The cypher was leaked from a source from within Pakistan Military, to see the contents of the cypher verbatim, see the bold section at the end of the article. The article starts from below.
Secret Pakistan Cable Documents U.S. Pressure to Remove Imran Khan
If the no-confidence vote against Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is successful, “all will be forgiven,” according to a US diplomat.
According to a confidential Pakistani government document acquired by The Intercept, the US State Department advised the Pakistani government in a March 7, 2022, meeting to oust Imran Khan as prime minister due to his neutrality on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The encounter between Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and two State Department officials has been the subject of great attention, debate, and speculation in Pakistan over the last year and a half, while supporters of Khan and his military and civilian opponents fought for power. On August 5, Khan was sentenced to three years in prison on corruption allegations and was brought into custody for the second time since his removal. Khan’s supporters deny the allegations as unfounded. The punishment also prevents Khan, Pakistan’s most popular politician, from running in elections later this year.
A no-confidence vote was held in Parliament one month after the meeting with US officials detailed in the leaked Pakistani government document, culminating to Khan’s fall from power. The election is thought to have been conducted with the help of Pakistan’s powerful military. Since then, Khan and his followers have been at odds with the military and its civilian friends, whom Khan alleges contrived his deposition at the request of the US.
The text of the Pakistani cable, which was produced by the ambassador and sent to Pakistan, has not previously been disclosed. The cable, known internally as a “cypher,” discloses the State Department’s incentives and sticks in its effort against Khan, promising closer relations if Khan was ousted and isolation if he was not.
The paper, classified “Secret,” provides an account of a meeting between State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States at the time.
The document was handed to The Intercept by an unnamed source in Pakistan’s military who claimed to have no ties to Imran Khan or his party. The substance of the cable is published here, with small mistakes corrected, because such details can be used to watermark papers and monitor their distribution.
The cable shows the State Department’s sweeteners and sticks in its campaign against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The contents of the document obtained by The Intercept are consistent with reporting in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and elsewhere outlining the circumstances of the meeting, as well as facts in the cable itself, including those removed from The Intercept’s presentation. The characteristics of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States detailed in the cable were later confirmed by events. The US opposes to Khan’s foreign policy on the Ukraine war in the cable. Those attitudes were immediately overturned upon his ouster, which was followed, as promised, by a warming between the United States and Pakistan.
The diplomatic meeting came two weeks after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine while Khan was on his way to Moscow, a visit that outraged Washington.
Lu was questioned before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on March 2, two days before the conference, about India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan’s neutrality in the Ukraine war. In response to a question from Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., about Pakistan’s recent decision to abstain from a UN resolution condemning Russia’s role in the conflict, Lu stated, “Prime Minister Khan has recently visited Moscow, and so I think we are trying to figure out how to engage specifically with the Prime Minister following that decision.” Van Hollen appeared irritated that State Department officials were not in contact with Khan regarding the matter.
The day before the meeting, Khan addressed a gathering and immediately responded to European pleas for Pakistan to support Ukraine. “Are we really your slaves?” Khan yelled at the audience. “How do you feel about us?” That we are your slaves and will do whatever you want?” he inquired. “We have friendships with both Russia and the United States.” We have friendships with both China and Europe. We are not a member of any alliance.”
According to the memo, Lu expressed Washington’s concern with Pakistan’s posture in the crisis during the meeting. According to the document, “people here and in Europe are quite concerned about why Pakistan is taking such an aggressively neutral stance (on Ukraine), if such a stance is even possible.” It does not appear to be a neutral position to us.” Lu went on to say that he had internal discussions with the US National Security Council and that “it seems quite clear that this is the Prime Minister’s policy.”
According to the paper, Lu then raises the idea of a no-confidence vote bluntly: “I think if the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington because the Russia visit is being looked at as a decision by the Prime Minister,” Lu stated. “Otherwise,” he concluded, “I believe the road ahead will be difficult.”
If the problem is not resolved, Pakistan will be sidelined by its Western partners, according to Lu. “I cannot predict how Europe will react, but I suspect their reaction will be similar,” Lu said, adding that if Khan remains in government, he may suffer “isolation” from Europe and the United States.
