• Foreign Office spokesperson calls US House discussions on elections ‘intrusive’, insists no waiver required to complete Iran gas pipeline
• Donald Lu’s testimony proves PTI twisted diplomatic communique, put country’s relations at stake, says Sherry Rehman

ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: Reacting to calls for a thorough probe into irregularities and claims of rigging in the Feb 8 elections from a US Congressional panel, Pakis­tan said on Thursday that the concerns rai­sed “reflected a misunderstanding” of the country’s domestic situation and electoral laws.

In response to US Assis­tant Secretary of State Donald Lu’s testimony before the US House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on March 20, Foreign Office Spokes­person Mumtaz Zahra Baloch voiced concerns over comments made during the session.

At a weekly briefing, she criticised the hearing’s discussions as “intrusive” and indicative of “a misunderstanding of Pakis­tan’s domestic situation and electoral laws.”

The spokesperson also expressed a desire for more meaningful engagement with the United States to clarify these perceived misconceptions. “We hope to engage in meaningful discussions with the United States to ad­­dress these misunderstandings,” Ms Baloch stated, emphasising the importance of a constructive dialogue in fostering bilateral ties.

She also noted that Wednesday’s hearing was “an internal event” of the US, where the Congress and the administration were engaged in a conversation. “We believe that the deliberations of legislative bodies shou­­ld contribute to promoting positive dynamics in bilateral ties and should be based on mutual respect and understanding.”

Further, Ms Baloch called on the US Congress to adopt a more positive and constructive approach towards Pakistan. “We also hope that the US Congress will play a positive and constructive role in strengthening Pakis­tan-US ties and developing venues of mutually beneficial cooperation,” she added.

Pipeline with Iran

During Thursday’s briefing, Ms Baloch also reaffirmed Islamabad’s commitment to the Iran-Pakistan pipeline and the bilateral understanding between Pakistan and Iran.

A day earlier, Mr Lu had disclosed at the Cong­ressional hearing that Washing­­ton had set a “goal” to prevent the construction of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, which has been delayed by almost a decade largely due to US economic pressure.

“We are tracking this planned pipeline between Iran and Pakistan … Honestly, I don’t know where the financing for such a project would come from. I don’t think that many international donors would be interested in funding such an endeavor,” the US official added, highlighting that the White House “will uphold both in letter and spirit all sanction laws related to Iran.”

He had also noted Pakistan had not sought any waiver related to the US sanctions that “would certainly result from such a project.”

In response, Ms Baloch said that the decision by Pakistan to move forward on the pipeline was within the country’s sovereignty, as it wanted to construct a pipeline within its own territory.

“So, we do not believe that at this point there is room for any discussion or waiver from a third party. However, we have remained in contact with our American partners, and we have conveyed to them the importance of energy security for Pakistan’s future and the important role that Pakistan-Iran pipeline plays in the overall context of Pakistan’s energy security,” she said.

Last month, Islamabad officially approved the start of construction work on its segment of the pipeline, which is estimated to cost $158 million. This is a last-ditch effort to ward off $18 billion in potential penalties from Tehran.

Imran Khan’s allegations

Meanwhile, the PPP seized on Donald Lu’s categorical denial of former PM Imran Khan’s allegations of a US conspiracy against his government, saying that it had been proven beyond a doubt that the cipher was used by the PTI to protect its vested political interests.

A statement attributed to PPP leader Sherry Rehman said that the country’s foreign interests were put on stake when a diplomatic communique was twisted for personal and political interests, which will be remembered as the worst example of an act of its kind.

Earlier, Information Minister Attaullah Tarar had said that Mr Lu’s testimony had exposed the PTI founder’s “deceit and hypocrisy” before the world.

In a press conference a day earlier, the government’s spokesperson had said that PTI went an extra mile to double down on their false narrative on the cipher issue, which severely damaged Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with other countries, APP reported.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2024

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