Imran doubts veracity of Azam Khan’s alleged statement on cipher controversy

Published July 20, 2023
PTI chief Imran Khan delivers a video address on Thursday. — Screengrab via PTI YouTube
PTI chief Imran Khan delivers a video address on Thursday. — Screengrab via PTI YouTube

PTI chief and former prime minister Imran Khan on Thursday questioned the veracity of a statement being attributed to his former principal secretary on the matter of cipher controversy, saying he would not believe it was from Azam Khan until he has heard him say it himself.

“The Azam Khan (former principal secretary) I know is an honest and capable man. And he cannot say what I have read in the cipher (sic). I will not believe it unless I hear him saying it because this is not reality,” Imran said as he addressed his supporters via video.

“Or he may have been forced into giving the statement … I don’t believe that Azam Khan has said many of the things written in the cipher (sic) and even that many of them are true.”

Imran’s rejection came a day after an alleged confession of Azam surfaced on social media wherein it was claimed that the narrative behind the cipher — which the PTI chief has for long presented as evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” to oust him from the top office — was fabricated.

He said a proper inquiry into the cipher, which he said the FIA could not do, would determine who was involved in the “conspiracy” to topple his government and destroy the economy. “The inquiry should be into which player played what role,” he said.

He also claimed that the cipher’s contents would lay the blame for toppling his government on the country’s current rulers.

According to him, the cipher stated that he should be removed as the premier through a no-confidence motion and that the decision that he should Russia last year — the trip coincided with Moscow’s invasion Ukraine — was solely his. But this was not the case, he said about the latter.

He also clarified that when he criticised an official or general of the armed forces, the criticism was directed at an individual and not the institution.

Azam Khan’s alleged confession

The alleged confession being attributed to Azam Khan said when Imran saw the cipher, he was “euphoric”, termed the language used in it a “blunder” of the US and said it could be “manipulated for creating a narrative against the establishment and opposition” and used to divert the public’s attention from the no-confidence motion he was facing as the prime minister at the time.

The statement, seen but not independently verified by Dawn.com, further alleged that Imran told Azam that he would display the cipher to the public and “twist the narrative that a foreign conspiracy was being hatched in collusion with local partners and play the victim card”.

According to the statement, Azam had handed over the cipher to Imran who later told him that he had misplaced it and did not return it despite repeated requests.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said in a press conference yesterday that the alleged statement was recorded by Azam before a judicial magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and Section 161 of the CrPC on the notices issued to him by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Later, he confirmed during Geo News show ‘Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath’ that the statement that had surfaced was the one Azam had recorded before the FIA.

Meanwhile, the FIA has summoned Imran in the case to appear before a joint inquiry team on July 25 (Tuesday).

‘Whistleblower’ returns home

In a surprising turn of events, Azam Khan, who had been missing since last month, resurfaced after a letter attributed to him regarding his statement against Imran emerged. He has now returned home, his lawyer told Dawn.

However, lawyer Qasim Wadud told Dawn that his client was “not in a condition” to comment on the statement being attributed to him.

Azam went missing on June 15 and a case regarding his kidnapping was registered by the Islamabad police. According to the complaint, he left his house in the capital in the evening and did not return.

A petition seeking the recovery of Azam Khan is also pending before the IHC.

Speaking to reporters during a court appearance on Wednesday, Imran said: “Azam Khan is an honest man; until I hear [this] from him myself, I will not believe it.”

Who is Azam Khan?

Following the PTI chief’s ouster in April 2022, Azam’s name was put on a no-fly list along with other members of the PTI government. He was then posted to the Establishment Division.

In September 2022, a clip had surfaced on social media — seemingly featuring a conversation between Imran and Azam — about a cipher that the PTI chief has for long presented as evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” to oust him from the top office.

Following the emergence of the clip, the federal cabinet discussed it in a meeting and Sanaullah said that the clip revealed that Imran had hatched a conspiracy to fulfil his “anti-state agenda”.

Meanwhile, Imran had responded to the questions about the leak by saying: “The [US] cipher should leak so it comes out before everyone and everyone can know how big a foreign conspiracy happened.”

Another audio leak that surfaced days later had also supposedly featured Azam, along with Imran and PTI leaders Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar.

During Imran’s tenure, he was given a clean chit by the National Accountability Bureau in the 275-acre Malam Jabba skiing-chairlift resort case in the light of recommendations of a special committee formed on the directive of the Peshawar High Court in March 2021.

Cablegate

The controversy surrounding the no-confidence motion against Imran took a dramatic turn when the embattled former premier brandished a letter at a rally on March 27, 2022 — days before his ouster — claiming it contained evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” hatched to topple his government.

Imran had kept mum about the contents of the letter when he first unveiled it but he spilled the beans days later by naming the United States when the exit of his government appeared imminent.

However, in November 2022, he had taken back his statement about US involvement and said he no longer “blamed” the US administration for his removal from power.

Imran’s allegation that the US spearheaded his exit from power was based on a cipher received from Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed, in which the envoy had reported about a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu.

Majeed had reportedly said that Donald Lu warned that Imran’s continuation in office, who was set to face a vote of no confidence, would have repercussions on bilateral relations.

The US was said to be annoyed with Imran over his “independent foreign policy” and visit to Moscow.

The Pentagon and the State Department have repeatedly rejected the accusations, saying there was no veracity to them.

The National Security Committee (NSC), which includes all services chiefs as well as the head of Pakistan’s top intelligence agency, took up the matter on March 31 with then-premier Imran in the chair. The forum decided to issue a “strong demarche” to a country that it did not name over what it termed as “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.

It had also termed the interference “unacceptable under any circumstances” and said the language used in the communique was undiplomatic.

While the forum had stopped short of calling the interference a conspiracy at the time, another meeting of the NSC was held on April 22 with newly elected premier Shehbaz Sharif in the chair, and which included the same military chiefs who attended the March 31 session.

During its second meeting, the NSC statement said it “reaffirmed the decisions of the last NSC meeting” and explicitly went on to add that it found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy.

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