Donald Lu helped Pakistan get IMF loan before hatching ‘conspiracy’
Prime Minister Imran Khan has finally named the high-ranking United States official who, he says, was behind the ‘conspiracy’ against him. US Assistant Secretary of States Donald Lu had told the Pakistan ambassador in Washington that Pakistan-US relations could improve only if Imran Khan is removed from power, according to the prime minister.
The meeting between Donald Lu and Pakistan ambassador, Asad Majeed Khan, was held in Washington on March 7 and details were shared by the ambassador with Islamabad on the same day in a communique, which Imran Khan says is evidence of the ‘conspiracy.’ The prime minister in his recent interviews and televised appearances has revealed the details of the meeting.
He named Donald Lu at a parliamentary party meeting on Sunday after the National Assembly deputy speaker disallow the no-confidence motion against him.
Before that in an exclusive interview with SAMAA TV’ Imran Riaz Khan, the prime minister revealed how many people were at the meeting where the threat was made.
There was Pakistan’s ambassador, the military attache and notetakers from the Pakistan side and Donald Lu, another US official, and notetakers from the American side.
In the interview, Khan said that the high ranking US official was an “undersecretary,’ but on Sunday he named Donal Lu, who is an assistant secretary. The second US official is understood to be Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lesslie Viguerie.
Imran Khan told SAMAA TV that the US officials said they were representing the White House and the senior-most US official at the meeting clearly warned that the US-Pakistan relations would improve only after Imran Khan is removed.
Asked why the government did not react before March 27, when he waved the communique before a PTI public rally for the first time, Imran Khan said that he had decided to first share it with his supporters and then convene National Security Committee (NSC), the highest security forum in the county.
But before the NSC meeting, he shared the contents with a group of journalists. ¹
Imran Khan at first had called the communique a “letter” and implied that it was directly written by a foreign government. Later, PTI officials confirmed it to be a diplomatic communique sent by the Pakistan ambassador and Imran Khan began to interchangeably call it ‘document’ and ‘communique’ but he has maintained that it was an official proof of US meddling, being based on the notes taken at the meeting between Assistant Secretary Lu and Ambassador Khan.
Pakistan has since issued demarches to the United States both in Islamabad and Washington to protest the use of ‘undiplomatic language’ and ‘blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.’
Imran Khan has repeatedly said that the language used by the US official was “arrogant and threatening.”
Now that the prime minister has named Donald Lu, it is easier to put things into perspective and understand the implications of the alleged threat.
Donald Lu’s last major interaction with a Pakistani official came in October 2021 when a Pakistani finance ministry delegation was holding talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington.
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin was leading the talks which dragged on for days as Pakistan tried to address the Fund’s concerns to seek approval of the $1 billion loan tranche. The IMF node is important for any developing country as other lenders take that into account.
On October 15, Shaukat Tarin and Donald Lu held talks at the Pakistan embassy in Washington and the finance minister assured the US official that the PTI government would live up to its promise of economic reforms.
Pakistan embassy issued a statement on the meeting between Donald Lu and Shaukat Tarin.
“The Finance Minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s desire for a broad based and sustainable relationship with the United States. He underscored Pakistan’s interest in enhancing investment and trade linkages with the United States. He reiterated the government’s commitment to undertaking further economic reform and improving the ease of doing business for foreign companies,” the statement read.
“Finance Minister Tarin also reiterated Pakistan’s support for an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan. He said that while the Taliban should honor their commitments, it was important that the international community help the Afghan people as they faced a dire humanitarian crisis,” it added.
“Assistant Secretary Lu appreciated the government’s commitment to economic reform and reciprocated the Finance Minister’s desire for greater trade and investment ties between the two countries,” the statement said.
State Bank of Pakistan Governor Reza Baqar was also at the meeting. The staff-level agreement between Pakistan and the IMF was concluded over a month after the meeting.
The sixth review was concluded, and IMF released the $1 billion loan tranche, but talks over the 7th review have stalled since early March, with the Fund reportedly accusing the Pakistan government of "deviations" from agreed terms.
It is not clear exactly what role Lu had played after the October meeting, but the United States, being the largest contributor to the Fund, enjoys considerable leverage.
Moreover, it is also unclear what the state of relations were between the Pakistani diplomatic mission in Washington and Lu in the aftermath of the March 7 meeting because just ten days later, on March 16, the Assistant Secretary of State attended via video call an event organised by the Pakistani embassy to recognize and appreciate prominent women who are leading in their respective fields.
After addressing the event along with Congressperson Sheila Jackson Lee, Pakistani Ambassador Majeed had even thanked Lu and Lee for sharing their perspectives on the matter.
Thank you Asst Secy Don Lu @State_SCA & Congresswoman @JacksonLeeTX18 for your perspectives this evening @PakinUSA. Also, thank u to the amazing women leaders who joined us in recognizing achievements, contributions & progress that our women have made in their respective fields. pic.twitter.com/zBDZSHHAC2— Asad M. Khan (@asadmk17) March 16, 2022
In terms of hierarchy, the assistant secretary of state holds the fourth highest-ranking position in the State Department, with the secretary of state at the top. An assistant secretary reports to an undersecretary, who in turn reports to the deputy secretary.
Donald Lu is a career diplomat who was appointed to the current position by President Joe Biden in September 2021 after confirmation from the Senate committee.
Lu is the top US diplomat for South Asia and has lately been holding talks with India and other countries over their trade links with Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, when Imran Khan was in Moscow.
Indian newspaper, Hindustan Times, interviewed Lu in Washington this Friday and asked him about reports that he was the US official to warn the Pakistani ambassador of the consequences if Imran Khan stays in power.
The interviewer posed the following question: "Let me move to the rest of the region and start with Pakistan. Imran Khan seems to suggest that you had a conversation with the Pakistani ambassador in the US and told him that if Imran Khan survives the no-confidence motion, Pakistan is in trouble and the US won’t forgive Pakistan. Any response?"
Donald Lu said, "We are following developments in Pakistan and we respect and support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law."
The assistant secretary was asked, "Did you have such a conversation?"
Lu replied, "that’s all I have for you on that question."
The carefully worded replies from the US official neither confirm nor reject the claims about his involvement in the episode. No surprise, given that this is how diplomats operate.
This piece was updated to add Donald Lu's comments made during an interview with Hindustan Times.