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The Cypher Controversy: Rana Sanaullah on Azam Khan’s Alleged Statement as ‘Charge Sheet’ Against Imran

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah addressed to the media and called Azam Khan’s confession a “charge sheet” against PTI chief Imran Khan. Azam Khan, in the alleged statement, claimed that Imran Khan’s narrative behind the cypher, which he used as evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” to remove him, was fabricated.

A stay order against Imran Khan’s call-up notice by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was lifted by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on the same day as this development. An audio leak relevant to the cypher controversy was the subject of the notice. Additionally, a senior US official publicly defended Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, who Imran accused of orchestrating the no-confidence vote which resulted in his ouster.

Rana Sanaullah’s Accusations Against Imran Khan

In his press conference, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah referred emphatically to Azam’s statement as the “charge sheet against Imran Khan Niazi.” He said that the statement revealed those who conspired against the country and its institutions, playing a dangerous game for their own and political interests while damaging the national interest.

He accused Imran Khan of committing a crime by making a classified document public and retaining it. The cypher cannot be held by anyone legally, Rana Sanaullah says. In his statement, he compared the case to the proceedings initiated against former US president Donald Trump on allegations that he mishandled classified information.

Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, he continued, was also “fully involved in this crime.”

Sanaullah clarified that the law department’s opinion would be the final decision on potential legal action. In this case, he thought that the Official Secrets Act would be more appropriate.

He urged the recovery of the cipher and punishment for the crime.

In response to a question about whether the PTI chief might be arrested in various cases against him, Sanaullah said, “Either a trial or an arrest could lead to a conviction”. As part of the investigation, evidence is being collected and he is also being prosecuted in various cases against him.

Also, he clarified that any action related to the cipher would only be taken against Imran and Qureshi or their “political associates”.

He said that because the then-foreign secretary and Azam were not involved in “exposing the cypher, keeping it in their private possession, and playing it up,” no action would be taken against them.

Imran says Azam Khan is ‘honest man’

While the PML-N praised Azam Khan’s claimed confession as proof of guilt, the PTI maintained the cipher’s existence.

Responding to reporters’ questions after appearing in court in Islamabad, the PTI chairman stated, “Azam Khan is an honest man.” I will not accept any statement unless I hear it from his mouth.”

Farrukh Habib, a PTI politician, accused Azam of kidnapping and argued that any confession recorded under such conditions had no legal standing.

PTI’s Shahbaz Gill remembered the National Security Committee’s (NSC) demarche in reaction to the cypher.

“By the way, the statement for Section 164 is recorded before the magistrate. The police have said that they do not have Azam Khan.”

“Has Azam Khan been kidnapped by the magistrate?” Shahbaz Gill asked on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the PML-N’s official Twitter account hailed the news, claiming Azam Khan confirms what the nation already knew. Imran Khan is a fraudster!

“From orchestrating the events of May 9 to toying with national security, this man has done everything possible to inflict damage on the state of Pakistan!” it claimed in another tweet.

Who is Azam Khan?

Azam Khan, former principal secretary to PTI Chairman and Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was placed on a no-fly list, along with the names of other PTI government officials, following Imran Khan’s ouster in April 2022, and he was then posted  Establishment Division.

An audio clip of Imran Khan and Azam discussing the cypher was leaked in September 2022, and Imran used it as evidence of a “foreign conspiracy.” to oust him from the top office.

Following the leaking of the clip, the federal cabinet had a meeting to review it, and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah stated that the video indicated that Imran had devised a plot to complete his “anti-state agenda.”

Meanwhile, in response to inquiries regarding the leak, Imran stated, “The [US] cypher should leak so that it comes out before everyone and everyone can know how big a foreign conspiracy happened.”

Another audio leak that surfaced a few days later allegedly included Azam, Imran, and PTI leaders Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Asad Umar.

During Imran’s term, the National Accountability Bureau cleared him in the 275-acre Malam Jabba skiing-chairlift resort case, based on the recommendations of a special committee created on the Peshawar High Court’s directive in March of this year.

Cable gate

The cypher controversy began on March 27, 2022, when Imran, less than a month before his departure, displayed a letter that he said was a cypher from a foreign nation and stated that his governance should be removed from power.

He did not share the contents of the letter, nor did he identify the nation that sent it. However, he blamed the United States a few days later, claiming that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu sought his removal.

The cypher was about a meeting between former Pakistan ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed and Lu.

According to the former prime minister, who claimed to be reading from the cypher, “all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power.”

The topic was then taken up by the National Security Committee (NSC), which decided to make a “strong demarche” to the nation for its “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan” on March 31.

Following his dismissal, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called upon a meeting of the NSC, which concluded that there was no proof of foreign involvement in the cypher.

The former prime minister Imran Khan, then-federal minister Asad Umar, and then-principal secretary Azam were allegedly heard discussing the US cypher and how to utilize it in their interests in the two audio leaks that stormed the internet and shocked the people following these events.

On September 30, the federal cabinet took notice of the situation and constituted a committee to investigate the contents of the audio leaks.

In October, the cabinet got the go-ahead to take action against the former prime minister, and the investigation was turned over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

In order to investigate the matter, the FIA summoned Imran Khan, Umar, and other PTI leaders. Khan challenged the summons and the court granted a stay order.

On Tuesday (July 18), the Lahore High Court recalled its stay against the Federal Investigation Agency’s call-up notice to Imran Khan.

Azam Khan’s alleged confession has raised significant questions about Imran Khan’s involvement in the cipher controversy. In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how legal proceedings unfold and what effect they will have on Pakistan’s political landscape.

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