WASHINGTON: Wading into the political battle raging in Islamabad over the alleged threat made against Imran Khan’s government by an American official, Moscow on Tuesday accused the United States of committing “another attempt of shameless interference” in the internal affairs of Pakistan to punish a “disobedient” Imran Khan for not supporting the US position on Ukraine.

But rejecting the Russian allegation of interference in Pakistan’s domestic politics, the US State Department said on Tuesday that it “does not support one political party over another”.

In a statement issued in Moscow, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, noted that President Arif Alvi had dissolved the National Assembly on April 3 on Imran Khan’s advice, which was based on a claim that the US orchestrated a plan to topple his government.

“Immediately after the announcement of the working visit of Imran Khan to Moscow on February 23-24 this year, the Americans and their Western associates began to exert rude pressure on the prime minister, demanding an ultimatum to cancel the trip,” Ms Zakharova said.

Slams ‘shameless US interference’ in Pakistan’s internal affairs; State Dept says it ‘doesn’t support one political party over another’

“When he nevertheless came to us, [US diplomat Donald Lu] called the Pakistani ambassador in Washington and demanded that the visit be immediately interrupted, which was also rejected,” she stated.

“According to the Pakistani media, on March 7 this year, in a conversation with Pakistani Ambassador Asad Majid, a high-ranking American official (presumably Mr Lu) sharply condemned the balanced reaction of the Pakistani leadership to the events in Ukraine and made it clear that partnerships with the United States are possible only if Imran Khan is removed from power,” the spokesperson added.

The Russian official claimed that further development of the situation left no doubt that the US “decided to punish the ‘disobedient’ Imran Khan”, noting how lawmakers from within the PTI switched sides to the opposition while the no-confidence vote was submitted to parliament.

“This is another attempt of shameless US interference in the internal affairs of an independent state for its own selfish purposes. The above facts eloquently testify to this,” she said.

“The [Pakistan] prime minister himself has repeatedly stated that the conspiracy against him was inspired and financed from abroad. We hope that Pakistani voters will be informed about these circumstances when they come to the elections, which should be held within 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly.”

The Russian foreign ministry’s statement came a couple of days after Imran Khan named US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Donald Lu as the official who made “threatening remarks” about his regime in a letter, which the premier had brandished during a public rally in Islamabad last month.

Last month, the National Security Committee, which includes all services chiefs, had decided to issue a “strong demarche” over the letter, terming it “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.

The prime minister has alleged that the no-confidence motion against him is part of the “foreign conspiracy” to oust him from power.

When Dawn approached the US State Department for comment on the Russian statement, one of their spokespersons said that “there’s no truth to these allegations”.

The US official also explained the US position on the current political turmoil in Pakistan, pointing out that it had no favourites in this dispute.

The official said Washington “supports the peaceful upholding of constitutional and democratic principles”, indicating that the US does not want tensions between the ruling and opposition parties to lead to violence and it would support any solution that’s based on the Pakistani Constitution.

Further underlining Washington’s neutrality on this issue, the spokesperson said: “We do not support one political party over another. We support principles of rule of law and equal justice under law.”

This statement covers more ground than previous US statements on the dispute, which did not go beyond denying “allegations” of US involvement. Apparently, the detailed Russian statement, which included serious allegations against the United States, necessitated the added detail.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2022

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