Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Imran Khan's ex-secretary Azam Khan terms 'cypher gate' a premeditated conspiracy

PTI chief calls Azam an "honest man", says will not accept statement until he hears it firsthand

Former prime minister Imran Khan (right) and Azam Khan. — Twitter/File
Former prime minister Imran Khan (right) and Azam Khan. — Twitter/File

  • Azam records statement under section 164 CrPC before magistrate.
  • "Imran was euphoric, termed cypher language US blunder," he claims.
  • Confession mentions that the original cypher document is missing.

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan's then-principal secretary Azam Khan has "recorded" a statement, terming the US cypher a "conspiracy" used by the ex-PM to "manipulate for creating a narrative against establishment and opposition," Geo News reported Wednesday.

In response to the development, Imran termed Azam an "honest man" and said he would not accept the statement until he heard the bureaucrat say it himself.

Azam, who has been "missing" since last month, has recorded his statement under CrPC 164 before a magistrate, the sources added, with no information on his whereabouts.

Khan, ousted via a parliamentary vote in April last year, had alleged on March 27, 2022, that Washington orchestrated a plan to remove him from office — and brandished the cypher at a public rally to back his claims. The US has time and again denied such allegations, terming them "categorically false".

In his confession, Azam claimed that when he shared the cypher with Imran, the former premier was "euphoric" and termed the language as a "US blunder".

The ex-prime minister then said, according to Azam, that the cable could be used for "creating a narrative against establishment and opposition". 

The confession mentions that Khan also told Azam that the cypher could be used to divert the public's attention towards "foreign involvement" in the opposition's no-confidence motion.

Azam's confession mentions that Imran told him he would display the cypher in front of the public and "twist the narrative that a foreign conspiracy is being hatched in collusion with local partners and play [the] victim card".

When Azam, according to the sources, told Imran Khan that the cypher was a secret document and its content could not be disclosed before the public, the then-premier suggested a formal meeting with then-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and then-foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood "where they can read the cypher from the foreign ministry's copy (as Imran Khan's original copy was still lost) and from minutes of the meeting further decision can be made".

The confession mentioned that the then-premier decided to call special meetings of the cabinet and the National Security Division to discuss the cypher and note down the minutes of the meetings.

However, he mentioned that till the time he was Imran's principal secretary, the cypher was not returned to the Prime Minister's Office as Imran had lost the original document.

Cable gate

The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Imran — less than a month before his ouster — brandished a letter, claiming that it was a cypher from a foreign nation, which mentioned that his government should be removed from power.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor mention the name of the nation that had sent it. But a few days later, he named the United States and said that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.

The cypher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Asad Majeed's meeting with Lu.

The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cypher, said that "all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power".

Then on March 31, the National Security Committee (NSC) took up the matter and decided to issue a "strong demarche" to the country for its "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan".

Later, after his removal, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cypher.

In the two audio leaks that took the internet by storm and shocked the public after these events, the former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principle secretary Azam could allegedly be heard discussing the US cypher and how to use it in their interest.

On September 30, the federal cabinet took notice of the matter and constituted a committee to probe the contents of the audio leaks.

In October, the cabinet gave the green signal to initiate action against the former prime minister and handed over the case to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Once FIA was given the task to probe the matter, it summoned Khan, Umar, and other leaders of the party, but the PTI chief challenged the summons and secured a stay order from the court.

This Tuesday (July 18), the Lahore High Court recalled the stay order against the call-up notice to Khan by the FIA.