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21/03/24 | 1:09 pm

US expresses concerns over “electoral abuse and violence” in lead-up to Pakistan polls; rubbishes Imran Khan’s cipher allegation

A senior United States Department of State official has raised concerns over “electoral abuse and violence” in the lead-up to Pakistan’s general election last month.

A subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the US House of Representatives held a hearing on the “future of democracy in Pakistan and the US-Pakistan relationship” on Wednesday, where, Donald Lu, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, said President Joe Biden’s administration identified a series of “irregularities” in the conduct of the February 8 elections.

“We were particularly concerned about electoral abuses and violence that happened in the weeks leading up to the polls,” Lu said, pointing to the attacks on police, politicians, and political gatherings by terrorist groups; harassment and abuse of journalists, particularly female journalists, by political party supporters; and lastly, “several political leaders were disadvantaged by the inability to register specific candidates and political parties.”

Lu informed that they were barred from observing vote tabulation in “more than half of the constituencies across the country.”

Lu said that authorities shut down mobile data services despite a high court order instructing not to interrupt internet services on election day.

Earlier, 30 US Congressmen wrote to President Biden and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, asking them not to recognise Pakistan’s new government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Meanwhile, a US lawmaker questioned Lu on whether the US State Department had conducted its own investigation of the general elections, to which the latter responded in the affirmative and said certain actions were also being taken, such as monitoring of the process to address poll irregularities.
“This country needs to start using its economic might to correct some of these wrongs. These people are being mistreated,” the US lawmaker said.

Lu was questioned about the allegations of delivering a warning to the then-Pakistani ambassador in Washington, suggesting that the removal of former Prime Minister Imran Khan from office would help improve ties between Washington and Islamabad. At the time, Khan was strengthening ties with Russia despite its war on Ukraine.

In response, Lu said: “I want to be very clear on this point. These allegations — this conspiracy theory — is a lie. It is a complete falsehood. I have reviewed the press reporting related to this, what is called the cipher in Pakistan, the alleged leaked diplomatic cable from the embassy here.”

The cipher controversy first surfaced on March 27, 2022, when Khan, while addressing a public rally, waved a letter before the crowd, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation that had conspired with his political rivals to have the PTI government overthrown, according to Geo News.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter, nor did he mention the name of the nation it came from. But a few days later, he accused the United States of ‘conspiring’ against him and alleged that US lawmaker Donald Lu had sought his removal.

Khan and his PTI government were removed from power in April 2022 through a parliamentary vote of no confidence, a first in Pakistan’s history. The US has repeatedly denied Khan’s allegation that it was involved in any conspiracy to remove him from office.


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