• In latest audio, Imran purportedly tells party bigwigs not to name US at any cost
• Cabinet forms body to find letter ‘missing from PM House’
• Khawaja Asif believes ex-govt’s ‘fabrication’ attracts Article 6

ISLAMABAD: A “second instalment” of former premier Imran Khan’s leaked informal conversation on the US “cipher plot” surfaced, a situation that only got worse when the cabinet found later in the day that the copy of the “letter” received by his then principal secretary had gone missing from PM House.

The new audio, supposedly a continuation of the conversation featured in the previous recording, featured voices believed to belong to PTI leaders Asad Umar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi allegedly strategising the “foreign conspiracy cipher” with the former premier and his then principal secretary Azam Khan — something Defence Minister Khawaja Asif believes attracted Article 6.

In a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, the cabinet termed the cipher’s disappearance an “unpardonable crime” and constituted a committee to investigate the matter and place responsibility on those to be found involved in the case. The cabinet committee will comprise ministers and representatives from the ruling coalition parties.

“The cipher is missing from the official record of Prime Minister House but is available with the Foreign Office,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn after the meeting.

Asked how the scope of the cabinet committee would differ from that of an inquiry committee formed earlier to investigate the leaks, she said the new body would ascertain how the cipher’s copy received by former principal secretary Azam Khan went missing from Prime Minister House, whereas the previous committee was working to find out how conversations happened within the premises were leaked.

‘Don’t name America’

In the second audio leak, Imran Khan as prime minister was directing his close aides not to take America’s name while talking about the US cipher in public.

A similar audio recording, of a supposed conversation between Imran Khan and Azam Khan discussing the cipher, had surfaced earlier this week as well.

In the fresh audio clip, a voice, believed to be Imran Khan’s, is heard saying: “Shah Jee we have to hold a meeting tomorrow — you and the three of us (Imran, Qureshi and Azam Khan) and the foreign secretary.

In the meeting, “we have to tell them to quietly write the minutes of the meeting. Azam is saying that we should draft the minutes and make photocopies of it,” Imran Khan said.

Here, the second voice, believed to be of Azam Khan, is heard asking, “this cipher arrived on 7th or 8th. It came on 8th”. The person on the other end, purportedly Imran Khan, is heard saying the meeting was held on the 7th.

“We don’t have to name the Americans. Under no circumstances do we have to take the name. So, on this issue please, the name of the country should not come out of anyone. This is very important for all of you,” former premier said. “That which country the letter came from […] I don’t want to hear the name from anyone.”

In turn, the voice, supposedly belonging to Asad Umar, can be heard saying: “Are you saying letter deliberately? This is not [a] letter, it is the meeting’s transcript.”

On this, Imran Khan says that both the letter and the transcript were “the same thing”, adding: “People wouldn’t have understood the transcript. You say [things] like this in your Jalsa.”

In the first audio leak surfaced a couple days ago, the PTI chief directed his principal secretary, “We have to play with it (cipher).”

On the same day, when a reporter asked him about his remarks, Imran Khan said: “Till now I haven’t played from now I will play on it (cipher).”

‘Unforgivable crime’

After Friday’s meeting, a handout issued by Prime Minister House said the cabinet declared that the “theft” of diplomatic cipher records was an “unforgivable crime” and violation of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

The meeting participants were informed that the record of the receipt of the cipher was available with the relevant department, but the diplomatic cable was missing. “According to the law, this document is the property of Prime Minister House,” the statement said.

“It was necessary under the Constitution, law and rules to investigate the issue in detail and those found responsible be given severe punishment in accordance with the law,” the meeting noted.

Editorial: Untruths and politics

As for audios, it was told that they purportedly featuring Imran Khan and his aides exposed “the criminal conspiracy of the former government”, while the cipher was given “fictitious meanings for political mileage and subsequently it was stolen after fraud, forgery and fabrication.”

The cipher in question — based on then envoy Asad Majeed’s meeting with US State Department official Donald Lu — has been at the centre of PTI’s claim that Washington conspired with elements within Islamabad to dislodge Imran Khan from office.

The controversy surrounding the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan took a dramatic turn when he waved a letter at a rally on March 27 — days before his ouster — claiming it contained evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” hatched to topple his government.

The Pentagon and the US State Department have repeatedly rejected the accusations.

Pakistan’s National Security Committee (NSC), which includes all services chiefs as well as the head of the top intelligence agency, met twice on March 31 and on April 22 and found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy.

Meanwhile, the cabinet also strongly condemned the “harassment and intimidation” of Ms Aurangzeb by PTI supporters in London. The meeting noted that there was no room for such behaviour in Islam or even in Western civilisation. The members appreciated “exemplary patience and bravery” shown by the information minister.

Earlier, at a ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the Bhara Kahu Bypass project, Prime Minister Sharif said Imran Khan’s “false narrative” of declaring the incumbent government a “product of conspiracy” had been “totally busted” and urged the nation to distinguish between “truth and fraud”.

Referring to the PTI chief, he said, “Imran Niazi wasted five months of the nation by concocting lies and propaganda about his successor government, but his own audio leaks exposed his fraudulence.”

He said Imran Khan blamed the politicians as traitors, while in reality, it was he who betrayed the nation.

‘Ideal case of Article 6’

Separately, after a meeting with PML-N’s supremo Nawaz Sharif in London, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters the leaked audio clips have laid bare everything, and that too in Imran Khan’s own words. “He should listen to [the clips] himself and have some shame that how he has put Pakistan’s integrity at stake in his lust for power.”

On possible government action against Imran Khan, the defence minister said it was an “ideal case” of Article 6 of the Constitution, which deals with high treason.

He said the country’s politicians and military dictators did make mistakes in the past 75 years, but the forgery and fraud (allegedly done by Imran Khan) was unprecedented.

Referring to the latest audio clip, he said on the one hand Imran Khan was talking against the United States, but on the other, asking others to refrain from naming the country.

Referring to Mr Khan’s alleged insistence on using the word letter because “people wouldn’t have understood the [word] transcript”, Mr Asif said the PTI chief had underestimated the nation’s collective wisdom and “will pay the price”.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2022

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