“No foreign threat in writing in a letter”

ISLAMABAD — On March 27, in front of a charged crowd of thousands of his supporters at a public rally in Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan alleged that a foreign conspiracy is underway in the country. Reading carefully from a note on a piece of paper, which the prime minister said he had written himself, Mr. Khan said local actors at the behest of foreign players were trying to topple his government. 

Mr. Khan then waved a letter in front of the crowd as a proof and said he can reveal the contents, which substantiate a foreign conspiracy, off the record if someone doubts its veracity. 

The accusation was indeed serious. But it has also raised serious questions about why the government kept sitting on the information and did not share it in meetings of the National Security Committee or inside the parliament.

Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif has also jumped into the fray and said his party would have stood by with Mr. Khan if the letter was presented before the parliament and if the threats were found to be real.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, has said that the letter’s contents were shared with the security establishment. 

However, Mr. Qureshi told the local news media that the contents cannot be shared with journalists off-the-record. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the interior minister, has also totally distanced himself from the letter, claiming that he is unaware of  its existence.

Background discussions with official and diplomatic sources have revealed that no foreign country has given any written threat to the Pakistani government. 

But Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Asad M Khan, had communicated to Islamabad unease of US officials about the troubled bilateral relations. 

Senior officials, however, deny that any threat was communicated and the communication was “something trivial” and a “case of misconstruing a conversation.”

Prime Minister Khan has been railing against the United States in recent rallies, accusing his political opponents of being ‘slaves of America.” 

Anti-American sentiment has long been a staple of Mr. Khan’s politics, and he criticised the decision of former President Pervez Musharraf to side with the United States in the campaign against terrorism. 

Khan had also been a vociferous critic of the US policy of using drones to target militants in the country’s northwestern tribal regions. He led several protest rallies against the use of drones, which often resulted in collateral damage. 

PM Khan says he wants to pursue an independent foreign policy. He has also stressed that he cannot partner with any country in any act of war.
Supporters of Mr. Khan’s point of view say the country has been treated unfairly by the United States. The feeling is, in fact, prevalent across a vast swathe in the country.

Mr. Khan’s recent visit to Moscow just when the Russian troops were invading Ukraine has raised serious concerns in Washington, D.C. , and European Capitals.

Official sources confirm that Mr. Khan declined advice by a senior Western official not to visit Moscow at a time when diplomatic tensions between Moscow and the Western countries were peaking. 

Under Khan’s government, relations with the United States have reached a nadir. This is despite the fact that Mr. Khan had a good equation with former US President Donald Trump. But with the Biden administration, relations have undergone a chill. 

The fact that Mr. Biden has not yet called Mr. Khan has caused a lot of unease in Islamabad.

Historically, Pakistan and US have seen a relationship that fluctuated between close cooperation and latent hostility. The defence sides of both countries have enjoyed close cooperation and remain strong till now. Pakistan was once considered an important non-NATO ally of the United States. 

But the Pak-U.S. relationship is so troubled and damaged now that US officials feel it cannot be repaired under the Khan government. 

Analysts say the damage to the bilateral relation maybe mitigated.

“The US continues to see the Pakistani military as such a key interlocutor. So relations with the civilian leadership may get strained by Khan’s anti West and conspiratorial rhetoric. But mil to mil ties aren’t necessarily impacted,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert and Deputy director @AsiaProgram, said.
“That said I wouldn’t be surprised if the army is put off by Khan’s rhetoric because of the risk to relations,” Mr. Kugelman said. "The army seems more receptive to continued partnership with the US than does the civilian leadership.”

Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, the spokesperson of the Ministry of foreign affairs, was asked whether it was correct that Mr. Asad M. Khan, the Pakistani diplomat, had written to the foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi mentioning the diplomat’s conversations with the US officials and the conversation was interpreted as a threat and disapproval of the Khan government. 

The MOFA spokesman did not offer any confirmation or denial. 

“There isn’t any comment to offer at this point of time,” Mr. Ahmad said.

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