Cipher probe takes a dramatic turn as FIA nabs Qureshi

Published August 20, 2023
Shah Mahmood Qureshi speaks during a press conference in Islamabad on August 19. — AFP
Shah Mahmood Qureshi speaks during a press conference in Islamabad on August 19. — AFP

• Ex-PM Imran Khan, former foreign minister booked under Official Secrets Act
• FIR says both men, their associates shared cipher info with unauthorised persons to achieve ‘ulterior motives’
• At presser before his arrest, PTI vice chairman opposes poll delay; party condemns arrest

ISLAMABAD: The ongoing investigation into the cipher case took a dramatic turn on Saturday when PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi was picked up soon after he demanded that a level playing field be provided to the embattled party during the upcoming elections.

The arrest was made in connection with the FIR — a copy of which is available with Dawn — registered on Aug 15 under the Official Secrets Act against PTI Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan and the former foreign minister.

The case was registered after an American news outlet The Intercept rece­ntly published what was clai­med to be the diplomatic cable which had reportedly gone missing from Mr Khan’s possession.

Mr Khan, who was interrogated by FIA a few days ago in the cipher case in Attock jail where he was lodged after his conviction in the Toshakhana case, claimed he was ousted from office last year under a “US conspiracy”. The PTI alleges that cipher contained the threat from the United States to oust Mr Khan from power.

Addressing a news conference at National Press Club minutes before his arrest, Mr Qureshi called for the caretaker government, Chief Justice of Pak­istan and Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure a level playing field for the PTI during the forthcoming polls.

The PTI leader, flanked by Advocate Shoaib Shaheen, said it was PTI’s right to be allowed to contact its supporters during the elections.

Mr Qureshi said it was unfortunate that PTI leaders were being arrested and then released after an announcement that they want to part ways with PTI.

“Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar has said that he will ensure transparent elections. I would ask him how he will do so in such an environment. I would request the CJP and ECP to take notice and ensure level playing field for PTI,” he said.

Confirming the arrest, PTI leader Zulfi Bokhari said on X (formerly Twi­tter), “Our Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi has once again been arrested for doing a press conference and reaffirming PTI stance against all tyranny and pre-poll rigging that is going on currently in Pakistan”.

Mr Bokhari said that since the interim set-up was put in place, things had only become more and more difficult for PTI leaders and supporters to exist.

Mr Qureshi was arrested by a heavy contingent of police from his residence and transferred to the FIA headquarters.

Ever since May 9 riots, the PTI vice chairman has been arrested and rearrested several times. He was eventually released on June 6 after the Lahore High Court set aside his detention orders.

According to PTI General Secretary Omar Ayub, Mr Qureshi was taken into custody just as he reached home after addressing the presser, during which he confirmed that he had recently held meetings with foreign ambassadors.

While condemning the arrest, Mr Ayub said: “Had hoped that the reign of lawlessness would have ended after the exit of the fascist PDM government, but it appears that this caretaker government wants to break the records of their predecessor fascist government.”

The FIR

According to the FIR, a case under sections 5 and 9 of Official Secrets Act, 1923 r/w 34 PPC has been registered against former PM Imran Khan and former FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

They have been accused of wrongful communication/ use of official secret information and illegal retention of cipher telegram (official secret document) with mala fide intention, whereas role of the former SPM Muhammad Azam Khan, former Federal Minister Asad Umer and other associates involved will be ascertained during the course of investigations.

It said former PM Khan, former FM Qureshi and their other associates are involved in communication of information contained in secret classified document (cipher telegram received from Parep Washington dated March 7, 2022 to Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the unauthorised persons (i.e. public at large) by twisting facts to achieve their ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudicial to the interests of state security.

They held a clandestine meeting at Banigala on March 28, 2022 to conspire to misuse the contents of cipher in order to accomplish their nefarious designs.

The accused, Mr Khan, with mala fide directed the former principal secretary Azam Khan to prepare the minutes of said clandestine meeting by manipulating the contents of cipher message to use it for his vested interest at the cost of national safety.

Moreover, the numbered and accountable copy of cipher telegram sent to PM Office was deliberately kept in his custody by the former PM with mala fide intention, and was never returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The said cipher telegram (official secret document classified as such) is still in the illegal possession/retention of the accused Mr Khan.

The unauthorised retention and misuse of the cipher telegram by the accused persons compromised the entire cipher security system of the state and secret communication method of Pakistani missions abroad.

Differences within PTI

At the presser, Mr Qureshi regretted that one of the media houses had tried to create a controversy about the party’s core committee by alleging that there was a division within the committee and a struggle is going on to control the party.

“It is a deliberate attempt to create uncertainty and decrease the trust of people in the party. A number of things were linked to Secretary General Omer Ayub and me to create an impression that there is a struggle going on among the leaders of PTI to take control of the party,” he said.

The remarks came soon after Mr Ayub refuted reports regarding groupings within the PTI and its core committee, reiterating that Mr Khan was chairman and will remain chairman.

“I hold Vice Chairman Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the highest of regards and esteem and there has never been any argument in any core committee meeting of PTI between anyone,” he added.

Mr Qureshi stated that Mr Khan was the founding chairman of PTI and core committee has already passed a unanimous resolution that the ex-PM will remain the chairman as there cannot be any substitute to him.

Mr Qureshi noted that it was being said that elections would be delayed because of delimitation.

“Articles 242 and 48 (IV) clearly say that elections have to be held within 90 days and surpassing the period would be an unconstitutional step. It is correct that delimitation has to be done but subsidiary legislation cannot overturn the Constitution,” Mr Qureshi said.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2023

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