‘No right to interfere’: Pakistan hits back at US over election scrutiny

US House resolution calls for inquiry into Pakistan’s February vote, which former PM Imran Khan’s party alleged was rigged against it.

Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the spokesperson for Pakistan Foreign Ministry
Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, spokesperson for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, says the country believes in constructive dialogue with the US [Courtesy of Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

Islamabad, Pakistan — Pakistan has accused the United States of attempting to “interfere” in its internal affairs hours after the US House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday raising questions about the credibility of the South Asian nation’s general election in February.

The resolution called for a “full and independent” investigation into alleged irregularities in Pakistan’s election, which former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party alleged was manipulated to deny it victory.

Pakistan’s terse response underscored the niggles that afflict its relationship with the US, once its pre-eminent geopolitical partner, but is unlikely to upset recent attempts to steady ties, said analysts.

Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Wednesday Pakistan believes in “constructive dialogue” and engagement, but such resolutions are “neither constructive nor objective”.

“We believe that the timing and context of this particular resolution do not align well with the positive dynamics of our bilateral ties, and stem from an incomplete understanding of the political situation and electoral process in Pakistan,” Baloch added.

Defence Minister Khwaja Asif also criticised the resolution and suggested that the US needed to do more to ensure transparency in its own upcoming elections later this year.

“The US has no right to interfere in Pakistan’s internal matters,” he said during a TV interview on Wednesday.

In an earlier post on X, Asif also questioned the US track record of involvement in removing foreign governments in the past, while referencing its support for Israel during its ongoing war on Gaza.

“This is from the country that spent the 20th century overthrowing democratically elected governments, and is currently facilitating the Palestinian genocide,” he wrote.

Pakistani defence minister Khwaja Asif criticised the US Congress resolution, calling it an interference in Pakistan's internal matters. [Abid Hussain/Al Jazeera]
Pakistani Defence Minister Khwaja Asif criticised the US Congress resolution, calling it an interference in Pakistan’s internal matters [File: Abid Hussain/Al Jazeera]

What does the resolution say?

House Resolution 901 was originally introduced in November last year by Republican Congressman Rich McCormick and co-sponsored by Democrat Congressman Daniel Kildee.

The resolution, titled Expressing Support for Democracy and Human Rights in Pakistan, was tabled in Congress on June 25, urging the Pakistani government to “uphold democratic and electoral institutions” and condemning any attempts to violate Pakistani people’s “human, civil, or political rights”.

The resolution passed with the overwhelming support of 368 members of Congress, and seven votes against it.

PTI, which claims its mandate was stolen in the February 8 elections despite winning the highest number of seats (93), welcomed the passage of the resolution.

Former President Arif Alvi, also a senior PTI leader, called it a step in the “right direction”.

“What a resounding condemnation by (368-7) of the unhinging of the democratic process in Pakistan by the US Congress,” he wrote on X.

Pakistan held its general elections three months later than originally scheduled. Though the PTI was denied the use of its election symbol by the Election Commission of Pakistan, candidates backed by the party won 93 seats, more than any other party. Still, that was short of the majority mark and the PTI claimed its mandate had been stolen.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which won 75 and 54 seats respectively, formed a coalition with smaller parties to govern.

‘A signal’

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistan ambassador to the US, United Nations, and the United Kingdom, stated that the nonbinding resolution merely reflects congressional opinion and concerns about the situation in Pakistan.

“This resolution will not strain relations between the US and Pakistan. It sends a signal to the Biden administration about Capitol Hill sentiments, but doesn’t require Washington to take any action,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It underscores the need for Pakistan to more effectively lobby Congress,” she added.

Khan, founder of PTI and Pakistan’s prime minister from August 2018 to April 2022, alleged a US-led conspiracy with Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and political rivals to overthrow him from power.

These allegations were repeatedly denied by both Washington and the Pakistani military.

Khan, who has been in jail since August 2023 on various charges, specifically accused senior State Department official Donald Lu of conveying a message to Asad Majeed, Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the US, allegedly urging Khan’s removal due to engagement with Russia during its war on Ukraine.

In March this year, Lu denied all allegations during a congressional hearing, calling them “falsehoods”.

Following the Pakistani elections, US President Joe Biden congratulated Shehbaz Sharif of the PMLN after he took oath as the prime minister, indicating a potential thaw in relations that had cooled over many years. That shift in ties between the two governments was also evident in the State Department’s June 26 briefing, where it supported Pakistan’s launch of a new counterterrorism campaign earlier this week.

“We support Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism and ensure the safety and security of its citizens, promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights,” said spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Former Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said the overwhelming support for the resolution reflects the views of the US Congress. But Bashir added that it will not hinder the relationship between the two nations.

“I don’t believe this resolution will become a point of contention in improving relations. Once responses are given for domestic audiences, the two countries will continue to pursue mutually beneficial relations,” he told Al Jazeera.

Foreign policy expert Muhammad Faisal commented that the US resolution would not significantly pressure the Pakistani government, characterising it as a matter of “domestic US politics” where votes from Pakistani-origin Americans in some districts are crucial.

However, Faisal pointed to what he described as the PTI’s “inconsistent” views on the US.

“Two years ago, PTI accused the US of orchestrating regime changes, which were denied in a House committee hearing. Now, PTI expects coercive action from the US, which is highly unlikely,” he told Al Jazeera.

Mosharraf Zaidi of Islamabad-based policy think tank Tabadlab stated that foreign governments can try to pressure Pakistan to align with their interests, but have “rarely, if ever”, been able to achieve desired outcomes.

Yet, he said, tensions with the US could prove uncomfortable for Pakistan’s government and influential military.

“The primary issue in the Pakistan-US relationship isn’t democracy or freedom, but economics and security,” he said. “Despite this, mishandling legitimate grievances of PTI will continue to pose both domestic and international challenges.”

Source: Al Jazeera