The US Toppling of Imran Khan

The Pakistani leader probably sealed his fate when, at a rally, he berated the West for pressuring him to condemn Russia over Ukraine at a vote in the United Nations, writes Jeffrey Sachs.

Imran Khan livestreaming an address to Pakistan in 2023. (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, YouTube, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

By Jeffrey D. Sachs
Common Dreams

A principal instrument of U.S. foreign policy is covert regime change, meaning a secret action by the U.S. government to bring down the government of another country. 

There are strong reasons to believe that U.S. actions led to the removal from power of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in April 2022, followed by his arrest on trumped-up charges of corruption and espionage, and sentencing this week to 10 years imprisonment on the espionage charge. 

The political objective is to block Pakistan’s most popular politician from returning to power in the elections on Feb. 8. 

The key to covert operations of course is that they are secret and hence deniable by the U.S. government. Even when the evidence comes to light through whistleblowers or leaks, as it very often does, the U.S. government rejects the authenticity of the evidence and the mainstream media generally ignore the story because it contradicts the official narrative. Because editors at these mainstream outlets don’t want to peddle in “conspiracy theories,” or are simply happy to be the mouthpieces for officialdom, they give the U.S. government a very wide berth for actual regime-change conspiracies. 

Covert regime change by the U.S. is shockingly routine. One authoritative study by Boston University professor Lindsay O’Rourke counts 64 covert regime change operations by the U.S. during the Cold War (1947 and 1989), and in fact the number was far larger because she chose to count repeated attempts within one country as a single extended episode. 

Since then, U.S. regime change operations have remained frequent, such as when President Barrack Obama tasked the C.I.A. (Operation Timber Sycamore) with overthrowing Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That covert operation remained secret until several years after the operation, and even then, was hardly covered by the mainstream media. 

U.S. Marines and Jordanian Army soldiers collaborate in Amman, Jordan, 2016. (US Military, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

All of this brings us to Pakistan, another case where evidence points strongly to U.S.-led regime change. In this case, the U.S. desired to bring down the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the charismatic, talented and hugely popular leader in Pakistan, renowned both for his world-leading cricket mastery and for his common touch with the people. His popularity, independence, and enormous talents make him a prime target of the U.S., which frets about popular leaders who don’t fall into line with U.S. policy.

Cooperated With Russia & China

Imran Khan’s “sin” was to be too cooperative with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, while also seeking normal relations with the United States. 

The great mantra of U.S. foreign policy, and the activating principle of the C.I.A., is that a foreign leader is “either with us or against us.” Leaders who try to be neutral amongst the great powers are at dire risk of losing their positions, or even their lives, at U.S. instigation, since the U.S. does not accept neutrality. Leaders seeking neutrality dating back to Patrice Lumumba (Zaire), Norodom Sihanouk (Cambodia), Viktor Yanukovych (Ukraine), and many others, have been toppled with the not-so-hidden-hand of the U.S. government. 

Like many leaders in the developing world, Khan does not want to break relations with either the U.S. or Russia over the Ukraine War. By sheer coincidence of prior scheduling, Khan happened to be in Moscow to meet Putin on the day that Russia launched the special military operation (Feb. 24, 2022). 

Before Russian-Pakistani talks, Khan laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall on Feb. 24, 2022. (TASS)

From the start, Khan advocated that the conflict in Ukraine should be settled at the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield. The U.S. and E.U. arm-twisted foreign leaders including Khan to fall into line against Putin and to support Western sanctions against Russia, yet Khan resisted. 

Khan probably sealed his fate on March 6 when he held a large rally in northern Pakistan. At the rally, he berated the West, and especially 22 EU ambassadors, for pressuring him to condemn Russia at a vote in the United Nations. He also excoriated NATO’s war against terror in next-door Afghanistan as having been utterly devastating to Pakistan, with no acknowledgment, respect, or appreciation for Pakistan’s suffering.

Khan told the cheering crowds, “EU ambassadors wrote a letter to us asking us to condemn and vote against Russia… What do you think of us? Are we your slaves … that whatever you say, we will do?” He added,

“We are friends with Russia, and we are also friends with America; we are friends with China and with Europe; we are not in any camp. Pakistan would remain neutral and work with those trying to end the war in Ukraine.” 

From the U.S. perspective, “neutral” is a fighting word. The grim follow-up for Khan was revealed in August 2023 by investigative reporters at The Intercept

Just one day after Khan’s rally, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu met in Washington with Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Asad Majeed Khan. Following the meeting, Ambassador Khan sent a secret cable (a “cypher”) back to Islamabad, which was then leaked to The Intercept by a Pakistani military official.

Lu speaking to State Department employees in 2022. (State Department, Freddie Everett/ Public domain)

The cable recounts how Assistant Secretary Lu berated Prime Minister Khan for his neutral stance. The cable quotes Lu as saying that “people here and in Europe are quite concerned about why Pakistan is taking such an aggressively neutral position (on Ukraine), if such a position is even possible. It does not seem such a neutral stand to us.” 

Lu then conveyed the bottom line to Ambassador Khan:

“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. Otherwise, I think it will be tough going ahead.” 

Five weeks later on April 10, with the U.S. blunt threat hanging over the powerful Pakistani military, and with the military’s hold over the Pakistani Parliament, the Parliament ousted Khan in a no-confidence vote. 

Within weeks, the new government followed with brazenly manufactured charges of corruption against Khan, to put him under arrest and prevent his return to power. 

