Cipher probe offer

Published September 27, 2022

CONSIDERING the toxic political polarisation in the country, former prime minister Imran Khan’s suggestion that his party is willing to return to parliament if a probe is initiated into the ‘Cablegate’ affair is not without merit. If the PTI chief sticks to this offer and does not make another U-turn, such a development could lead to a much-needed political truce between the PTI and the ruling PDM. While speaking in Islamabad on Saturday, Mr Khan said he would consider taking back the resignations his MNAs had submitted in April after the PTI leader was removed from the office of prime minister in a vote of no-confidence. The PTI’s narrative has since then been that its government at the centre was ousted because of a ‘conspiracy’ hatched by the US in connivance with powerful local players. To date no substantive evidence has emerged of any such grand conspiracy, and observers have noted that the cipher sent by Pakistan’s then envoy in Washington after meeting a State Department official, and which lies at the heart of this affair, was a routine diplomatic communication that was used by the PTI to gain domestic political mileage. Since its government’s removal, the PTI has been calling for a probe, with Mr Khan writing to the president as well as the chief justice to investigate the cipher.

The government should take up Mr Khan’s offer and form a probe committee acceptable to all, particularly the PTI. If the prime minister and his allies feel such sensitive material should not be made public in the national interest, perhaps the probe committee can be briefed in camera. Such a committee would help settle the question of this controversial episode in our recent history, and may bring back PTI’s lawmakers to the House. If Mr Khan refuses to return to the National Assembly despite the findings of a credible probe committee, his bluff would stand exposed. However, if Imran Khan and his party’s MNAs do return to the House, it would be a victory for democracy in Pakistan. Settling matters on the streets and further raising political temperatures is not the sensible route; parliament is the right forum for both sides to address their differences, and reach compromises that would help extricate Pakistan from the political paralysis it is currently experiencing. Mr Khan has lobbed the ball into the ruling coalition’s court, and now it is up to the PDM to take matters forward.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2022

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