ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an interview broadcast on Monday that he had a “perfectly good relationship” with the US administration of President Donald Trump but did not understand why the new government of Joe Biden “never got in touch” with him.
Imran Khan has said friction seemingly began between Pakistan and the US after Biden assumed office in January 2021. Khan’s government, while in power, had repeatedly complained thereafter that the new US president had not contacted the Pakistani PM.
In June last year, Khan said the US had asked Pakistan if it could use its military bases for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan after international forces pulled out of the war-torn country in August 2021. According to Khan, he had refused, further straining ties. American officials have variously denied the US made such a request.
In recent months, Khan has also accused Washington of working with his political opponents in Pakistan to orchestrate his ouster through a no-confidence motion. The US has repeatedly denied the accusation. Khan was voted out of power by parliament last month in the no-trust motion and Shehbaz Sharif, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, was voted into power.
“I had a perfectly good relationship with the Trump administration,” Khan said in an interview to CNN. “It’s only when the Biden administration came, and it coincided with what was happening in Afghanistan [withdrawal of US forces], and for some reason, which I still don’t know, I never, they never got in touch with me. There was no US ambassador to Pakistan,” he added.
New US ambassador to Islamabad, Donald Bloom, took charge today, Monday.
In the interview, Khan repeated allegations that the US had plotted to oust him, saying US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia, Donald Lu, who allegedly communicated to Pakistan’s ambassador to the US that Khan needed to be ousted, should be fired.
“He [Lu] tells our Ambassador in an official meeting … he tells the ambassador that unless you get rid of your Prime Minister Imran Khan in a vote of no confidence … he said, unless you get rid of him, Pakistan will suffer consequences,” Khan said. “And then goes on to say, of course, if you get rid of him through the vote of no confidence, all will be forgiven. Such arrogance.”
“This guy should be sacked for bad manners and sheer arrogance. Imagine telling a country, ambassador of a country of 220 million people, that you can get rid of your prime minister.”
Imran Khan called for the sacking of US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia Donald Lu for “sheer arrogance and bad manners”.
Lu is the central figure in Imran’s claims about a US-backed regime change conspiracy that toppled his government through a no-confidence motion. The PTI chairman accuses Lu of threatening Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, that a failure to remove Imran through a no-confidence vote would herald “consequences” for Pakistan and vice versa.
Imran also alleges that the threat was made even before the no-confidence motion was tabled and it subsequently started a chain of events that resulted in his ouster as local abettors and conspirators joined with the claimed conspiracy.
The PTI chairman repeated his claims in an exclusive interview on CNN programme Connect the World and lashed out at Lu while calling for his sacking. “Imagine telling the ambassador of a country of 220 million people that you get rid of your prime minister,” he added.
Questioned on why he had neglected to make his claims public earlier when he was so “specific” about their details, the PTI chairman said he had placed the cypher — containing details of the meeting between Lu and Pakistan’s ambassador — before his cabinet which was later presented in a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC).
Anderson pushed back against the PTI chairman and asked him if had gotten in touch with the US president or state secretary regarding the matter. Imran did not provide an answer, instead saying that the NSC meeting had decided to issue a demarche and a protest was registered to the US in Pakistan and Washington.
To a question about Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s stance on Pak-US relations and whether Imran believed that a good bilateral relationship was in Pakistan’s interest, he responded: “I had a perfectly good relationship with the Trump administration. It’s only when the Biden administration came, it coincided with what was happening in Afghanistan and for some reason — which I still don’t know — they never got in touch with me.”
Anderson said the US had “rubbished” the notion that it was involved in a regime change in Pakistan and asked Imran if he “genuinely” believed his claim of there being a foreign conspiracy to topple his government.
The PTI chairman responded that the US embassy was calling and meeting disgruntled PTI members even before the meeting between Lu and Pakistan’s then ambassador to the US. “What were they meeting [US officials] for? They were the first ones to jump ship and they were the ones who then offered million dollars each to buy my other MNAs who jumped ship later on.”Why would the US embassy be interested in our party backbenchers?” Imran said.
Anderson closed the interview with a question on whether Imran would run as a prime minister again, to which he predicted that the PTI would become the “biggest party in Pakistan’s history because people are so incensed and feel insulted that these criminals have been foisted over us … there is anger in Pakistan … there is anti-Americanism”.
Referring to prior examples of alleged US-backed regime changes in Iran and South American countries, Imran said resentment increased against the US when unpopular governments were brought to power. “Unfortunately, yes, there is anti-Americanism right now,” he added.
Russia trip under focus
During the interview, Anderson asked the former prime minister about his visit to Russia coinciding with the announcement of the Kremlin’s Ukraine’s invasion, adding that “the optics didn’t and don’t look good, do they?”
“They didn’t but let me explain to you. This visit was planned a long time back and all stakeholders in Pakistan were onboard. The military wanted Russian hardware, we wanted oil, there was a gas pipeline which was being negotiated for the past six years before my government came in … how would I have known that the day I land in Moscow, President [Vladimir] Putin would decide to go into Ukraine?” Imran responded.
Pressed on whether he regretted the trip, Imran said he would have regretted it if he had known about the invasion beforehand and still chosen to go ahead. “I do not believe in military solutions. I have opposed all military ways of achieving political ends but I wasn’t supposed to know [that Russia would announce war].”