ISLAMABAD: The Special Court set up under the Official Secrets Act, while handing down a 10-year sentence, ruled on Thursday that former prime minister Imran Khan’s unfurling of a cipher telegram and disclosure of its content at a public rally undermined Pakistan’s cipher system, which in turn directly or indirectly benefited the unfriendly foreign powers.

There is no doubt that the accused persons, namely Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, with alleged ulterior motives, sent a chilling effect to Pakistan’s relation with foreign governments, observed Judge Abual Hasnat Muhammad Zulqarnain while awarding a ten-year rigorous imprisonment to the accused for leaking a secret diplomatic cable.

Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi were facing trial for communicating to the public at large a classified document — a cipher telegram sent by the Pakistan’s representative (Parep) in Washington to the foreign secretary on March 7, 2022.

The 77-page detailed verdict said the act of the former prime minister, in connivance with Mr Qureshi resulted in having grave adverse consequences for the safety, integrity, and credibility of Pakistan’s cipher system.

Judgement notes how both PTI leaders undermined country’s global image, diplomatic relations

It is amply clear that the action was a deliberate and well-planned manipulative lie aimed at arousing populist sentiment in the masses, with no regard of its consequences on Pakistan’s external relations and national security interest, explained the judgement.

On March 31, 2022, while in office as the prime minister, the accused (Mr Khan) named the United States as the country that sent the so-called “threatening memo”, generated immediate and predictable stress in Pakistan-US relations at a critical time when Pakistan’s economic situation needed its support in relation to international lenders, the judgement regretted.

Between March 31 and April 8, 2022, within a short span of about a week, the US side reacted to the situation thrice at the State Department and the White House, declaring that there was “no truth” to the accused allegations, the judgement contended.

And after doing a considerable damage to Pak-US relations in terms of trust and confidence, and when he apparently realised the consequences of his manipulative anti-US campaign towards his political prospects, the accused began to falsely accuse Pakistan’s military leadership of conspiracy to oust him from power, deplored the judgement.

The judgement went on to explain that the accused admitted to having lost/misplaced the copy of the cipher, which was entrusted to him in his capacity as the prime minister. It then cited the oath of office for the prime minister, prescribed under the Third Schedule to the Constitution and mandated that the prime minister cannot communicate or reveal to any person any matter which he becomes aware or is communicated to him.

A heavy burden is cast upon the prime minister, who becomes privy to the most confidential information, the verdict emphasised, adding that the Constitution requires a person occupying the high office of the prime minister to act in most responsible manner and absolutely refrain from doing anything which undermines the interest of Pakistan.

“Sadly, the accused Imran Khan, besides committing offences under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, has also violated his oath,” ruled the judgement.

It is quite clear from the evidence brought on record that by compromising the integrity of cipher communication system of Pakistan, Mr Khan in connivance with Mr Qureshi, compromised Pakistan’s international standing, the credibility and standing of our diplomats and diplomacy with adverse implications for our future diplomatic reporting culture, it said.

It is evident that Pakistan has faced serious economic, diplomatic, and political consequences due to the offences committed by the accused, Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi.

The judgement explained that the prosecution had a plausible, tangible, and coherent case in the given circumstances.

Though 25 prosecution witnesses were cross-examined, but the fact is that they remained natural, consistent, and confidence-inspiring without any element of exaggeration or planted, the judgement said, adding that the prosecution has successfully proven the charges levelled in light of accusations against the accused.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2024

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