Untruths and politics

Published October 1, 2022

TIME has made it clear that ‘Cablegate’ was little more than a cunning ploy. With calculated shrewdness, former prime minister Imran Khan seized on a diplomatic cable and managed to turn it into a potent weapon. Using it, he discredited his otherwise lawful ouster as a foreign-funded conspiracy.

This ‘strategic’ fabrication revived the PTI’s fortunes overnight and made Mr Khan relevant at a time he had seemed doomed to an ignominious exit. When he was questioned recently about the implications of the PM Office audio leak featuring him and his principal secretary, his bold, self-assured response showed just how far he feels he succeeded in his plan.

Consider the calculation as Mr Khan decided to capitalise on a communication received from the Pakistani ambassador in Washington: “We only have to play with this, that this date [of the no-trust vote] was [decided] before,” he told his principal secretary.

Compare that to what he said in his speech at the grand ‘Amar Bil Maroof’ rally in Islamabad days before his eventual ouster: “We have been aware of this conspiracy for months [...] Attempts are being made through foreign money to change the government in Pakistan. Our people are being used […] I am placing the case of Pakistan’s independence before you. The letter I have is proof, and I want to dare anyone who is doubting this letter.”

Editorial: Cable confusion

In a country so used to eschewing the obvious for conspiracy theories, the people were always going to fall for it.

His supporters’ indignation over the PTI’s forced ouster swelled in the following months to rage against ‘foreign intervention’. The anger was channelled towards any individual or institution who dared defy Mr Khan.

The former prime minister put the country’s relations with a global superpower and major trading partner at stake with his manoeuvre. He also turned his followers against the state with the ‘local facilitators’ mantra — a calculated move to pressure powerful quarters to reconsider their policy to stay ‘neutral’. The scorched earth policy may have yielded personal dividends for Mr Khan, but the nation paid a price for it.

The former prime minister may be many things, but a fool he is not. He carefully constructed a public persona of an honest man out to single-handedly fix the country’s wrongs, even as he used Machiavellian wiliness to catch his opponents unawares.

Perhaps it is now time to call his bluff. It would arguably be in the national interest for the Supreme Court to take up the cipher, as has been demanded by the PTI itself, and settle the matter. Any lingering doubts regarding the nature and contents of the communication between Pakistani officials and their American counterparts should be cleared so that we can move forward from this episode.

There is little point in allowing this mystery to dominate our politics any longer.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2022

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