Diplomats in Washington
deny US threatened
regime change of
Imran Khan in Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD: A senior American official expressed “disappointment” with Pakistan’s decision to send its prime minister to Moscow the day Russia invaded Ukraine, reported a Pakistani newspaper on Sunday after talking to diplomats privy to the development, though he never threatened “regime change” in Islamabad.

Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote earlier this month, has repeatedly described the opposition’s move against him as part of an elaborate foreign conspiracy to bring down his government.

Dr. Asad Majeed Khan

Khan first mentioned the international scheme during a political rally in Islamabad last month in which he took out a piece of paper from his pocket and described it as a written threat from a foreign power.

Later, it turned out he was mentioning a diplomatic cable which was dispatched by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed Khan after his conversation with US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu.

According to a report in Dawn, the conversation took place at the ambassador’s farewell lunch on March 7 which was also attended by a note-taker from Pakistan along with other officials from both sides.

The newspaper quoted a diplomatic source as saying “no one attending the meeting felt that the Americans were hatching a conspiracy to topple the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government” of former prime minister Imran Khan.

The diplomat said much of the conversation between the two officials revolved around the Russian invasion of Ukraine, making the Pakistani envoy say that his country “had been trying for a Moscow visit for years” and could not have turned down the invitation when it finally arrived.

The US officials, however, maintained that Pakistan should have “considered Washington’s sensitivities” and argued the final decision on the matter was taken by Khan himself despite the emerging international situation.

The Pakistani newspaper said the American officials even claimed “that Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa had planned to visit Washington in April, but postponed it after learning how the Americans felt about Ukraine.”

The diplomatic sources revealed the conversation later moved toward Pakistan’s domestic political situation, with Donald Lu saying “Washington was keenly watching the situation and the outcome of the no-trust move against the then prime minister would impact US-Pakistan relations as well.”

Dawn reported the Pakistani officials found the conversation “alarming and far from routine,” though they did not get a sense of any conspiracy to bring down the sitting government in Islamabad.

“No, there’s no conspiracy,” one of the officials told Dawn. “Nobody got that impression. But they did say the outcome [of the no-confidence vote] will impact bilateral ties, which can be interpreted either way.”

“I never thought it was a US conspiracy, but it triggered certain reactions that impacted the domestic political situation in Pakistan,” another diplomatic source told the newspaper. “What Mr Lu said reflected what the Biden administration feels and thinks. It was very unusual. Not one bit routine.”

It may be recalled the Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Babar Iftikhar also denied any foreign conspiracy against Khan’s administration, though he said the top Pakistani political and military leadership thought the language used by the foreign official was “undiplomatic which amounted to interference” and decided to issue a demarche to the country in question.