imran Khan
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan’s federal cabinet has formally approved an inquiry into the audio leaks and sought legal action against former prime minister Imran Khan and his party leaders over a controversial cipher.

“The cabinet has approved to hold investigation and legal action into recent audio leaks of PTI Chairman regarding diplomatic cipher,” the state media reported. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s cabinet committee recommended that “legal action is necessary as it is a matter of national security”. The government said that the committee would comprise Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials and personnel from intelligence agencies to probe the matter.

Cipher controversy

Pakistan government has constituted a special committee to probe the recent audio leaks that allegedly feature a conversation between Khan and his aides discussing a cipher (encoded diplomatic cable) that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief has long presented as evidence of a ‘foreign conspiracy’ to oust him from the top office. Both Washington and Sharif’s government have denied the allegations.

The cipher in question reportedly details the interactions of Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Asad Majeed’s meeting with US State Department official Donald Lu. The National Security Committee (NSC) meeting held during the Khan administration said the diplomatic cable amounted to “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.”

Audio leaks

The leaks are audio conversations from the PM Office. Most of the previously leaked audios involved alleged discussions between PM Sharif and his cabinet members about different national, business, and party issues. Pakistan’s PM Office has not denied the content of the recordings. The leaks stirred public debate about the government’s misplaced priorities.

Pakistan’s prime minister ordered the formation of a high-level committee to investigate the issue and he termed the audio leaks a “very serious lapse”. Soon after, the cabinet said the audio leaks uncovered the “criminal conspiracy” of former PM Khan and his government and later claimed that the cipher was “stolen after fraud, forgery, fabrication” adding that “a copy of the cipher had gone missing from the Prime Minister House records” but its copy is available with the Foreign Office. A handout issued by the Prime Minister’s House said the cabinet declared that the “theft” of diplomatic cipher records was an “unforgivable crime” and violation of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

PTI says party has nothing to hide

Senior leaders from Khan’s party said the cabinet summary has proved that the cipher is a reality and that the PTI government had shared the document with the National Assembly speaker and the chief justice of Pakistan so its contents could be examined and appropriate steps are taken.

PTI leader and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi welcomed the cabinet’s decision to investigate the matter, saying that PTI had nothing to hide. “We did not do anything which would hurt Pakistan’s interests,” he said, adding the party had implemented recommendations from the NSC and diplomatic circles by issuing a demarche to Washington. Qureshi also questioned the government’s motive of ordering an inquiry into the document after several months.

Khan gets bail after arrest warrant

Late Saturday, hundreds of Khan’s supporters gathered outside his home in Bani Gala, Islamabad, and thousands protested across different cities after an arrest warrant was issued for Imran Khan by Islamabad magistrate Rana Mujahid Rahim for allegedly threatening a woman judge at a rally in August. The next day on October 2, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) approved the pre-arrest bail of PTI chief Imran Khan and ordered him to appear in court on October 7. Islamabad Police said that the warrant was issued to ensure Khan appeared before the court in the case’s next hearing since he had missed the previous one.

Khan was charged with contempt of court following his speech at a public rally in which he allegedly threatened “action” against a female judge following the arrest and alleged torture of his top aide Shahbaz Gill. However, the court deferred the contempt proceedings after Khan’s apology in court last week.

On Monday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) dismissed the show-cause notice issued to Imran Khan for his controversial remarks against judge Zeba Chaudhry at the August 20 public rally. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah who headed the larger bench said: “This is the unanimous decision of the larger bench”.