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US warns Pakistan on ties over election irregularities

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party supporters hold portraits of former prime minister Imran Khan in a March 2024 protest in Peshawar against alleged rigging of the election against him (Abdul MAJEED)
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party supporters hold portraits of former prime minister Imran Khan in a March 2024 protest in Peshawar against alleged rigging of the election against him (Abdul MAJEED)

The United States said Wednesday that relations with Pakistan will suffer if it does not probe irregularities in last month's election and rerun votes if needed.

Donald Lu, the top US diplomat for South Asia, told lawmakers that the United States had "serious concerns" about the conduct of the February 8 election and ongoing disruptions of media and social media, including a prolonged shutdown of X, formerly known as Twitter.

"The Election Commission of Pakistan, should it find that these irregularities are substantiated, should rerun elections where there's been interference," Lu told a sometimes raucous hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

"We have enjoyed 76 years of partnership with this country. It will be an impediment to our relationship if Pakistan does not have a democratic process that upholds its own constitution," Lu said.

Lu said the United States was not considering any major new military sales to Pakistan, a Cold War ally whose army and intelligence apparatus has long played a dominant role in politics and whose past links with Afghanistan's Taliban soured ties with Washington.

Ahead of the election, former prime minister and cricket star Imran Khan was jailed and barred from running, with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party subject to a crackdown.

Khan's candidates nonetheless won more seats than any party, but rival Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister in a shaky coalition between two dynastic parties.

Khan, who was removed as prime minister by a parliamentary vote two years ago, has frequently criticized the US military and has alleged that the United States engineered his removal.

Khan's supporters have cited a leaked Pakistani diplomatic document that said that Lu had voiced alarm over the then prime minister's relationship with Russia during the invasion of Ukraine.

Lu, who was repeatedly disrupted at the hearing by pro-Khan demonstrators, strongly denied that he ever tried to remove Khan.

"This conspiracy theory is a lie. It is a complete falsehood," he said.

"We respect the sovereignty of Pakistan. We respect the principle that Pakistan -- Pakistani people -- should be the only ones choosing their own leaders through a democratic process."

Lu, a career diplomat, said that he has received death threats and his family has been threatened over the allegations.

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