When asked about Lu’s words in the Pakistani cable, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stated, “Nothing in these purported comments shows the United States taking a position on who the leader of Pakistan should be.” Miller stated that he would not comment on private diplomatic talks.
The Pakistani envoy responded by expressing dissatisfaction with US leadership’s lack of engagement: “This reluctance had created a perception in Pakistan that we were being ignored or even taken for granted.” There was also a sense that the US anticipated Pakistan’s cooperation on all topics essential to the US, but it did not reciprocate.”
According to the document, the session concluded with the Pakistani envoy expressing his hope that the Russia-Ukraine conflict would not “impact our bilateral ties.” Lu assured him that the damage was genuine but not deadly, and that now that Khan was gone, the relationship could resume normalcy. “I would argue that it has already created a rift in our relationship,” Lu remarked, referring to Pakistan’s “political situation.” “Let us wait a few days to see if the political situation changes, which would imply that we would not have a major disagreement on this issue and that the dent would disappear quickly.” Otherwise, we’ll have to face this problem head on and figure out how to deal with it.”
The day following the meeting, on March 8, Khan’s detractors in Parliament took an important procedural step toward a no-confidence vote.
“Khan’s fate was not sealed at the time of this meeting, but it was precarious,” said Arif Rafiq, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute and a Pakistan expert. “What you have here is the Biden administration sending a message to the people who saw themselves as Pakistan’s true rulers, signaling to them that things will improve if he is removed from power.”
The Intercept has gone to great lengths to authenticate the paper. Given the security situation in Pakistan, independent confirmation from Pakistani government sources was not possible. A request for comment was not returned by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Miller, a State Department official, stated, “We had expressed concern about then-PM Khan’s visit to Moscow on the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and have communicated that opposition both publicly and privately.” He went on to say that “allegations that the US interfered in internal Pakistani leadership decisions are false.” They have always been and will continue to be untrue.”
The State Department has previously and again denied that Lu encouraged the Pakistani government to depose Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. After Khan said there was a cable corroborating his claim of US intervention on April 8, 2022, State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter was questioned about its credibility. “Let me just say very bluntly, there is absolutely no truth to these allegations,” Porter said.
Khan agreed to an interview with The Intercept in early June 2023 and reaffirmed the claim. In response to a request for comment, the State Department referred to past denials.
Khan has not recanted, and the State Department disputed the charge at least three times in press conferences and once more in a speech by a deputy assistant secretary of state for Pakistan, who called the claims “propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation.” Miller, the State Department spokesperson, mocked the question on the most recent occasion. “I feel like I need to bring just a sign that I can hold up in response to this question and say that that allegation is not true,” Miller joked, prompting laughter and cackles from the reporters. “I’m not sure how many times I can say it… The US does not support one political candidate or party over another in Pakistan or any other country.”
While the cable drama has played out in public and in the news, the Pakistani military has started an unprecedented assault on Pakistani civil society in order to stifle any opposition and free expression that existed in the country prior.
In recent months, the military-led government has cracked down not only on dissidents but also on suspected leakers within its own institutions, adopting a law last week that allows for warrantless searches and long prison sentences for whistleblowers. Shaken by the public outpouring of support for Khan, expressed in a series of mass protests and riots this May, the military has also enshrined authoritarian powers for itself, criminalizing criticism of the military, expanding the institution’s already expansive role in the country’s economy, and giving military leaders a permanent veto over political and civil affairs.
These broad assaults on democracy went mostly unnoticed by US leaders. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the chief of US Central Command, visited Pakistan in late July, then issued a statement indicating his visit was focused on “strengthening military-to-military relations,” without mentioning the country’s political situation. Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas, attempted to amend the National Defense Authorization Act this summer to compel the State Department to investigate democratic backsliding in Pakistan, but it was denied a vote on the House floor.
In answer to a question about whether Khan received a fair trial during a press briefing on Monday, Miller, the State Department spokesperson, replied, “We believe that is an internal matter for Pakistan.”
