Pakistani PM accuses US of regime change push

Pakistani PM accuses US of regime change push

Washington denies allegations by Imran Khan on eve of no-confidence vote he is in danger of losing

Shia Muslim demonstrators from the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan political organisation burn US flags during a protest in Lahore on Friday. Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused Washington of meddling in Pakistani politics ahead of a vote on a no-confidence motion that observers say he might lose. (AFP Photo)
Shia Muslim demonstrators from the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan political organisation burn US flags during a protest in Lahore on Friday. Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused Washington of meddling in Pakistani politics ahead of a vote on a no-confidence motion that observers say he might lose. (AFP Photo)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said a move to oust him from office was an attempt at regime change backed by the United States.

Khan is facing a no-confidence vote in the lower house of Parliament on Sunday, and most observers believe he is in danger of losing.

He told a group of foreign journalists that "the move to oust me is (a) blatant interference in domestic politics by the United States".

Khan is also at odds with his country’s powerful army, having clashed with senior generals earlier over promotions.

Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said on Saturday that his country sought to expand its relationship with Washington, a day after Islamabad had protested to the US embassy over alleged interference in its internal affairs.

The United States has denied the claims by Khan that it is seeking to oust his government. 

In a televised address on Thursday night, Khan named the US as the country behind a threatening letter he has been hyping up after key allies deserted him. He said it was evidence of an “international conspiracy” to unseat him, even though he has yet to publicly release the document.

In separate developments, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said “requisite demarches have been made” and the country’s National Security Committee, which includes top civilian and military leaders, termed the alleged interference as “unacceptable”.

“To an independent country, a message like this which apparently is against the prime minister is actually against our nation,” Khan said in his speech on Thursday.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said there was “no truth” to the allegations. “We are closely following developments in Pakistan, and we respect, we support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law,” he said.

Khan is fighting to win back support after local media said his opponents had pulled 196 lawmakers over to their side, well above the 172 needed in the National Assembly to vote out the former cricket star.

The opposition has named Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of self-exiled former leader Nawaz Sharif, to lead the next coalition government if Khan is voted out.

The prime minister “is shifting the burden”, said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. “It could be a political argument that may be contributing to Khan’s popularity among the anti-American forces within the country.”

Khan’s backing has slipped in recent months as he deals with Asia’s second-highest inflation rate and rising tensions with the military, which remains a powerful force in Pakistani politics.

The prime minister has had a tense relationship with the US, declining an invitation to President Joe Biden’s democracy summit in December and hailing the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan. The two leaders still haven’t spoken by phone.

At the same time, Khan has boosted ties with China and Russia — even meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow just hours after he ordered troops into Ukraine. Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to improve ties with the US and European Union if he wins.

The political turmoil is roiling Pakistani markets. The rupee is also trading at a record low against the US dollar and economists say the conflict may hamper the government’s efforts to negotiate the release of loan installments from the International Monetary Fund.

Pakistan’s military, once a top recipient of American arms, has also sought a more balanced foreign policy after becoming increasingly reliant on China for weapons.

Khan clashed with top generals after publicly disagreeing with the army chief over a key promotion, undermining a key relationship that had helped him stay in power. 

The former cricketer’s political opponents criticised Khan’s action of blaming the US.

“This is not a game. This is not cricket,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, co-chairman of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, said on Thursday. “We need to think about Pakistan first and such childish tactics must end.”


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