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U.S. Worried At The Possibility Of Harming Former PM Imran Khan in Prison


By Girish Linganna

Recent discussions in the US Congress on the political situation in Pakistan have raised questions about the safety of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan presently lodged in prison..According to several sources familiar with the matter who spoke to The Intercept, the Senate Majority Leader emphasized to Pakistan's ambassador in Washington that ensuring the safety of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan is a top concern for the United States.

Late last month, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, a leading Democrat in Congress, issued a warning to Pakistan. This followed vigorous campaigning by the Pakistani diaspora, who are worried that the Pakistani military might harm Khan, the former prime minister removed from office in 2022.

Mohammad Munir Khan, a Pakistani American political activist, told The Intercept, “Chuck Schumer's discussion with the ambassador about Imran Khan's safety is a positive step.” He added that the Pakistani American diaspora has been disappointed with Washington's inability to address and hold Pakistan's influential figures accountable for obvious human rights abuses and undermining core democratic principles.

Imran Khan, who is widely regarded as Pakistan's most popular politician, is currently in jail on corruption charges that many view as politically motivated. He was ousted from power in April 2022 through a no-confidence vote believed to be engineered by Pakistan's influential military and supported by the U.S. Since then, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has been subjected to severe crackdowns, sparking global concern and condemnation from human rights organizations.

The worries about Imran Khan's safety that led to Senator Schumer's conversation with Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan stem from increasing fears that the military might respond to Khan's enduring popularity by endangering his life while he is in prison. According to The Intercept, Schumer's office chose not to comment on this story, and the Pakistani Embassy in Washington has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Senator Schumer, who has many Pakistani American constituents (or Voters) in New York, reached out as a new government in the South Asian country tries to secure its position despite public unhappiness with a February election that many say was fraudulent.

Besides banning the PTI party, Pakistan heavily cracked down before the February election. Despite a high voter turnout that hinted at an advantage for PTI-aligned candidates, allegations of widespread fraud were overlooked. Supported by the Pakistani military, a coalition of parties managed to establish a government under Shehbaz Sharif following the election.

The community, with the U.S. included, observed irregularities in the voting process, and there were believable claims of vote rigging and blatant fraud during the election.

Rep. Greg Casar, a Democrat from Texas, told The Intercept in March that there was clear evidence, acknowledged by the State Department, of issues with the election. At that time, Casar and other lawmakers had urged President Joe Biden not to recognize the government. However, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan had already congratulated Sharif in early March.

Foreign policy experts in Washington have expressed concerns that the Biden administration's strategy might compromise democratic values for the sake of security. Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, stated, “It seems like the administration is prioritizing its security ties with a foreign government over important issues such as democratic backsliding and human rights.”

Imran Khan is reportedly facing harsh conditions in a Rawalpindi prison. Last month, his right to receive visitors was suddenly halted for two weeks, leading his supporters to worry about his well-being while in detention. Earlier this month, one of Khan's lawyers reported that his personal doctor was denied access to see him in jail. Additionally, Khan's wife, who is also jailed on politically charged accusations of an un-Islamic marriage and corruption, is reportedly experiencing issues due to her confinement conditions, her lawyer stated this week.

In a statement made from prison and later circulated on social media, Khan, who survived an assassination attempt at a political rally in November 2022, claimed there was a conspiracy to assassinate him while he was incarcerated. He indicated that his fate was controlled by Gen. Asim Munir, the influential chief of Pakistan's army. Khan stated, “Should anything happen to me or my wife, he will be the one responsible.”

Schumer's conversation with the Pakistani ambassador might influence the military's decision-making regarding dealing with Khan. “Having a senior Democrat who has sway in the Biden administration issue a warning is quite meaningful,” noted Adam Weinstein, the deputy director of the Middle East program at the Quincy Institute. He added that he doesn't think the military would go as far as to kill Khan in prison.

It would be a drastic measure, but the military harming or even killing an ousted leader, including someone as prominent as Khan, aligns with a pattern seen in Pakistan's history. Over the past few decades, numerous Pakistani leaders have met violent ends after clashing with the military. Some of these deaths have occurred under unclear circumstances, while others, like former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, were executed by military rulers after being removed from power.

Today, despite being officially governed by civilians, Pakistan's military is widely recognized as the dominant political force in the country. Currently under the leadership of Munir, the military's ongoing conflicts with Khan and his party have been a central political narrative in the country for more than a year.

Pakistani activists in the U.S. believe that America's ties with Pakistan provide a means to prevent Imran Khan from being harmed in prison. Mohammad Munir Khan, a Pakistani American activist, stated, “At a minimum, Washington should make sure that Imran Khan is not physically harmed.”

The U.S. has had a significant influence on Pakistan's internal , particularly in recent years, and played a key role in Khan's removal from power.

In August 2023, The Intercept released a classified Pakistani diplomatic cable that had been at the heart of political controversy. Previously, the details of the cable were not public. The document revealed that U.S. State Department officials had exerted significant pressure on the Pakistani government, leading to Khan's removal from power.

The cable revealed that Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, who oversees South Asian affairs at the State Department, warned the Pakistani ambassador in Washington that U.S.-Pakistan relations would suffer greatly if Khan stayed in power.

According to the Pakistani cable, Lu mentioned, “If the no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister is successful, Washington will forgive everything.”

Following Khan's ouster, the U.S. has closely collaborated with Pakistan's new military-supported government. Reports from The Intercept indicate that Pakistan supplied weapons to Ukraine as part of a deal where the U.S. facilitated a favourable loan package from the International Monetary Fund.

Before his imprisonment, Khan often mentioned the classified cypher (or code) and claimed he had a physical copy of it at a political rally. He is now serving a long prison sentence for charges concerning his management of classified information, along with numerous corruption charges that initially led to his arrest.

In the midst of a wider crackdown on his party, which has involved killings, unauthorized disappearances, and torture of PTI supporters and journalists, many believe that Khan's ongoing imprisonment is a political strategy aimed at keeping him and his movement from regaining power.

After this year's election, amid concerns raised by Casar and other members of Congress about Khan's removal and the voting process, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee convened a hearing that included testimony from Assistant Secretary of State Lu.

As the only one testifying, Lu refuted claims of his involvement in a “regime change” in Pakistan. This was in response to accusations made by Khan and reported by The Intercept regarding his role and the contents of the diplomatic cable. Regarding the election, Lu acknowledged concerns about the conduct of the voting but did not specify any potential consequences for the alleged vote rigging.

“Our ambassador and embassy have taken actions,” Lu remarked, hinting at the U.S.'s congratulatory message to Pakistan's new prime minister. He quickly followed up by stating, “In every interaction with this government, we emphasize the need for accountability regarding election irregularities.”

At the hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, expressed concern about Khan's safety while in detention. Sherman suggested that Lu should personally visit Khan in prison, a proposal that received applause from the predominantly Pakistani audience present.

“Protecting leaders, no matter their political views, is crucial,” stated Atif Khan, a Pakistani American diaspora activist. He praised Congressman Brad Sherman for promoting accountability and safety, urging the U.S. Ambassador to meet with former Prime Minister Imran Khan and ensure his welfare.

As Khan's situation remains uncertain, members of Congress have cautioned that ongoing U.S. backing for a government viewed as illegitimate by many Pakistanis could damage not only Pakistan but also the U.S. standing in a crucial area.

Supporting democracy is valuable on its own, but it also aligns with our interests,” Casar, a Democrat from Texas, explained to The Intercept. “Despite any short-term military advantages, historically, it has not been beneficial for the United States to be perceived as supporting illegitimate, military-led governments in the long run. (IPA Service)





The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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