ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Saturday said former premier Imran Khan’s principal secretary, Azam Khan, has admitted he gave the controversial cypher—which forms the basis of Khan’s “foreign conspiracy allegations”—to the ex-PM.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government said on Friday that a copy of the diplomatic cypher, based on a meeting between then Pakistani Ambassador to the US Asad Majeed and State Department official Donald Lu, was "missing" from the record of the PM's office.
Khan, ousted via a parliamentary vote in April, has alleged Washington orchestrated the movement to remove him from office. The former prime minister’s political opponents, who are now in the government, have rubbished the allegations that the US also denies.
The matter once again became a topic of public debate after the emergence of another purported audio clip online on Friday, involving Khan, his then principal secretary Azam Khan and two top aides, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar.
“When the current principal secretary [Tauqir Hussain Shah] to PM Shehbaz Sharif inquired about the cypher’s whereabouts over the phone from former secretary [Azam Khan] to then Prime Minister Khan, he said that he had handed it over to Khan,” Dar told reporters at a news conference.
He added the cypher is “an official, sacred document” which is the property of the Prime Minister's House. The finance minister was flanked by members of the federal cabinet and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz.
Dar said the cypher was a secret document whose contents should not have been disclosed to anyone. He accused Khan of developing an anti-government narrative around it.
In one of the audio leaks released earlier this week, former PM Khan’s principal secretary can be heard advising him to hold a meeting with then foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Khan and the then foreign secretary to discuss the cypher.
“Qureshi would read out the letter and whatever he reads out, we will turn it into a copy. I will do that in the minutes [of the meeting] that the Foreign Secretary has told this. Then the analysis will be done here [at the PM Office],” the former principal secretary said.
“We will do analysis of minutes [of meeting] of our own choice, this way minutes would be on the records of the [PM] office. The analysis will be that [the cypher] was a threat,” Khan’s former principal secretary had said.
Referring to the conversation, Dar raised suspicion that the cypher was missing from the Prime Minister’s House but the minutes of the meeting were present there. The finance minister said the language of the minutes pointed out that it could not be used by any diplomat. He said the government wanted to compare it to the original cypher.
It has now been established, he said, that the conspiracy was not hatched by the then opposition but by Khan’s party which now stands completely exposed.
“We will be failing in our national duty, failing in our oath, failing in our constitutional duty, if we will not take appropriate action on this,” Dar added.
In this regard, he added that a detailed meeting of the National Security Committee and the cabinet had already taken place, adding that the issue could not be ignored.
“This is an unpardonable offense and we will commit treason if we will not take it to its logical conclusion,” he said. “The decision has been taken to fulfill our national duty to take this matter forward under the Official Secrets Act and according to the law and constitution,” he added.
Nawaz demanded a public apology from Khan, accusing him of misusing a sensitive diplomatic document to harm the country’s interests and foreign relations with the US.
“You have tampered with a very sensitive document related to the country. You have conspired against Pakistan’s diplomatic relations,” she added.
She said PM Sharif had informed her that countries were not willing to communicate with Pakistan out of fear that their messages would be used for political purposes.
“He should seek an apology from the nation for playing with the country’s national interest and waving a fake letter in front of them,” she added.
Nawaz said Khan’s Bani Gala residence should be raided to recover the cypher.
“The government should raid Bani Gala to recover the copy of the cypher and the original minutes of the meeting,” she said, citing the FBI’s raid at the palatial residence of former US president Donald Trump as a reference.