A joint investigation team (JIT) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) interrogated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) incarcerated Chairman Imran Khan in a case related to the cablegate saga — a cipher what the deposed prime minister claims contains details of a threat made by the United States against his government, it emerged on Wednesday.
In a public gathering on March 27, 2022, in Islamabad, Khan brandished a letter claiming that it was evidence of an “international conspiracy” backed by the US to topple his government.
Last month, the probe agency had grilled the deposed prime minister — who was removed from office via a no-confidence motion in April last year — for nearly two hours in the case after the Lahore High Court (LHC) withdrew a stay order against the call-up notice to Khan by the FIA into the audio leak involving the US diplomatic cable.
The FIA launched investigations against the ex-prime minister for allegedly making public a confidential diplomatic cable and keeping it in his possession.
Earlier today, FIA’s Counter-Terrorism Wing registered a case in connection with the “missing cipher” from the official record of the Prime Minister’s Office and indicted Khan in the case, well-placed sources said.
They also confirmed that the JIT grilled Khan in Attock jail on Tuesday (yesterday). “The JIT met Khan in the office of the deputy superintendent jail,” according to FIA sources.
JIT finds ‘material’ against Khan
Last week, reports emerged that the JIT probing the cipher issue was nearing the conclusion of its findings but the latest publication of alleged content of the secret cable document in an online American news organisation has forced it to expand its investigation to cover the aspect of the leak to the media.
Informed sources said the JIT was keen to see how and who had leaked the document’s content to the media and whether the content of the cipher, as shared by The Intercept, is original or exaggerated.
These sources hoped that the probe would conclude within a week or 10 days.
Retention of the cipher copy by the former prime minister, the source said, is an admitted fact. It is an offence, the source said. Twisting and manipulation of the secret document for political gain is also a violation of the law, added the source.
The JIT, which was constituted by the former government, had already grilled Khan, Fawad Chaudhry, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, and Foreign Office officials.
It is said that the JIT may not need to grill anyone else.
Azam Khan ‘recorded’ a statement
Last month, the cipher drama took a new turn when former premier Khan’s then-principal secretary Azam Khan “recorded” a statement, terming the US cipher a “conspiracy” used by the ex-PM to “manipulate for creating a narrative against establishment and opposition.
Azam, who had been “missing” since June this year, recorded his statement under CrPC 164 before a magistrate, sources said.
The former bureaucrat, in his confession, said when he provided the ex-premier with the cipher, he was “euphoric” and termed the language a “US blunder”. The former prime minister, according to Azam, then said that the cable could be used for “creating a narrative against establishment and opposition”.
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.
The PTI, however, termed the statement attributed to the ex-principal secretary, on the US cipher conspiracy “unverified”, and said it was a “set of contradictions”.
The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Imran Khan — just days before his ouster — brandished a letter, claiming that it was a cipher 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 cipher 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 cipher, 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, then-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 cipher.
Months later, two audio leaks took the internet by storm and shocked the public after these events. The former prime minister, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and Azam could allegedly be heard discussing the US cipher 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 FIA.
Once the 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.
On July 18, the Lahore High Court recalled the stay order against the call-up notice to Imran by the FIA.
The FIA then again issued summons to Khan, Umar, and Qureshi.