Why the inquiry into cipher audios is an ill-thought-out step by the Pakistan government

It is best for this matter to be resolved by a neutral arbiter so that its findings cannot be impeached on political grounds.


October 5, 2022

ISLAMABAD – IT seems that this government cannot help but overreach itself on matters where good sense would dictate doing nothing and letting matters take their course. Despite ill-conceived earlier attempts to frame terrorism and treason charges against former prime minister Imran Khan, it is now making a fresh bid to take him down through the ‘Cablegate’ audio leaks.

A high-level inquiry to investigate the role of Mr Khan and his close advisers in the affair will be led by the FIA, which can seek assistance from senior officers of other intelligence agencies if need be.

Announced shortly after PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz accused the former prime minister of purloining official documents and demanded a ‘raid’ on Banigala, the inquiry is yet another reminder that our political class cannot help repeating past mistakes.

The government seems to have put little thought into what it is attempting to do. It does not sufficiently acknowledge that its investigation is based on recordings made during the unlawful surveillance of a former prime minister while he was still holding office. That in itself was a serious breach of national security and the prime minister’s privileges. For the government to seem least interested in pursuing this aspect, even though it too has suffered from it, is a poor show.

Secondly, an illegally recorded conversation is not likely to be allowed as evidence in any court of law. How will the government prosecute a case without these leaked audios, which provide the entire grounds for its investigation?

Thirdly, the government seems confused while accusing the PTI leadership of ‘stealing’ the cipher, which would be a violation of the Official Secrets Act. How can the PTI have stolen the cipher when the PDM government formally reviewed it at the National Security Committee forum soon after it took over?

The government has also alleged that a ‘copy’ of the cipher has gone missing from the Prime Minister House records. However, this would contradict the contents of the leaked Cablegate recordings, in which it appears that the PTI leaders themselves never had a copy of the cipher, which is why they plotted to manually note down its contents as part of the meeting minutes while it was being read out by a Foreign Office official.

Clearly, the inquiry has not been very well thought through. It will likely end nowhere, or, worse, be used as a tool of victimisation.

One hopes that the government has not felt compelled to announce it under pressure from the PML-N’s Nawaz camp.

It is best for this matter to be resolved by a neutral arbiter so that its findings cannot be impeached on political grounds.

The PTI has already asked for the Supreme Court to look into the matter. Maybe the government should also consider approaching the same forum if it is confident of its stance.

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