Pakistan’s outgoing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday said if the news report by an American publication claiming to contain the evidence of a US conspiracy to topple Imran Khan’s government last year is true, then it was tantamount to a “massive crime” and “would have been a moment of shame”.
Sharif was referring to a report published in The Intercept, an online US-based news organisation, which claimed to have obtained the “secret” diplomatic cable that, according to former prime minister Khan, led to the fall of his government in April last year.
Khan, 70, is currently serving a three-year jail term after he was sentenced by a court in a corruption case last week.
The purported cipher (secret diplomatic cable) contained an 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.
In an interview with WE News, Sharif said, “If god forbid this government had come from a US conspiracy, then it would have been a moment of shame for us.”
“If the contents of the cipher are published (in the international newspaper), and are true, then it is a massive crime,” Sharif, who recommended the dissolution of Pakistan’s National Assembly on Wednesday night, added.
At the same time, the outgoing prime minister said two meetings of the National Security Committee were held on the cipher issue under his leadership. In one of the meetings, former ambassador and Foreign Secretary Asad Majeed clearly stated that there was no discussion of a conspiracy in his meeting with the senior US diplomat Lu.
He said former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and other service chiefs also confirmed that there was no conspiracy against Pakistan, adding that Majeed too had stated that there was no question of a conspiracy at all.
Sharif underlined that Khan had said that the conspiracy to topple his government was hatched because of his growing relations with Russia, “then how could we get oil from Russia?”.
Sharif reiterated that Khan’s allegations were a “bunch of lies” from “head to toe” and there was no reality in them.
Citing the “classified Pakistani government document”, The Intercept in a report published on Wednesday said, “The US State Department encouraged the Pakistani government in a March 7, 2022, meeting to remove Imran Khan as prime minister over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
At the same time, the publication also stated it has made extensive efforts to authenticate the document but “given the security climate in Pakistan, independent confirmation from sources in the Pakistani government was not possible”.
Earlier in the day, outgoing Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah called for a probe to determine the authenticity of the source document used in The Intercept report.
In a series of tweets, Sanaullah said, “Potentially, it is a very sinister, treacherous, and seditious act.”
“Though there is nothing new in this story, the investigation needs to be held to establish the authenticity of the information or source document,” he said.
Khan, also the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was ousted by the National Assembly after he lost a vote of no confidence in April 2022, a development he alleged that Washington got involved in after he visited Moscow and met Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Khan has alleged that the US orchestrated a plan to remove him from office and brandished the cypher at a public rally to back his claims. The US has time and again denied such allegations, terming them “categorically false”.
Khan travelled to Moscow in February last year and met President Putin on the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sanaullah noted that Khan had a copy of the cypher, which he has not returned and has accepted (on record) that he has misplaced or lost it. “If proven guilty, Khan should be tried under the Official Secret Act,” he said.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said it could not verify the authenticity of the document.
Responding to a question during a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller, said, “I can’t speak to whether it is an actual Pakistani document or not; just simply don’t know.”
“With respect to the comments that were reported, I’m not going to speak to private diplomatic exchanges other than to say that, even if those comments were accurate as reported, they in no way show the United States taking a position on who the leader of Pakistan ought to be,” he said.
Miller said the US had expressed its concern privately to Pakistan, “as we express concern publicly, about the visit of then-Prime Minister Khan to Moscow on the very day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We made that concern quite clear”.
“But as the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States himself has stated, the allegations that the United States has interfered in internal decisions about the leadership of Pakistan are false. As we’ve stated, they’re false. They’ve always been false, and they remain false,” he said.