A local magistrate in Islamabad on Sunday granted the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) one day’s physical remand of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the cipher case, with directions to produce him before court again today (Monday).
Judicial Magistrate Ehtisham Alam Khan issued the orders against a demand by the FIA for 14-day physical remand. It is likely that the FIA would seek an extension to the remand when it produced the former foreign minister in court today.
Qureshi was arrested on Saturday evening, as the cipher case gathers pace following the purported publication of its contents by a U.S.-based news portal. In an informal chat with journalists on Sunday, he claimed the case was “politically motivated” and baseless, adding no “secret code” of Pakistan had been compromised. Maintaining he was aware of the requirements of his office, he said he had “acted responsibly” and had not shared any document with unrelated persons.
“Sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act do not apply to me. I do not see the justification for this custody,” he said, adding he had already responded to all questions over the case in addition to submitting a written statement.
The FIR registered by the FIA against Khan and Qureshi, under the Official Secrets Act, also names PTI leader Asad Umar as one of their “associates” that investigators wish to question in connection with the case. It states that the associates’ involvement would be determined during the course of investigations.
There were reports of Umar being taken into the FIA’s custody on Sunday after he went “missing” for several hours, but the agency denied arresting him and local media reported he had returned home later in the day.
The cipher case pertains to allegations from Khan—ahead of his ouster through a vote of no-confidence—that Washington orchestrated a plan to remove him from office. He had waved an alleged copy of the cipher at a public rally as “proof” of his claims. Addressing the same event, Qureshi had alleged he had “responsibly” given the cipher to Khan, adding it was up to the then-prime minister how much of its contents he wanted to make public. While the PTI chief did not initially identify the U.S. as the country that had sought his ouster, he subsequently “slipped” and named both the United States and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu as being cited in the cipher penned by former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S. Asad Majeed.
Over the past year, the U.S. has repeatedly denied all the allegations, maintaining it does not favor any political party in Pakistan over another.
The case had appeared to be little more than a political talking point until earlier this year, when Khan’s principal secretary Azam Khan told a magistrate, as well as the FIA, that the PTI chief had used the cipher for “political gains” in a bid to prevent the vote of no-confidence against him.
The FIA has since questioned Khan in connection with the case at Attock Jail, where he is currently serving out a three-year prison sentence after being found guilty of “corrupt practices” in the Toshakhana case.