Activities Of PTI USA Members Sajjad Burki, Atif Khan Stir Controversy

PTI has hired multiple lobbying firms in the USA over the past two years, including some with connections to the US intelligence community

Activities Of PTI USA Members Sajjad Burki, Atif Khan Stir Controversy

The actions and funding sources of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chapter in the United States have come under the microscope after they attempted to lobby the Joe Biden-led administration not to recognise the February 8 general elections and the government subsequently formed in Islamabad and to even possibly impose sanctions on Pakistan. Their actions raised further questions this week as the PTI agitated outside the headquarters of the global lender, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where they urged the Fund not to help Pakistan and raised slogans against state institutions and key government officials. 

Some party insiders have raised their fingers at the actions of two men at the centre of these activities.

These men include Sajjad Burki, head of PTI-USA and advisor to former prime minister Imran Khan, and Atif Khan, a member of the PTI Core Committee. Others include Imran Khan's former chief of staff, Shehbaz Gill, and musician Salman Ahmed. 

Documents published by an Islamabad-based investigative news site show that Burki reportedly founded the company Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf USA LIC—a limited liability company—on November 7, 2018, shortly after Imran Khan became prime minister in Pakistan. The documents also mention a manager, Umer Khan, with a Houston address.

Over the past two years, Sajjad Burki and Atif Khan allegedly used the company to receive donations from three leading US-based Pakistani-American businessmen, as well as other members of the Pakistani diaspora and supporters of Imran Khan, such as over a dozen professional doctors, engineers, and IT experts. However, PTI insiders in the USA and Pakistan alleged that these donations have neither been declared nor remitted to Pakistan.

Party sources claimed that Burki and Atif had accumulated nearly $2 million in donations, including $1.8 million from the three major contributors, but reportedly they only sent $30,000 to the party in Pakistan. They added that donations were reportedly received using several websites set up by the PTI.

Most of the donations in the USA were collected by Atif Khan and Sajjad Burki, said a central PTI leader, who is now also a member of the National Assembly in Pakistan.

It appears that one purpose for the monies retained in the US could have been to hire lobbying firms to convince people at varying levels of the US government and Congress to adopt a favourable view towards the PTI.

A senior PTI leader claimed that Burki oversees the hiring of lobbying firms, mainly to target Pakistani institutions such as the army. He also raises funds from the Pakistani diaspora, PTI sympathisers, and certain sources aligned with foreign governments.

Pakistani-American PTI supporter Fayaz Qureshi recently hired a lobbying firm, "LGS LLC", headed by Stephen Payne. Documents published on the US Justice Department's website per the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) show. The firm was paid $50,000 for 45 days of work, from January 16 to March 1, 2024, particularly to influence the general elections in Pakistan and to run a campaign against Pakistani institutions. During this period, some 30 members of Congress wrote an open letter to the Biden administration over the alleged irregularities in the electoral process, apart from a Congressional hearing for US State Department official Donald Lu, who is at the heart of the alleged regime change conspiracy as claimed by the PTI.

This was the third time the PTI and its supporters had hired consultants and lobbying firms in the US since April 2022, when PTI founder Imran Khan lost the vote of no confidence and was ousted from the prime minister's office. 

Before hiring LGS LLC, the PTI hired Praia Consultants LLC of Washington in March 2023 to pursue the party's goals. The firm was hired for six months at a cost of $8,333.00 per month ($49,998 total).
In 2022, PTI USA portrayed itself as a New York-based party of US citizens of Pakistani origin and hired another consultant, Fenton/Arlook. The firm was hired for six months at $25,000 per month ($150,000 total) to manage PTI USA's public and media relations. Atif Khan and Sajjad Burki confirmed that PTI had hired the firms to "observe the elections". It is pertinent to mention that Fenton/Arlook is run by Robert Grenier, the former Station Chief for the CIA in Islamabad, who now works privately for the CIA.

Such links between PTI actors and the American intelligence community have raised eyebrows in Islamabad over the nature of PTI's lobbying efforts, particularly those that take place overseas. 

A PTI insider said that party workers remain wary of questioning Sajjad Burki's actions because he is believed to be close to Imran Khan and his sister, Aleema Khan.

Several sources inside PTI claim that Burki and Atif have not undertaken any audit of the party's accounts in the USA, especially to account for the $1.8 million received from the three businessmen as well as donations from over a dozen professional doctors, engineers and IT experts who support the PTI. 

Conduct of Burki and Atif Khan on social media

Apart from their behind-the-scenes actions, Burki and Atif are quite vocal about their stance against Pakistan and its institutions.

A casual review of Burki and Atif's 'X' (formerly known as Twitter) profiles shows the duo have been trying to garner the attention of US officials and elected members apart from instigating Pakistanis at home and abroad to agitate against the government and state institutions. They have posted videos with US Senators levelling allegations against Pakistani institutions.

Burki describes himself as the "Focal person for USA to Chairman PTI Imran Khan. Past President PTI USA". Atif Khan describes himself as a "former member of Prime Minister Task Force/ Focal Person Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis during PTI Government". Now, he is a member of PTI's Core Committee, appointed by Imran Khan whilst in jail. 

Burki, who is also a part of Imran Khan's Namal University donation collection network, is considered to be a close confidante of the PTI founder and someone who enjoys close associations with several US politicians and links to India, has shared videos with US members of Congress such as Marya Flores while commenting on the elections. He also attended an online video session with dissidents Adil Raja and Haider Mehdi, where he made controversial claims about the elections. The party in Islamabad later distanced itself from Raja and Mehdi.

Following the controversy over the results of the February 8 elections, Burki had called on overseas Pakistanis to stop remitting money to their loved ones living in Pakistan with the aim of increasing financial difficulties for the Pakistani government. Such campaigns grossly violate money laundering laws of the US as well as Pakistan.

Given the blatant bias of the information spread by Burki and Atif Khan on their social media accounts, experts have pointed out that presenting false information for lobbying is also considered a crime, and it is possible that the duo could face prosecution.

PTI has significant penetration in the  Pakistani expat community in North America, who have considerable influence with lawmakers and the proverbial "deep pockets". Moreover, the Pakistani community in the USA also provides funding for lobbying efforts. However, the community is unaware that Sajjad Burki and Atif Khan could use these funds for purposes other than what donors were told.

PTI insiders say this approach is damaging for Pakistan and PTI both. An insider said: "Domestically, this approach undermines public trust in governance, exacerbates politico-economic instability, and leads to social unrest while fueling highly damaging narratives of 'American tutelage of Pakistan's political and/ or military leadership'. 

The effect of this external lobbying is evident with stringent scrutiny of Pakistan's electoral process through unusually harsh statements by many countries (compared to the elections in Bangladesh and Egypt) along with one-sided debate in many media spaces, bringing the legitimacy of Pakistan's political dispensation into question. It is now clear that those PTI affiliated scammers who worked internationally against the interests of Pakistan were primarily motivated by financial compensation in terms of stolen donations, rather than any ideological considerations."