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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Will State Dept Take a Bold Stand on Rigging in Pak Elections

GVS invited The Intercept’s D.C. Bureau Chief, Ryan Grim for a discussion on Pakistan's general elections.

Pakistan recently experienced its most rigged election to date. Just days ago, the U.S. State Department expressed concerns about the irregularities in response to questions from The Intercept’s D.C. Bureau Chief, Ryan Grim. GVS invited Ryan Grim for a discussion on Pakistan’s general elections.

GVS: Ryan, you are the one who asked the question to which Matthew Miller responded. What are your thoughts?

Ryan: Earlier, another reporter asked for a general reaction to the unfolding events in Pakistan, and then I followed up with a question regarding the court’s handling of the challenges, noting that they seemed credible. I inquired if the State Department would consider an independent investigation before recognizing a new government. His response was intriguing; he didn’t rule it out and suggested waiting for the current process to conclude before discussing further steps.

GVS: Is it still the practice for questions to be submitted to the State Department a couple of hours before the Q&A session?

Ryan: Sometimes I do email them ahead of time, especially if I anticipate they may not be familiar with the topic. However, it is not a required practice, and generally, you do not have to submit questions beforehand. It is essential to stay informed and attend the briefings.

GVS: When Matthew Miller discusses mechanisms, is he speaking solely for himself, or is it on behalf of the United States Department of State?

Ryan: He is speaking on behalf of the Department of State, which is why he is careful and hesitant to make commitments, as anything he says officially represents the position of the United States State Department.

GVS: Were you aware that the Lahore High Court dismissed about 18 petitions, instructing those individuals to approach the Election Commission first?

Ryan: I had seen the news briefly before the briefing, but I was not familiar with all the details. I did note that certain cases, like Rehana Dar’s, were dismissed, but I hadn’t delved deeply into the specifics.

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GVS: Did they also express their concerns privately, in addition to public statements, along with the EU, the UK, and other countries?

Ryan: Yes, they did. It is interesting that they did not specify whom they spoke with privately, but it is likely they communicated with the usual channels, possibly the military.

GVS: What are they looking for in terms of addressing the irregularities? Any insights?

Ryan: They are seeking a process that appears legitimate enough for them to endorse, but they have not found it yet.

GVS: It seems there is a significant challenge for Pakistani authorities regarding irregularities. Could you elaborate on this?

Ryan: Yes, the issue lies in the fact that polling agents were able to obtain Form 45, which they are supposed to distribute within an hour after polling ends. This has become a problem as multiple parties now have access to it, leading to reliance on technicalities to handle the situation.

GVS: How do you think they could have handled it differently?

Ryan: They likely should have controlled social media earlier and prevented the release of Form 45. Once that information is out, it is difficult to change results without causing chaos, which could embarrass the State Department’s stance on supporting democracy.

GVS: Compared to recent events in Bangladesh, how strong is the statement regarding Pakistan’s elections?

Ryan: Unlike Bangladesh, where there is talk of visa restrictions, sanctions, and the Magnitsky Act, the public statements regarding Pakistan have been stern, but without such direct consequences. However, we are unsure of any private discussions.

GVS: Can you explain the Magnitsky Act and the Leahy Act and their differences?

Ryan: The Magnitsky Act allows seizing the US assets of foreigners accused of human rights abuses, while the Leahy Act reviews US security assistance to foreign governments and can block funding implicated in human rights abuses, without needing congressional approval.

GVS: A lot of Congress members have been putting immense pressure lately. Can they push the administration further for stronger action? The recent statement from Matthew Miller seems much stronger than before. Do you think Congress’s pressure led to this change?

Read More: PPP Backs PMLN for PM, Shehbaz Sharif Signals Opposition Formation if Independents Form Gov.

Ryan: Yes, I believe Congress’s pressure, along with increased media coverage, played a significant role. Initially, there may have been hope that the situation would resolve itself, but with continued evidence surfacing, both factors likely influenced the State Department’s response.

GVS: Why do you think Congress is so interested in this issue?

Ryan: It could be due to media coverage, including from outlets like The Intercept, which has a notable audience on Capitol Hill. Additionally, there may be pressure from various constituencies, such as Arab American groups concerned about democracy and American values.

GVS: It seems Pakistani authorities are intentionally causing delays, reaching out to countries for recognition without success. What options do Congress members have to address this?

Ryan: Congress could scrutinize the election results under the Leahy Act and push for targeted sanctions against individuals involved. They can also apply pressure through military security cooperation and travel restrictions. The key question is how serious they are about pursuing specific outcomes.

GVS: PTI is reportedly constructing a website to publish all Form 45 data, despite being blocked in Pakistan. How could this impact congressional staffers interested in investigating the issue?

Ryan: This database could provide valuable evidence for congressional staffers investigating electoral irregularities. Accessible via VPNs, it could offer critical insights into potential manipulation of election results, aiding further scrutiny and action.

GVS: The TV broadcasts and viral videos circulating in Pakistan have been influential. Congressional staffers do notneed advanced math skills to see irregularities. Will the abundance of Form 45 data further bolster their case?

Ryan: Yes, the evidence is compelling, especially with the widespread availability of Form 45 data, which vividly illustrates the irregularities.

GVS: Where do you think this situation is heading concerning the State Department?

Ryan: It is difficult to predict, but they may be reevaluating their approach, especially given the unexpected voter turnout for PTI. The State Department’s stance could undergo adjustments in light of these developments.

GVS: Do you think Imran Khan’s supporters are now a geopolitical force to reckon with?

Ryan: Absolutely, the sheer number of supporters demonstrates their significant political influence. This cannot be disregarded in geopolitical considerations.

GVS: How should the US interpret Imran Khan‘s rhetoric, particularly phrases like “absolutely not”?

Ryan: There is room for nuanced interpretation. Rather than interpreting such phrases as outright hostility, the US could benefit from engaging in dialogue to better understand the underlying intentions.

GVS: Do you think Imran Khan needs to adjust his message to the US?

Ryan: It is a nuanced matter. Depending on US expectations and objectives, Imran Khan may need to tailor his message to facilitate constructive communication and cooperation.

GVS: What about Pakistan’s relationship with China? Is that a key factor?

Ryan: Absolutely, Pakistan’s growing ties with China play a pivotal role. While the US may prefer closer alignment with India, Pakistan’s strategic interests with China are increasingly influential and cannot be overlooked.

Read More: Uncertainty ahead for Pakistan after indecisive election

GVS: It is intriguing. A few hours ago, I interviewed the former NSA, John Bolton, who congratulated PTI supporters on their victory and urged Pakistani generals to accept the overwhelming public mandate for Imran Khan. However, he also criticized Imran Khan’s rhetoric towards the US, attributing it to Pakistan’s growing proximity to China. What’s your take on this?

Ryan: It is a complex issue. Pakistan’s alignment with China poses challenges to US interests, as seen in Bolton’s remarks. However, expecting Pakistan to distance itself from China is unrealistic. This dynamic presents a constant source of tension in US-Pakistan relations.

Watch the full interview on GVS Dialogue: