Home Latest News Donald Lu Describes Imran Khan’s Cipher Allegations as ‘Complete Falsehood’

Donald Lu Describes Imran Khan’s Cipher Allegations as ‘Complete Falsehood’

U.S. official says it is ECP’s constitutional responsibility to hear and decide complaints about alleged irregularities in elections

by Staff Report

Screengrab of the congressional hearing

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu on Wednesday described as a “conspiracy theory, lie and complete falsehood” all allegations hurled against him by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan.

Since his ouster as prime minister in 2022, Khan has repeatedly alleged that a diplomatic cipher sent by then-ambassador to the U.S. Asad Majeed contained a “warning” from Lu to remove him from office through a “conspiracy.” The U.S. State Department; Majeed; Pakistan’s National Security Council and now Lu himself have all denied this assertion.

Testifying before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs during a hearing on Pakistan’s general elections and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Lu responded to a question on the allegations against him by stressing the press reporting on the cipher was inaccurate. “At no point does it [cipher] accuse the U.S. government or me personally of taking steps against Imran Khan … the other person in the meeting, the then-ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S., has testified to his own government that there was no conspiracy,” he said, as PTI supporters in the audience heckled him, called him a “liar” and demanded the release of Imran Khan.

Maintaining that the U.S. respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and the principle of the Pakistani nation choosing its own leaders through a democratic principle, he lamented that the allegations against him over the past two years had led to “regular” death threats against him and his family. “There is a line of acceptability and I think, at times, some of the free speech has verged into threats of violence which is not acceptable in our society,” he said, while adding that the U.S. had also not sought the removal of Khan for his visit to Russia.

“I was absolutely not involved, nor were any Americans, in that process,” he said to another question on whether he played any role in “regime change” that led to Khan’s ouster.

To Representative Gabe Amo’s queries on press freedom and access to social media platforms in Pakistan, Lu said one of the most “damaging things” witnessed during the electoral process was the restriction on social media. “When the internet gets pulled down or X gets throttled, as it has been now for several weeks, it denies Pakistanis from getting the kind of diversity of reporting information that they deserve. We are talking to the Pakistani government at the highest levels about these issues,” he said.

Representative Brad Sherman, meanwhile, questioned Lu about “hundreds of” American citizens who he claimed were on the Exit Control List and could not leave Pakistan, wondering what the U.S. was doing to get them out. Lu said there were laws in place and the U.S. was pursuing the matter but was cut off by Sherman, who said: “We allow top generals in Pakistan to visit the U.S. when American citizens can’t leave Pakistan and come to the U.S. We then have the vote tabulation system and they banned the ‘bat’, the symbol of the PTI, and they banned the batsman [Imran Khan]. There have been flaws in the Pakistani elections but this is perhaps the greatest flaw.”

Sherman said Pakistan’s ambassadors said this was the “ordinary working of the Pakistani judicial system” but asked if the U.S. had faith that Khan “has not been the victim of selective prosecution or is it apparent that he has been?” Lu responded by saying the U.S. has raised its concerns about mass detentions after the May 9 riots and the use of military courts. Sherman interjected again, telling Lu he “needed” to have the U.S. ambassador visit Khan in prison and “make sure that he lives to tell the tale of how he was wrongfully imprisoned through selective prosecution.”

On the general elections, Lu said the U.S. was “particularly” concerned about electoral abuses and violence ahead of the polls. He said election monitors said they were barred from observing vote tabulation in “more than half of the constituencies” nationwide, adding the shutdown of mobile data services despite a high court order had also hampered public access to information.

However, he noted, there were positive aspects of the elections, including the participation of over 60 million voters, including more than 21 million women. “Voters elected 50 percent more women to Parliament than they had in 2018,” he said, adding there was a “record number” of members of religious and minority groups and young people running for seats in Parliament.

On the polls results, he said, the victory of several political parties showed the choices available to Pakistanis. “More than 5,000 independent election observers were in the field. Their organizations’ conclusion was that the conduct of the elections was largely competitive and orderly while noting some irregularities in the compilation of results,” he said.

To a query on the U.S. State Department seeking an impartial probe into alleged irregularities during elections, Lu noted the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was constitutionally responsible for hearing complaints of candidates and political parties about poll irregularities. “We as a partner of Pakistan have called for that to be done transparently and fully and for those found responsible for irregularities to be held accountable. We can see a process whereby that is happening,” he said, adding Washington would monitor this process “very closely” and encourage Islamabad and the ECP to ensure it was transparent for the public.

To a question on whether he trusted Pakistan’s judicial system to adjudicate claims of electoral wrongdoing, Lu noted the ECP had previously conducted elections again in cases of electoral abuse and pointed to re-polling in some constituencies for the current polls where there was violence. “We call on the ECP to fulfil its constitutional role in Pakistan to be the watchdog over these elections and to act in a nonpartisan way … As to whether they will do it, it is up to the Pakistani people to make sure their institutions are functional and upholding the Constitution,” he said.

Describing terrorism as the biggest issue facing Pakistan, Lu said the country was a very “important partner” and a major non-NATO ally. “We have deep national security interest with Pakistan, not the least of which is the fight against terrorism,” he said. “Not only terrorism that affects Pakistanis but terrorism that affects Americans. Pakistan has been a partner in our resettling of Afghan refugees to who we owe a debt and we are grateful to the people and government of Pakistan for that cooperation,” he said, adding that the U.S. viewed Pakistan’s current relationship with the Afghan Taliban with “suspicion.”

He said the current greatest terrorist threat to Pakistan emanated from Afghanistan, adding that the Taliban’s relationship with the neighbor was the same as their relationship with the U.S. “Very strained and difficult,” he said, adding the U.S. had “very important dialogue” with Pakistan on shaping the Taliban’s behavior and making sure they upheld their commitments.

During the briefing, the U.S. official was also questioned on potential sanctions for India following an investigation into an alleged Indian attempt to assassinate a Sikh dissident on American soil. “This is a serious issue between the U.S. and India,” he said, adding the U.S. administration took the issue “very seriously” and had raised it at the highest levels with India.

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