Khan’s dismissal from office following a squabble with the Pakistani military, the same institution blamed for his political ascension, has thrown the country of 230 million into political and economic instability. Protests against Khan’s removal and persecution of his party have swept the country, paralyzing its institutions, while Pakistan’s present authorities grapple with an economic crisis exacerbated in part by the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global energy prices. The current state of anarchy has resulted in skyrocketing prices and capital flight from the country.
In addition to the worsening circumstances for regular civilians, the Pakistani military has imposed a regime of harsh censorship, with news outlets virtually forbidden from even mentioning Khan’s name, as The Intercept previously revealed. Thousands of civil society members, largely Khan supporters, have been jailed by the military in a crackdown that has accelerated since Khan was captured earlier this year and detained for four days, provoking widespread protests. There have been credible reports of torture by security forces, as well as reports of multiple fatalities in captivity.
The onslaught on Pakistan’s once-raucous press has taken an especially sinister turn. Arshad Sharif, a prominent Pakistani journalist who fled the country, was shot dead in Nairobi in October under disputed circumstances. Imran Riaz Khan, another well-known journalist, was detained by security authorities at an airport in May and has not been seen since. Both had been reporting on the secret cable, which has almost mythical importance in Pakistan, and were among a small group of journalists informed on its contents prior to Khan’s removal. These attacks on the press have created an environment of terror, making reporting on the document by journalists and institutions in Pakistan nearly impossible.
Khan himself was the victim of an attempted assassination last November, when he was shot at a political gathering, injuring him and killing one of his fans. His detention has been widely seen in Pakistan, even by many critics of his government, as an attempt by the military to prevent his party from running in the 2018 elections. Polls show that if Khan were allowed to vote, he would most certainly win.
“Khan was convicted on flimsy charges after a trial in which his defense was not even permitted to call witnesses.” He had already survived an assassination attempt, had a journalist who supported him assassinated, and had hundreds of supporters imprisoned. While the Biden administration has stated that human rights will be at the heart of their foreign policy, they are currently turning a blind eye as Pakistan descends into a full-fledged military dictatorship,” said Rafiq, a Middle East Institute scholar. “Ultimately, this is about the Pakistani military using outside forces to maintain its hegemony over the country.” They know how to exploit the United States in their favor whenever there is a major geopolitical conflict, whether it is the Cold War or the war on terror.”
Khan’s many mentions of the cable itself have exacerbated his legal problems, with authorities opening a second inquiry investigating whether he broke state secrets rules by discussing it.
Democracy and the Military
For many years, many Pakistanis saw the US government’s patronage relationship with the Pakistani military, which has long acted as the real powerbroker in the country’s politics, as an impenetrable barrier to the country’s ability to grow its economy, combat endemic corruption, and pursue a constructive foreign policy. The perception that Pakistan has lacked true independence as a result of this connection — which, despite democratic trappings, has rendered the military an untouchable force in domestic politics — heightens the charge of US participation in the dismissal of a popular prime minister.
The Intercept’s source, who had access to the document as a member of the military, spoke of their growing disillusionment with the country’s military leadership, the impact on morale following the military’s involvement in the political fight against Khan, the exploitation of the memory of dead service members for political purposes in recent military propaganda, and widespread public disenchantment with the armed forces amid the crackdown. They fear the military is pushing Pakistan toward a crisis comparable to the one that led to Bangladesh’s separation in 1971.
The insider went on to say that they believed the leaked memo would finally validate what ordinary Pakistanis and members of the armed forces have long suspected about the Pakistani military and force a reckoning within the institution.
During the military crackdown on Khan’s political party in June, Khan’s former top bureaucrat, Principal Secretary Azam Khan, was arrested and held for a month. While in custody, Azam Khan allegedly delivered a taped testimony in front of a member of the judiciary stating that the cable was real, but that the former prime minister misrepresented its contents for political gain.
