A constitutional crisis in Pakistan has emerged after the PTI government accused the joint opposition of colluding with the American establishment to bring about a regime change in Pakistan. The notes from a meeting between Pakistani and US officials on March 7 in Washington, DC, are at the heart of the crisis.
Interim Prime Minister Imran Khan, who recently advised the President to dissolve the National Assembly, alleges that the meeting notes carried evidence that the opposition parties in Pakistan were colluding with US authorities to oust him in a vote of no confidence. The US government has denied the allegations.
Instead of investigating the allegations of a conspiracy or facing the no-confidence motion, the PTI government dissolved the National Assembly, plunging the state into a constitutional stalemate.
The Supreme Court is currently deliberating the legality of the Speaker’s decision to block the vote of no confidence and the subsequent dissolution of the lower House of Parliament. Meanwhile, it is incumbent to scrutinise the government’s claim that the communique exposed a conspiracy in which leaders of opposition parties colluded with foreign entities against the state.
The unfortunate ambassador-designate
A review of the official statements released by the government of Pakistan after March 7 — the day the memo was received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — suggests that Pakistan was actively seeking economic and other cooperation with the United States. The press releases issued by the Pakistani government indicated that interim premier Khan made no mention of a conspiracy in his advice to the ambassador-designate Masood Khan, who is taking over from outgoing Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan and who held a series of meetings with the civil and military establishment before assuming responsibilities in Washington DC later in March.
Speaking with the ambassador-designate on March 14, the interim PM, accompanied by then foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, stressed that “Pakistan-US relations were based on partnership and shared goals”. He further advised the diplomat to “work for further strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries”.
He also expressed the hope that the ambassador-designate would improve “Pakistan–US relations, particularly for enhancement of trade, investment and public diplomacy”.
The advice by Imran Khan and his foreign minister to the ambassador-designate does not hint at any conspiracy. Interestingly, the meeting took place at least a week after the alleged memo was received at the Foreign Office.
One does not envy Ambassador-designate Masood Khan, who has assumed responsibilities when diplomatic ties between the US and Pakistan have hit rock bottom. With Prime Minister Imran Khan accusing the US establishment of destabilising his government, Masood is expected to present his credentials to President Joe Biden later this month. Already, three US lawmakers have lobbied the Biden government to reject his nomination papers.
Unlike the previous US administration, which did not replace Islamabad’s outgoing ambassador in 2018, President Joe Biden nominated Donald Blome as the next US ambassador to Pakistan in October 2021. The United States Senate confirmed Ambassador Blome’s appointment on March 1.
For four years, the US mission in Islamabad has been without an ambassador, which overlaps with the entire tenure of Imran Khan as prime minister. While the absence of an ambassador for four years may not essentially be a snub by the US government, it could be seen, at a minimum, as lack of interest or priority for the current or the previous US governments.
The decision by the Biden government to appoint an ambassador to its mission in Islamabad must be seen as a positive gesture. After the Senate confirmation, the US State Department observed that “partnership with Pakistan is key to progress on regional security, trade and investment, the climate crisis and human rights”.
The US seems keen to engage Pakistan on various issues, including climate change, which poses a formidable challenge to the country. However, the hitherto unsubstantiated allegation of a conspiracy threatens to jeopardise Pakistan’s trade ties with one of its largest partners, the United States.
If Imran Khan truly believes the opposition was involved in an international conspiracy against his government, he must release the minutes from the ambassador's meeting with the US officials.
Even if the prime minister is reluctant to reveal the minutes, leaders of opposition parties whom the premier has directly accused of colluding with foreign governments must approach the courts to clear their names. They will be entitled to see the evidence against them.
As of now, it appears that an official routine communication between an embassy and the foreign office has been manipulated to dissolve the Assembly and stir anti-American hysteria for short-term political gains. As more details emerge, it is increasingly becoming evident that the self-serving pseudo sense of national pride being peddled by Imran Khan will hurt not just Pakistan’s economic and social prospects, but also its diplomatic relations.
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