ADDS: Meanwhile,the US State Department said on Wednesday that no US government agency or official had sent a letter to Pakistan on the current political situation in the country.
Responding to questions from Dawn about the alleged letter and US involvement in the no-confidence motion against the PTI government, a State Department spokesperson said: “There is no truth to these allegations."
According to some diplomatic sources in Washington, the letter could be a diplomatic cable from Washington, drafted by a senior Pakistani diplomat. “The contents of the letter, apparently, are based on informal discussions between Pakistani and other officials,” one diplomatic source said.
“The contents, if correct, show a set of friendly officials from various countries indulging in some loud-thinking and probing. Nothing more,” the source added.
The sources said that such conversations often happened in capital cities around the world and diplomats often shared the contents of such conversations with authorities in their home countries.
“The purpose behind such cables is to keep your government informed. It’s no sign of a conspiracy against a government or a personality,” another diplomatic source said.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2022