ISLAMABAD: In an apparent bid to avoid a retrial in the cipher case, the counsel for former prime minister Imran Khan and foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday endorsed the cross-examination of key witnesses by state-appointed counsel.

The move comes as a surprise, as it contradicts the stance earlier adopted by the PTI legal team, which has maintained that the Special Court set up to prosecute the case had rushed the process of cross-examination by appointing state counsel.

In January, Special Court Judge Abual Has­naat Muhammad Zulqar­nain, cancelled the defence counsel’s right to cross-examine the witnesses, citing “absence during two court hearings”.

The move irked the PTI founder, who dubbed the trial a “joke” because “the prosecution team and defe­nce counsels both belonged to the government”.

During previous hearings, PTI leaders’ counsel, Barrister Salman Safdar, claimed that the trial court-appointed state prosecutors cross-examined 21 witnesses within a very short span of time.

It is believed that the change in strategy by the counsel is aimed at avoiding a retrial in case the Isla­m­­abad High Court (IHC) sets aside the convictions.

The IHC has already declared the proceedings illegal once and sent the case back to the court for a fresh trial.

During the hearing on Monday, Barrister Safdar endorsed the contentious episode, saying that they “were not aggrieved by this cross examination”.

He was arguing before an IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb. Mr Safdar also read out selected paragraphs of the cross examination before the bench to substantiate his contention that the case against Mr Khan was based on hearsay.

According to him, the cipher was not produced before the court and the text message — reportedly sent by a US diplomat — referred to as proof that the issue ruined Pak-US relations was presented in the court without recording the sender’s testimony.

The much talked about demarche issued to the US was also not brought on judicial record, argued Mr Safdar. The case’s star witness, former principal secretary to PM Azam Khan, and other key witnesses, former ambassador to the US Asad Majeed Khan and then additional secretary in the Pakistan embassy, Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, “did not support allegations against Mr Khan”.

In his cross examination, Mr Azam stated that the former PM informed him that the cipher’s copy had been misplaced and directed his military secretary and PM Office’s staff to trace it, argued the counsel.

Also, the ex-secretary didn’t confirm if the document, waved by the ex-PM during a public gathering on March 27, 2022, was the original cipher, said Mr Safdar.

He suggested that the court may play the recording of Mr Khan’s speech at the rally.

Justice Aurangzeb remarked that the transcript of the speech was on judicial record.

Later, the court adjourned further proceedings till April 2 with CJ Farooq announcing that the hearing will start at 1pm and would continue till 4pm.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2024

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