Former ambassador Asad Majeed Khan, in a witness testimony recorded for the cipher case, has claimed that former prime minister Imran Khan’s public disclosure of his diplomatic cable’s contents had “undermined the integrity of our communication system,” with adverse implications for future diplomatic reporting.
Recorded before the investigation officer of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the statement was provided to defense counsels as part of the challan submitted against Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
In his testimony, the government official notes he served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from January 2019 to March 2022. During this time, he states, he met U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Affairs on March 7, 2022 for a one-and-a-half hour lunch that was minuted and was part of “regular consultations” covering the gamut of bilateral ties.
He notes he had communicated the conversation through a cipher telegram addressed to the then-foreign secretary. “It was sent through our secret coded communication system, used for correspondence between Foreign Missions of Pakistan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, in compliance to the documented instructions of the Cabinet Division,” he says, adding he had merely “reported” the conversation between himself and Lu.
“Sending cipher is a routine practice of diplomatic missions abroad,” he says, stressing there was no reference to any kind of “threat” or “conspiracy,” nor did he make any suggestion to that effect. “It was a political conclusion drawn by the leadership in Islamabad,” he adds.
Recalling he had recommended a demarche, which was issued on March 31, 2022, Majeed stresses that a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) had also concluded the matter only merited a demarche found no conspiracy. “Another NSC meeting was also held on April 22, 2022 in which I participated. In that meeting, after reviewing the contents of the cipher telegram, after discussing the matter in detail and after getting input from heads of intelligence agencies, it was again concluded that there was no foreign conspiracy for regime change in Pakistan,” he said, noting the Foreign Affairs Ministry had reiterated this during a press briefing on April 24, 2022.
Clarifying that he had not met either Khan or Qureshi from March 7, 2022 to date, the official said that as a “foreign service professional,” he believed the cipher episode had “undermined the integrity of our communication system, the credibility of our diplomats and diplomacy with adverse implications for our future diplomatic reporting culture.”
Both PTI chief Khan and party Vice Chairman Qureshi are nominated as prime suspects in the first information report (FIR) registered under the Official Secrets Act for making the confidential contents of the cipher document public. Khan, in March 2022, disclosed the contents of the cipher and accused the U.S. of conspiring with the opposition to overthrow his government. He subsequently changed this to claim the Army had conspired with the U.S. to oust him from office.