ISLAMABAD: As PTI-backed candidates struggle to launch their election campaign amid a crackdown on the party supporters, imprisoned PTI foun­der Imran Khan has war­ned that he would replace ‘inactive’ nominees with ‘suitable candidates’ if the former failed to step up their election campaigns.

The PTI leader made these comments during his interaction with reporters at Adiala Jail on Tuesday after the hearing of the cipher case, in which star witness Asad Majeed — a central character in the cipher controversy — recorded his statement.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Khan asked his party’s candidates to take out ‘massive rallies’ and organise public gatherings to show the strength of the PTI in their constituencies. He said their tickets would be cancelled if the PTI electioneering did not pick up steam by Sunday.

“I will replace such nominees with suitable candidates,” he said, asking the public to remain peaceful.

He said the PTI was being denied the fundamental right of electioneering and its “camp offi­ces were also being upro­oted”. Still, he appeared confident, saying that despite the alleged backing of the state machinery, his opponent “might run away from the elections”.

“We sacrificed our two provincial governments for the sake of elections within the stipulated timeframe,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court would not let anyone delay polls.

Asad Majeed testifies in cipher case, says word ‘conspiracy’ not used in cable

In a question about former PML-N stalwart Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Imran Khan said with a smile that he had asked Mr Nisar to join the PTI in April 2018, but he did not accept the offer. “It is up to Chaudhry Nisar…he can affiliate himself with the PTI, it is up to him to decide,” chimed in Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Mr Khan quipped “a Vigo [vehicle] will be par­ked outside his residence” if he decided to align himself with the PTI. Imran Khan frequently uses words like ‘Vigo’ and ‘software updates’ to refer to the intelligence agencies’ ostensible involvement in political machinations.

Cipher cross-examination

On Tuesday, six prosecution witnesses recorded their statements and cross-examination will start from today. Initially, there were 28 witnesses, but only 25 testified before the court after three witnesses were dropped from the list.

Besides Interior Secre­tary Aftab Akbar Durrani, ex-envoy to the US Asad Majeed recorded his statement in the case.

In his testimony, Mr Majeed recollected his meeting with the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu. He said that both sides were aware that the minutes of the meeting were being recorded and would be communicated to their respective governments.

He further said that he communicated the information to the foreign affairs secretary through a cipher, who transmitted it to the foreign minister, the prime minister, and others.

The National Security Committee decided to send a demarche to the US after the cipher was discussed in its meeting. He termed the cipher episode a “setback” in Pak-US relations.

While he was testifying before the court, Mr Khan said Asad Majeed “is a very credible officer”.

However, when the ex-envoy concluded that there was no word of ‘conspiracy’ or ‘threat’ in the diplomatic cable, Mr Khan retorted that why the government issued the demarche to the US.

‘Save Lu mission’

Talking to the media persons again, Mr Khan alleged that the cipher case was registered to save Mr Lu and ex-army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. He said the US government would sack Mr Lu if his involvement in the alleged ‘regime change conspiracy’ was established.

He claimed that the then military attaché communicated the information to Gen Bajwa directly and then the no-confidence motion against him was tabled.

“We ordered an investigation into the cipher conspiracy but the committee could not undertake the assignment because of certain threats,” claimed the former prime minister.

NAB references

Separately, Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan concluded the arguments on the petitions against the jail trial of Imran Khan in the Toshakhana and Al-Qadir Trust.

An Islamabad High Court (IHC) division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri resumed hearing the petitions.

Mr Khan’s counsel Shuaib Shaheen argued that the notification was issued in violation of the relevant laws. He pointed out that another division bench had scrapped the proceedings while observing flaws in the issuance of the notification of jail trial.

Attorney General Awan argued that the matter before the other bench was not identical. He said that the government completed all the codal formalities before the jail trial. The court put off further hearing till Wednesday when the counsel for Mr Khan would give his arguments. Mr Khan also filed petitions seeking post-arrest bail in these references.

LHC restores bail plea

The Lahore High Court on Tuesday restored petitions of Imran Khan seeking pre-arrest bail in seven cases pertaining to the May 9 riots. A two-judge bench comprising Justice Aalia Neelum and Justice Farooq Haider heard a petition by Mr Khan challenging a decision of an anti-terrorism court regarding the dismissal of his pre-arrest bail petitions and conviction in Toshakhana case.

The bench directed the trial court to mark the attendance of the petitioner on a video link from jail and decide his bail petitions on merits.

The ATC on Aug 11, 2023, dismissed the pre-arrest bail of Imran Khan over his non-appearance. The cases include attacks on the Lahore corps commander’s residence, Askari Tower in Gulberg, Shadman police station, the party office of PML-N in Model Town, and the torching of a container at Kalma Chowk.

Separately, Salman Akram Raja, a candidate of PTI from NA-128, approached the LHC against the ECP for declaring him an independent candidate.

Mr Raja’s counsel Sameer Khosa pleaded that the PTI has been deprived of its electoral symbol, but the party “continues to exist and has not been dissolved”. The petitioner asked the court to declare that he is a candidate of the PTI and not an independent for the Feb 8 general elections.

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh in Lahore also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2024

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