WASHINGTON: The US Congress should look at the allegedly leaked cipher about former prime minister Imran Khan’s ousting when it returns from summer recess, says a former US national security adviser John Bolton.

In an interview with VOA broadcasting service, recorded this week, Mr Bolton said he “worries about” the Biden administration’s foreign policy about South Asia because “it’s not clearly defined”.

Asked if the language used in the cipher was usual for a State Department official, the former Trump and Bush administrations official said he saw the report published by The Intercept news site and noted that it was about “an effort to get Pakistan’s support” against Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“I would be stunned if that’s exactly what they said. It would be remarkable for the State Department, under any administration, but particularly under the Biden administration, to be calling for Imran Khan’s overthrow.”

The purported cipher that the Pakistan Embassy in Washington sent to Islamabad in March last year, contained the embassy’s account of a meeting between US State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Pakistani envoy Asad Majeed Khan.

It quotes Mr. Lu as telling the Pakistani envoy: “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. Otherwise, I think it will be tough going ahead.”

Mr Bolton said even if the text published by The Intercept was “close to being true”, it would be a problem. “So, I hope that when Congress comes back from summer recess in early September, perhaps they can take a look at that and find out how accurate that report was.” 

‘Confused and inarticulate’

In reply to another question, Mr Bolton said Biden administration officials “don’t know what their strategic imperatives are. And it’s been confused and inarticulate on the situation in Pakistan”.

Explaining his position on the current political situation in Pakistan, he said: “I do not agree with Imran khan on everything he has ever said, and he doesn’t agree with me but when the military take it to the point of dismantling a legitimate political party (and) putting … an elected leader like Imran khan in jail for no apparent reason, they are contributing to delegitimising their own institution.”

Commenting on the demand by some US lawmakers that Washington should raise this issue with Pakistani authorities, Mr Bolton urged the Biden administration to take a clear position before the “terrorists, China and Russia take advantage” of the situation.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2023

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