A month after the conversation recounted in the letter, and only days before Khan was deposed, then-Pakistan army leader Qamar Bajwa publicly defied Khan’s neutrality, delivering a speech in which he called the Russian invasion a “huge tragedy” and criticized Russia. The words matched the public perception with Lu’s private view, noted in the cable, that Pakistan’s neutrality was Khan’s policy, not the military’s.
Pakistan’s foreign policy has shifted drastically after Khan’s ouster, with Pakistan explicitly siding with the US and Europe in the Ukraine conflict. Pakistan has abandoned its neutrality and emerged as a supplier of armaments to the Ukrainian military; images of Pakistan-produced shells and ammunition can be seen on battlefield film on a daily basis. A European Union official acknowledged Pakistani military support for Ukraine in an interview earlier this year. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s foreign minister visited Pakistan in July, ostensibly for military cooperation but publicly presented as focusing on trade, education, and environmental issues.
This shift toward the United States appears to be paying off for Pakistan’s military. A Pakistani publication stated on August 3 that Parliament had authorized the signing of a defense treaty with the United States encompassing “joint exercises, operations, training, basing, and equipment.” The pact was meant to replace a previous 15-year agreement between the two countries that was set to expire in 2020.
The Pakistani government was alarmed by Lu’s forthright remarks about Pakistan’s internal domestic issues. “Don could not have conveyed such a strong demarche without the express approval of the White House, to which he referred repeatedly,” the paper notes in a brief “assessment” section at the bottom of the report. Don obviously spoke out of turn about Pakistan’s internal political process.” The cable continues with a proposal “to seriously consider this and consider making an appropriate demarche to the US. Cd’ A a.i in Islamabad” — a reference to the chargé d’affaires ad interim, who serves as the diplomatic mission’s acting head when the accredited head is gone. Khan’s government later issued a diplomatic complaint.
Khan talked publicly about the cable on March 27, 2022, the same month as the Lu meeting, waving a folded copy of it in the air at a rally. He is also said to have disclosed the contents of the study to a national security meeting with the leaders of Pakistan’s major security agencies.
It’s unclear what happened in Pakistan-US interactions in the weeks following the meeting mentioned in the cable. However, the political winds had shifted by the next month. Khan was deposed in a no-confidence vote on April 10.
Shehbaz Sharif, the new prime minister, eventually confirmed the existence of the wire and admitted that some of the message delivered by Lu was inappropriate. He has stated that Pakistan has formally complained, but he has also stated that the cable does not substantiate Khan’s broader assertions.
Khan has frequently stated in public that the top-secret cable demonstrated that the US had ordered his departure from power, but he later amended his opinion as he pushed the US to denounce human rights violations against his followers. The United States, he told The Intercept in a June interview, may have pushed for his removal, but only because it was controlled by the military.
The release of the entire cable, more than a year after Khan was deposed and arrested, will finally allow the competing claims to be examined. Overall, the text of the cipher strongly shows that the United States aided Khan’s ouster. According to the cable, while Lu did not expressly command Khan’s dismissal, he stated that if Khan remained in government, Pakistan would face serious consequences, including international isolation, while also hinting at rewards for his removal. The words appear to have signaled the Pakistani military to take action.
In addition to his current legal issues, Khan has continued to be hounded by the new government over its handling of the secret cable. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah announced late last month that Khan would face charges under the Official Secrets Act in connection with the cable. “Khan has hatched a conspiracy against the state’s interests, and a case will be initiated against him on behalf of the state for violation of the Official Secrets Act by exposing a confidential cipher communication from a diplomatic mission,” Sanaullah said.
Khan has now joined a lengthy list of Pakistani politicians who have failed to complete their terms in office due to military interference. According to Lu, Khan was personally accused by the US for Pakistan’s nonalignment policy during the Ukraine conflict, as quoted in the cipher. Throughout the discussion, the vote of no confidence and its ramifications for the future of US-Pakistan relations loomed large.
“Honestly,” Lu is cited in the memo as stating about Khan’s chances of remaining in office, “I think isolation of the Prime Minister will become very strong from Europe and the United States.”