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Imran-led cabinet warned against deterioration in diplomatic ties if cipher details revealed: Ex-FS

Sohail Mahmood’s statement recorded in court surfaces

By News Desk

January 25, 2024 04:14 PM


Imran-led cabinet warned against deterioration in diplomatic ties if cipher details revealed: Ex-FS

Sohail Mahmood

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The details of the statement recorded by former foreign secretary in the cipher case at the Official Secrets Act Court came to the fore, reported 24NewsHD TV channel on Thursday.

A written copy of the recorded statement of former foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood in the cipher case has come out. He gave this statement before the special court on January 22.

In his statement, the former foreign secretary disclosed the details of a secret communication with the US authorities regarding Pakistan's relations with it.

Sohail Mahmood revealed in his testimony in the cipher case that he had told the Imran Khan cabinet that by removing the secrecy of the cipher would not only harm exchanges with foreign diplomats, it would also deteriorate relations with the United States and some other countries. Besides this, matters with multilateral financial institutions would also become complicated.

He said that he had advised the Imran Khan government to continue the dialogue with the US and avoid public bitterness.

According to the copy of the statement, Sohail Mehmood said that "the purpose of this advice to the Imran-led government was to protect Pakistan's relationship with an important country and to avoid a public and political debate regarding a secret document."

The former foreign secretary also shared the details of the Cabinet meeting, which was called to discuss the issue of "declassification of cipher telegram" and a separate meeting was held at the then prime minister's Banigala residence.

Sohail Mehmood said that in the cabinet meeting held on April 8, he made it clear that it was possible to declassify the cipher telegram nor could it be allowed because there are security guidelines attached to the cipher and at the same time there would be implications regarding legal matters and foreign policy.

He also told the cabinet that there is no precedent in the past for declassification of ciphers and there is no legal provision to do so. He said that the declassification of the cipher contents would damage the cipher communication systems.

He said that he also pointed out to the cabinet that this would also affect the way embassies and the ministry work as there might be a loss of trust in confidential discussions with foreign diplomats.

He said that he told the cabinet that this would not only affect relations with the US and some other countries, but strained relations with the US would also complicate matters with multilateral financial institutions.

After a long consultation, the cabinet decided that an in-camera briefing would be given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the salient features of cipher telegram and its authenticity in Parliament, Sohail Mehmood said.

The former foreign secretary further said, "On March 27, 2022, former prime minister Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi waved a letter in a public gathering. On March 28, 2022, he received a note from our additional secretary in America, in which it was told that he was contacted by America's charge d'affairs who expressed his concerns about the prime minister's public statement.

He said sending this note to the then foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, he suggested that it would be prudent to continue the dialogue with the US and avoid public bitterness. The purpose of this consultation was to protect Pakistan's relationship with the key country and to avoid public and political debate on secret communication.

The former foreign secretary said that on March 28, 2022, around noon, he received a call to immediately reach Banigala for a meeting. It was not a pre-scheduled meeting and was called at a short notice. He said he did not know who would attend this meeting. He saw that apart from prime minister Imran Khan, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and principal secretary Azam Khan were also present.

He said he was given a telegram which was delivered to the Foreign Secretary's Office earlier that day at his request. He was asked to read this telegram. Meanwhile, other participants of the meeting commented on the conversation between the Pakistani Ambassador in Washington and the US Assistant Secretary of State. The meeting was short and ended without any decision or conclusion."

Sohail Mehmood said that he took a copy of the cipher telegram with him. He said in order to secure the cipher, he handed over the copy to the FSO Director.

He said that he was not asked to prepare the minutes of this meeting.

Regarding the cipher, he said that its copy was sent to the Secretary to PM (SPM Azam Khan) on March 8, 2022 in sealed envelope. He said that when he retired on September 29, 2022, the copy of the cipher provided to Azam Khan was not returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He said at one point in March, the SPM informally told him that the prime minister could not find a copy of the cipher telegram in his papers and asked if another copy could be provided or not. He was then told that the copy provided had a number on it so it should be searched.

 

Reporter Hashir Ahsan

 

 


News Desk


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