In an utterly Orwellian turn, when Khan made known the existence of the diplomatic cable that revealed America’s role in his ouster, the new government charged Khan with espionage. He has now been convicted on these charges to an unconscionable 10 years, with the U.S. government remaining silent on this outrage. 

When asked about Khan’s conviction, the State Department had the following to say: “It’s a matter for the Pakistani courts.” Such an answer is a vivid example of how U.S.-led regime change works. The State Department supports Khan’s imprisonment over Khan’s public revelation of U.S. actions. 

Pakistan will therefore hold elections on Feb. 8 with its most popular democratic leader in prison and with Khan’s party the subject of relentless attacks, political murders, media blackouts, and other heavy-handed repression. 

In all of this, the U.S. government is utterly complicit. So much for America’s “democratic” values. The U.S. government has gotten its way for now — and has deeply destabilized a nuclear-armed nation of 240 million people. Only Khan’s release from prison and his participation in the upcoming election could restore stability.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a university professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the U.N. Broadband Commission for Development. 

This article is from  Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

13 comments for “The US Toppling of Imran Khan

  1. Lois Gagnon
    February 6, 2024 at 11:49

    The US government barely exists. It’s the string pullers who call the shots. Those are the people we need to target. They enjoy total immunity from the crimes of state they pay Washington to carry out. Time for their “Grand Chessboard “ to be turned upside down.

  2. michael888
    February 6, 2024 at 10:27

    Nice article. As “Ambassador” John Bolton has noted while visiting with the North Koreans and Trump, the “Libya Model” is viewed in DC as the perfect model for propagating “American Democracy!” throughout the world.

    Generally a National Emergency is declared by the President against uncooperative countries first (and though “Emergencies”, they are rarely short-term actions), followed by bribes, threats or coups largely mediated by the CIA. “Confessions of an Economic Hitman”, though now dated from a earlier, less vicious time, gives the approach. In Libya, where Gaddafi gave up his quest for nuclear weapons in return for being left alone by the West, the country went from being the richest and most powerful country in Africa to a smoking ruin of devastation (resembling Gaza). Success! as the chortling Hillary put the betrayal. Kim Jong Un learned to hold tight to his nukes.

    Assad was saved by Russia, and Obama resisted bipartisan pressure to further his uninvited invasion, already spreading enough “democracy” through the MidEast, Ukraine, and north- and east- Africa. He and Trump had stolen the oil wells in Syria for Israel.

    The most impactful coup attempt under Obama was the failed overthrow of Erdogan in Turkey in 2016. Turkey had been the most stalwart NATO ally, but that changed quickly when the US tried to depose their leader. Betrayals may be commonplace in DC political games, but Turkey will never trust the West again. They may even join BRICS which would have been unthinkable in 2015.

  3. Drew Hunkins
    February 6, 2024 at 10:14

    Khan’s one of the absolute best leaders in the world.

    A travesty that he’s been railroaded by the Washington-Zionist-militarist imperialists.

  4. susan
    February 6, 2024 at 09:47

    “Aggressively Neutral” – gotta love it!

    • Robert
      February 6, 2024 at 20:50

      I had same reaction to “aggressively neutral”. Normal people just don’t put words like that together. But Americans are told everyday that more war means more peace, and that higher deficits this year will surely lead to lower deficits next year. I wish George Orwell could come back for a week, digest US news media articles, and give us his take.

    • Em
      February 7, 2024 at 12:54

      It appears that for Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs, with all his most recent profound insights, believes that “global order” is equivalent to not rocking the boat — just saying!

  5. TP Graf
    February 6, 2024 at 06:21

    Kahn’s tale speaks volumes to the “neutral” countries that don’t get regime changed. Switzerland serves as the poster child of this faux neutrality. As long as you lean heavily into US influence you’re left alone. Stray an iota towards actual broad mutual cooperation and you’re the devil incarnate.

  6. Ray Peterson
    February 5, 2024 at 19:43

    A nightmare picture of what’s in store for Julian.

    • Sick and tired
      February 6, 2024 at 09:03

      And what he has already endured at our behest.

      • Steve
        February 6, 2024 at 13:09

        Of course, the UKs democratic processes were interferred with in 2015 by USA regime change actions. Jeremy Corbyn was actively prevented from any chance of winning the election by his own Labour party, Israeli sabotage, USA government and MIC threats. If Corbyn had won then Assange would not be in prison and the UK would not be heavily involved in genocide.

  7. Vicky Cookies
    February 5, 2024 at 18:35

    Jeff Sachs, no matter how sincerely he turns to the perspective of most of the world, owes a debt for what he became rich for, namely destroying Bolivia, Poland, Greece, and Russia as economies for the benefit of the rich. This should never, ever be forgotten, until Jeff has performed actual service, rather than writing, to the extent that he has helped more people than he helped kill. Look at mortality rates and life expectancy pre and post Jeff Sachs in any of the countries mentioned. Jeff, it’s well and good that you are on the path you are on; your actions cannot be forgotten, and neither can they be forgiven until reparations are made.

    • SH
      February 6, 2024 at 12:42

      And precisely what “reparations” do you suggest?

    • Konrad
      February 6, 2024 at 17:02

      Now your vicious smearing of the messenger does not go down well, at least not with better informed readers. To blame J.Sachs for economic woes experienced by countries you seem to be plucking without proven fact, historical evidence does not exist in this regard, your allegations are preposterous!! So please, Vicky dear, distributing Cookies does only work with the extremely brainless, hardly readers of CN, so either put up, or shut up and move on. By the way, any relative connection with Vic Newland, the infamous cookie distributor at regime changes, have you?!

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