The Imran Khan Saga – OpEd


The political environment in Pakistan has witnessed a dramatic turn, primarily due to the revelations of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s foreign conspiracy narrative, which revolves around a diplomatic cable.

Imran Khan has been using this self-created narrative since his ouster from power in April 2022. Since last year, Imran Khan has been adamant that there was a foreign conspiracy behind his removal. However, he failed to substantiate his claims. Primarily, he held a US diplomat for threatening and pressuring his government through Pakistan’s envoy in Washington. The recent leaks by the US based website ‘The Intercept’ reveals what actually happened during the so-called regime change operation in Pakistan. The leaks also raise serious questions regarding Imran Khan’s narrative, which he has been touting since his ouster. 

The Intercept is a credible investigative news outlet in US that shared the content of report. The website itself claims to have published the content of the cipher but at the same time failed to confess having an original copy. Likewise, it has failed to provide any solid evidence regarding the authenticity of the content, which in another way puts the entire narrative under observation.

If we assume the content of the leaked cipher is authentic, it again puts the entire narrative of PTI and former PM Imran Khan under question as it totally debunks the earlier claims of PTI leaders about an American conspiracy. The entire conversation between former Pakistani envoy to Washington Asad Majeed and US diplomat Donald Lu at the luncheon proved to be an intense diplomatic exchange between both diplomats. Therefore, the narrative that Khan and his party had been promoting for a year becomes questionable at best.

Further discrepancies arise when you delve deeper into the narratives presented by various stakeholders. The legitimacy of the cipher content is already under question as ‘The Intercept’ itself denied having the copy of cipher. This, by itself, is a conspicuous issue, raising serious concerns about the authenticity of the information being circulated. If the publication making claims cannot validate the content, its credibility is inherently shaky.

Likewise, the arguments, which are attributed to US diplomat Donald Lu, proved to be personal observations instead of any kind of direct threat or policy statement. This correlates with the statements from National Security meeting announcement and subsequent press conferences, where it was reiterated that no foreign threats were received and no conspiracy was orchestrated against the former PM.

The US State Department made it categorically clear that there was no involvement from their side in Pakistan’s political situation at the time. It further added that the US neither intervenes in domestic political matters of other nations nor supports any specific political party. These statements, in light of the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) inquiry into the cypher-gate scandal, further challenges Khan’s conspiracy narrative.

The campaign and narrative of Imran Khan and his PTI revolves around an international conspiracy. But, he has failed to substantiate those claims. All was done for political and rather personal gains. Rather, this narrative of Imran Khan and his political party severely damaged Pakistan’s foreign policy landscape and ushered in an era of misunderstandings between US and Pakistan. Azam Khan, former principal secretary of Imran Khan, also denounced the foreign conspiracy narrative and was reported to have said that Imran was keen on using the original cipher to manipulate a narrative against both the establishment and the opposition. This revelation counters Khan’s portrayal of an international conspiracy, as Azam’s statement suggests Khan’s intention to divert attention from foreign involvement in an opposition-led to a no-confidence motion against him.

The question is not about the authenticity or legitimacy of the diplomatic cable. It’s about Pakistan’s national image and foreign policy. Such statements particularly coming from a person who was former a PM hurts the trustworthiness of its leaders and international commitments. In international relations, states are the primary actors. One must put national interests first instead of pursuing self-centric agendas. Spreading unverified information, especially ones that implicates foreign powers, isn’t merely an internal political game; it has ramifications on an international scale.

The survival of the masses is linked to state’s existence. Ultimately, while the recent revelations do not absolve or implicate any party entirely, they shed light on a twisted political narrative that seems more convoluted than initially assumed. Imran Khan’s claims, particularly in light of the contradicting statements and evidence, appear to be on shaky ground. With national dignity and reputation at stake, it’s imperative for the truth to be unearthed, and if necessary, for those responsible to be held accountable.

Asad Ali

Asad Ali is an Islamabad based expert of South Asian Affairs

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