Roving Periscope: The US and Pakistan relax as Imran, and Mehmood get 10-yrs in jail
New Delhi: Ten days ahead of the General Elections to the National Assembly on February 8, the US and Pakistan have heaved a sigh of relief: their ‘sponsored’ candidate, Mohammed Nawaz Sharif, could now safely become the restive South Asian country’s Prime Minister a fourth time.
For, his bete noire, former PM Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, and close associate Shah Mehmood Qureshi, could now cool their heels in the prison for the next 10 years, following their conviction by a kangaroo court in the cipher case.
Sharif, who returned to Islamabad in October 2023 after a four-year-long self-exile in London on “health grounds,” is the current favorite of the Pakistani Army which dumped its previous stooge, Imran Khan, in April 2022 after their relations soured.
Imran and Masood are already in jail since August 20023 in a different case. They can, however, appeal against the fresh verdict in a higher court.
A Special Court Judge, Abul Hasnat Muhammad Zulqarnain, sentenced Imran, the founder of his political outfit, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and his former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to 10 years in jail after finding them guilty of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act, 1923, by making a diplomatic cable public while they were in power (2018-22).
The court handed down the order on Tuesday, Imran Khan’s lawyer Shoaib Shaheen said in a text message, the media reported.
The cipher case pertains to allegations that Imran Khan had shared with the public the contents of a secret cable sent by Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington to the government in Islamabad.
Reacting to the ruling, PTI, which itself is in disarray, said the party would challenge the decision and dubbed it a “sham case.”
“Pakistan stands with Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who defended Pakistan and stood for Haqeeqi Azadi. No such sham trial can change what happened in March- April 2022, on the orders of Donald Lu,” the PTI wrote on X (formally Twitter). At that time, Lu was an official of the US Department of State looking after South Asian affairs.
It was a “complete mockery and disregard of the law in the cipher case”, PTI said, urging people to vote for it in the February 8 elections.
The Pakistani Army has already ensured that the PTI remains frozen. It has lost its election symbol, a cricket bat, and its candidates, contesting independently with different symbols, are not allowed to campaign freely. Election officials also rejected a large number of PTI leaders’ candidatures on trumped-up causes.
“InshaAllah Kaptaan and Vice Kaptaan will be back soon, and this sentence will be in a dustbin in the appeal stage,” PTI added.
The cipher case is one of more than 150 cases against Imran Khan. Other charges range from contempt of court to terrorism and inciting violence.
In the cipher case, he is alleged to have waved a confidential document — a classified cable — at a rally after he was toppled in April 2022. The document has not been made public by either the government or Imran Khan’s lawyers but was said to be diplomatic correspondence between the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad.
During the speech, Imran Khan claimed the document was proof he was being threatened and that his ouster through a no-confidence motion in Parliament was a US conspiracy, allegedly executed by the Pakistani Army and the government in Pakistan. The US and Pakistani officials have denied the claim.
During the trial, the PTI feared Khan could be sentenced to death for treason. Imran has claimed innocence and said he didn’t disclose the exact contents of the cable. Qureshi was accused of manipulating the contents of a diplomatic cable to gain political advantage.
The special court had begun the cipher trial afresh last month at the Adiala district jail after the two PTI leaders were indicted for a second time in the case on December 13, Dawn News reported.
They were first indicted in the case in October. Both had pleaded not guilty. The Islamabad High Court had termed the government’s notification for a jail trial “erroneous” and scrapped the entire proceedings.
Taking to social media platform X, Imran Khan said, “This is not a trial but a fixed match whose outcome was predetermined by the characters and planners of the London Plan and their seals. That is why I already know the decision of this case.
“Remember that Cipher is a case which has been declared null and void twice by the Islamabad High Court and ordered to be re-tried because both times the case was tried to be run in violation of the Constitution and the law. Then the Supreme Court has also given me bail in this case because the whole building of this case has been built on lies, bullying, conspiracy, and deceit.”
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s caretaker federal government challenged the IHC’s decision to declare its notification regarding the jail trial of the PTI leader in the cipher case as null and void.
It reported that the government filed a petition in the apex court to overturn the high court’s decision saying that the HC did not evaluate the facts of the case properly. It contended that the IHC did not have the authority to declare a special court formed to hold the cipher trial of the former premier invalid.
Geo News reported that, in November 2023, the IHC nullified the notification for conducting Imran Khan’s jail trial in the case registered on charges of leaking state secrets. An IHC division bench, comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz, announced the verdict on November 21, 2023, on Imran Khan’s intra-court appeal against a single-member bench’s decision to approve his jail trial in the cipher case under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.