Friday June 21, 2024

FIA arrests Shah Mahmood Qureshi from his Islamabad residence

"PTI leaders held clandestine meeting at Bani Gala to conspire to misuse contents of cipher," reads FIR

By Haider Sherazi & Waqar Satti
August 19, 2023
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, deputy head of PTI, speaks with the media in Islamabad on May 10, 2023. — AFP
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, deputy head of PTI, speaks with the media in Islamabad on May 10, 2023. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi was taken into custody from his residence in Islamabad, Geo News reported on Saturday. 

Speaking on Geo News programme Naya Pakistan, Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti confirmed that Qureshi was taken into custody by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

The caretaker security czar said Qureshi was arrested as he was nominated in the cipher case related to the diplomatic cable that the PTI claimed contained the evidence of alleged US conspiracy to overthrow Imran Khan-led government. 

The PTI has also confirmed that the party leader was arrested from his residence and is being moved to the FIA headquarters in the federal capital.

The arrest came shortly after Qureshi addressed the presser wherein he dispelled the reports of infighting between party leaders to replace incarcerated party chief Imran Khan.

The PTI has also confirmed that the party leader was arrested from his residence and moved to the FIA headquarters in the federal capital.

The development came only two days after PTI chief Khan, who has been imprisoned in Attock Jail, following conviction in Toshakhana case named in a first information report (FIR) registered by the FIA under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923 in the cipher case, The News reported quoting sources.

The counter-terrorism wing of the FIA had registered the case against the former prime minister — who was ousted from office after a no-confidence motion in April last year — after ascertaining his deliberate involvement in misusing the classified document following a probe.

The government sources had also confirmed that the PTI chief has been booked under Section 5 of the recently-amended act. However, authorities displayed reluctance in sharing a copy of the FIR.

Earlier in July this year, the FIA grilled Qureshi and PTI leader Asad Umar for nearly two hours in connection with the probe into controversial US cipher.

Qureshi time and again has reiterated that the US cipher was reality, backing the party chief’s claims that the US engineered his ouster from power by supporting then opposition’s no-confidence motion in April last year.

The cipher case against the former premier became serious after his principal secretary Azam Khan stated before a magistrate as well as the FIA that the former PM had used the US cipher for his ‘political gains’ and to avert a vote of no-confidence against him.

The former bureaucrat, in his confession, said when he provided the ex-premier with the cipher, he was “euphoric” and termed the language a “US blunder”. The former prime minister, according to Azam, then said that the cable could be used for “creating a narrative against establishment and opposition”.

Azam said the US cipher was used in political gatherings by the PTI chairman, despite his advice to him to avoid such acts. He mentioned that the former prime minister also told him that the cipher could be used to divert the public’s attention towards “foreign involvement” in the opposition’s no-confidence motion.

Khan, Qureshi booked under Secrets Act

Qureshi was arrested after a first information report (FIR) was registered against him and PTI chief Khan under Official Secrets Act for disclosing the contents of the diplomatic cipher for political gains on August 15.

The FIR said the deposed prime minister and the former foreign minister revealed the content of the classified document to unauthorised persons and twisted facts “for ulterior motives and personal gains in a manner prejudical to the interests of state security”.

"They held a clandestine meeting at [Khan’s Bani Gala residence] on March 28, 2022, to conspire to misuse the contents of cipher in order to accomplish their nefarious designs," it said, adding that former premier and ex-foreign minister directed to distort its contents.

The FIR also said that the deposed prime minister harmed national security by using the cipher telegram, adding that he illegally kept a copy of cipher telegram with "malafide intention" that was sent to the PM Office by then Pakistan envoy to US.

"The former premier maliciously kept the copy and did not send it back to the Foreign Office," the FIR said.

It also said that the ex-PM still has a copy of the cipher.

The unauthorised retention and misuse of cipher telegram by the accused person "compromised" the entire cipher security system of the state and secret communication method of Pakistani missions abroad, read the FIR.

"These actions by the accused persons directly/indirectly benefited the interest of foreign powers and caused loss to the State of Pakistan.”

It added that the role of the former principal secretary Azam Khan will be ascertained during the course of investigation.

‘Caretakers pursuing PDM’s fascist agenda’

In a statement, the PTI spokesperson condemned the “illegal and unjustified” arrest of Qureshi, terming it the “worst example” of misuse of the law.

The party spokesperson said the caretaker government is carrying forward the agenda of “lawlessness and fascism” of the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government.

“There is no justification for the arrest of Shah Mahmood Qureshi under the guise of investigating the secret diplomatic cable,” the spokesperson said, adding that the party leader was “fully cooperating” with FIA's team.

The statement further said Qureshi's real crime was expressing unequivocal confidence in the leadership of PTI chief Imran Khan and added that all “nefarious” attempts to halt the party’s decision-making process will be thwarted.

It said the PTI will continue running party affairs under the mechanism approved by the incarcerated party chief.

“Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf will prepare a legal action plan for the immediate release of Shah Mahmood Qureshi,” the spokesperson added.

Cable gate

The controversy first emerged on March 27, 2022, when Khan — just days before his ouster — brandished a letter, claiming that it was a cipher from a foreign nation, which mentioned that his government should be removed from power.

He did not reveal the contents of the letter nor mention the name of the nation that had sent it. But a few days later, he named the United States and said that Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Donald Lu had sought his removal.

The cipher was about former Pakistan ambassador to the US Asad Majeed's meeting with Lu.

The former prime minister, claiming that he was reading contents from the cipher, said that "all will be forgiven for Pakistan if Imran Khan is removed from power".

Then on March 31, the NSC took up the matter and decided to issue a "strong demarche" to the country for its "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan".

Later, after his removal, then prime minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of the NSC, which came to the conclusion that it had found no evidence of a foreign conspiracy in the cipher.