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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Cypher versus US' Resolution

            Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and senior leader of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party/ former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi were jailed for 10 years in a case where they were charged with leaking state secrets. The sentencing in what was called the Cypher Case came less than two weeks before the general elections in 2024. Khan was charged with making public a classified cable – a Cypher or Cipher – sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022. Khan and Qureshi were indicted by a Pakistani court on October 23, 2023. Immediately after his removal as prime minister in April 2022, Khan said that the United States had a hand in his removal. Khan later toned down his rhetoric against the US.

But a US-based news outlet, The Intercept, in August 2023 published what it claimed to be a “Cypher” that hinted the US administration wanted to remove Khan from power. The Intercept published purported details of a conversation between Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed Khan, and Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, on March 7, 2022. The conversation took place less than two weeks after Khan visited Moscow, on the day Russia invaded Ukraine. In the exchange, Lu raised concerns about Khan’s visit to Russia and Pakistan’s neutral stance on the Ukraine war. “I think if a no-confidence vote against the prime minister succeeds, all will be forgiven in Washington,” Lu allegedly told Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan, who sent the details of the conversation to Islamabad through a secret diplomatic cable. In hindsight, one could raise a number of questions on the ambassador's wisdom to have sent a cable on such a sensitive matter rather than immediately flying back home and reporting the matter in person to the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Minister. However, despite or because of playing a role in dismissal of the PTI government with disastrous fallouts for the country the said wise ambassador got rewarded by promotion to be the foreign secretary before retirement. What started with the Cipher Case to the glee of the almost 15 parties' coalition getting back into the governance, wiping out all corruption and other cases against almost all of them; and instead of 3 months, an unconstitutional long honeymoon period given to an interim government formed by unknown political and non-political pygmies (14 August 2023 to 4 March 2024), before handing back the power to the same PDM lot through most controversial and rigged elections in Pakistan.

Nevertheless, on Monday 3rd June 2024, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), acquitted PTI founder Imran Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the Cypher case. IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb announced the short verdict after accepting the appeals of the former premier and foreign minister against their convictions in the case. But, the notorious Cypher Case had already done the great damage to the democratic process in Pakistan that had resulted in quick and overnight regime change followed by politically motivated registration of almost 150 cases against the deposed prime minister Khan, worst victimisation of PTI leadership and workers; which gave rebirth to numerous politico-economic and security perils in the state that was on its way to recovery before 10th April 2022. The subsequent arrest of Mr. Khan from the court premises in Islamabad on 9th May 2022 created political mayhem, volatile agitation and backlash in the country duly exploited by foes of Pakistan to create a wedge between the public and the law enforcement agencies. Since the worthy High Court has already given verdict on the Cypher Case and other major cases against PTI leadership, the lesser said the better, consequences notwithstanding.

After little over two years of Cipher Case issue, in an unprecedented reverse swing, on Wednesday 26 June 2024, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution, in support of democracy and human rights in Pakistan and called for a "thorough and independent investigation" into interference claims in Pakistan's 2024 elections. The resolution, passed with 98 percent voting in its favour, urged US President Joe Biden to collaborate with Pakistan in “upholding democracy, human rights, and the rule of law”. The resolution, HR 901, titled ‘Expressing support for democracy and human rights in Pakistan’ was introduced by Congressman McCormick of Georgia and Congressman Kildee of Michigan and co-sponsored by over 100 colleagues. “It underscores the importance of upholding democratic values and respecting the rights of the people of Pakistan as they face economic instability and security threats. The near-unanimous passage of this resolution sends a clear message to the government of Pakistan that the United States stands with the people of Pakistan in their pursuit of democracy, free and fair elections, and respect for individual freedoms and human rights,” an official statement read. Reportedly, the resolution called for a thorough and independent investigation into any claims of interference or irregularities in Pakistan’s 2024 elections. It also condemned efforts to suppress democratic participation in Pakistan. It specifically denounced harassment, intimidation, violence, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on internet access, as well as any violations of human, civil, or political rights. 

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said that the bipartisan resolution stemmed from an “incomplete understanding” of the country’s political situation and electoral process. “We believe that the timing and context of this particular resolution does not align well with the positive dynamics of our bilateral ties,” Pakistan's Foreign Office said in a statement. Islamabad further claimed that it is “committed” to the values of “constitutionalism, human rights and rule of law in pursuance of our own national interest”. “We hope that the US Congress will play a supportive role in strengthening Pakistan-US ties and focus on avenues of mutual collaboration that benefit both our peoples and countries,” it added. 

How will US’ HR-901 impact Pak-US relations, politics in Pakistan and economy largely dependent on IMF bailout? A lot will depend on the USA's presidential elections results. Can the fragile coalition government in Pakistan survive, which is hanging by thread due to political polarisation, crippled economy, unbearable inflation and ever obfuscating 5th generation warfare threats confronting Pakistan? Only time will tell. However, what is in the hands of the three pillars of the state is to put its own house in order by immediate political reconciliation, cessation of compounding hostilities and quick dispensation of justice; better results for the state and the people shall follow. Pakistan Zindabad!


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