ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office (FO), once again on Tuesday, challenged Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s claim that the diplomatic cable from Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington — which is said to have contained an American official’s comments regarding the vote of no-confidence against former prime minister Imran Khan — had been ‘concealed’ from government functionaries.
It is “entirely baseless [to] claim that the cipher communication received from the embassy in Washington was ‘hidden’ from the foreign minister or prime minister,” FO Spokesman Asim Iftikhar said in a statement on Tuesday.
The statement was issued after Shahbaz Gill, chief of staff to Mr Khan, reiterated the allegation in a press conference that then-prime minister Imran Khan and foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were not provided copies of the cipher, commonly known as the diplomatic cable at the heart of the ‘Cablegate’ affair.
The cipher, based on then-envoy Asad Majeed’s meeting with State Department official Donald Lu, is at the centre of PTI’s claim that the US conspired with elements within Pakistan to dislodge Mr Khan from office.
Mr Gill had said the cipher was hidden from Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi, and had to be “extracted”. He, however, did not elaborate who, in PTI’s view, had tried to hide it.
The allegation about withholding the cipher from top officials has previously been made a number of times by multiple PTI leaders at various levels, while Mr Khan himself – in recent public rallies – called for disclosing who the cipher was addressed to.
The FO spokesperson had earlier, in his media briefing of April 25, also rejected this accusation, but PTI has continued to stand by its claim.
“There is no question or possibility of hiding or holding back something like that. It was a cipher telegram, which is an accountable and classified document, whose handling and access are strictly in accordance with relevant cipher instructions and procedures,” the spokesman had said at the time.
He had further explained that the telegram was duly received at FO and immediately distributed to the relevant authorities.
Although the FO has insisted that the communiqué had not been hidden from the FM or the PM, it has not stated – at any stage – that the communication was officially provided to them.
Ciphers received from the missions abroad are normally of two kinds –non-circulation and normal distribution. ‘Non-circulation’ ciphers are marked to specific addressees and the sending ambassador decides who should receive it. The foreign secretary, being the head of the institution, can add recipients to the list.
The other type goes to everyone on the relevant desks at the FO.
The prime minister’s office, meanwhile, receives all cables except for non-circulation ones, and he is directly briefed by the foreign secretary on the contents of such cables.
It is believed that the cable in question was a non-circulation one, but it could not be ascertained whether or not it was addressed to the then-foreign minister.
“If the foreign minister was not included among the recipients and the foreign secretary did not mark it to the FM either, then both must have been of the view that it was a minor issue,” a former diplomat guessed, while explaining the process to Dawn.
In the latest statement, the FO spokesperson maintained: “The Foreign Office operates on professional basis and it would be detrimental to cast aspersions on its working.”
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2022
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