A joint investigation team (JIT) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Wednesday questioned Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan in Attock Jail over a “missing” copy of the diplomatic cipher he has alleged “proves” a U.S. conspiracy to oust his government through a vote of no-confidence.
Shortly before his government was sent packing, then-prime minister Khan waved a piece of paper at a rally in Islamabad, claiming it was evidence of an “international conspiracy” to remove him from office. While he did not name the U.S. at the time, he subsequently accused it in an apparent “slip of the tongue” during a live telecast. The U.S. has, repeatedly, denied all his allegations and maintained it does not favor any single political party in Pakistan over another. Two separate meetings of the National Security Council have also maintained that while the cipher’s contents constitute “blatant interference” and merit a demarche, they do not reveal any “conspiracy.”
In recent weeks, the cipher issue has once again become prominent, with U.S.-based The Intercept publishing what it claims is the full text of the cable. The timing of the report’s release has raised eyebrows, as it emerged within days of Khan’s detention at Attock Jail. The FIA last month interrogated Khan for nearly two hours after the Lahore High Court (LHC) withdrew a stay order against the probe. According to the FIA’s case, it is investigating whether the former prime minister made public a confidential document and then retained it in violation of the Official Secrets Act.
A second round of questioning occurred on Wednesday at Attock Jail, where Khan is currently serving out a three-year imprisonment after being found guilty of “corrupt practices” over failing to declare with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) gifts he retained from the Toshakhana. Speaking with media last week, former interior minister Rana Sanaullah maintained Khan had already “admitted” to retaining and then losing a copy of the cipher, which was an offense under the Official Secrets Act.
The FIA’s JIT has also, over the past month, questioned various Foreign Office officials, then-principal secretary Azam Khan, and then-ministers Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar. All these individuals were implicated in the cipher controversy by a leaked audio that suggested the PTI chief wanted to “play with” the diplomatic cable for political purposes. The “smoking gun,” per government sources, was the statement of Azam, who alleged then-P.M. Khan had told him the cable could be used to create a “narrative against the establishment and opposition.”
According to local media, the FIA’s Counter-Terrorism Wing has registered a case in connection with the “missing cipher” from the official record of the Prime Minister’s Office and indicted Khan in the case. However, this could not be independently verified.