FORMER Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been sentenced to a decade in prison by a special court in what is being termed as the ‘cipher case’.
The case revolves around Khan’s alleged disclosure of a sensitive diplomatic cable, which he claims contains evidence of a US and military conspiracy leading to his ousting in 2022.
The sentence was pronounced on Tuesday, January 30, just days before Pakistan is poised to hold general elections on February 8.
Khan, who rose to the premiership in 2018, was dethroned following a no-confidence vote in April 2022.
He and his associate, Qureshi, currently face a five-year ban from holding public office.
The special court, established under the Official Secrets Act in August 2023, heard the cipher case while Khan was already imprisoned due to a conviction in the Toshakhana corruption case. Though his initial three-year sentence was suspended, he remained under judicial remand for the cipher case at the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi.
Central to the controversy is a diplomatic cable, the contents of which were published by The Intercept in August 2023.
Sent by Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed Khan, to Islamabad, the document allegedly detailed discussions about Khan’s neutral stance on the war in Ukraine during a meeting with US State Department officials.
A statement by Assistant US Secretary of State Donald Lu hinted at potential forgiveness from Washington if the no-confidence motion against Khan succeeded.
Khan has consistently maintained that the cipher, supposedly addressed by Lu to former military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, indicated the latter’s ability to topple the government.
The Intercept claimed to have received the document from a source within the Pakistani military. In October 2023, Khan was indicted by the special court in proceedings held at the Rawalpindi jail.
Adding to Khan’s legal woes, the Islamabad High Court rejected his plea to suspend his conviction in the Toshakhana case on December 21.
Although the Supreme Court granted bail to Khan and Qureshi on December 22, Khan remained incarcerated due to his Toshakhana conviction, and Qureshi was re-arrested shortly after his release.
Since April 2022, over 150 legal cases have been registered against the beleaguered leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. PTI supporters have faced a state crackdown, and the party has been stripped of its electoral symbol ahead of the upcoming polls. The media was also barred from covering the cipher case proceedings.
Khan has denied allegations that he publicly displayed the cipher at a PTI rally, asserting that he never possessed the actual document. He claimed that the cipher, supposedly stored in the Prime Minister’s Office, was the only document that had ‘gone missing’, with the office’s security being the responsibility of the military secretary.
Labelling the trial a ‘sham’ and a ‘complete mockery of the law’, PTI has vociferously condemned the proceedings. Khan’s lawyer, speaking outside the court, criticised the legal process, claiming they were denied the right to cross-examine and defend their clients and were barred from entering the Adiala jail on the day of the sentencing.
The PTI has announced plans to appeal the sentence in the High Court, continuing the legal battle in what has become a contentious and polarising chapter in Pakistan’s political history.
- In Sri Lanka, the police resorted to tear gas and water cannons on Tuesday to break up a protest by the main opposition party, United People’s Power, in Colombo, amidst the country’s debilitating economic crisis.
The island nation, gearing up for a national election later this year, witnessed a substantial opposition gathering in the capital, condemning President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration for exacerbating the citizens’ financial burdens through increased taxes and soaring prices of electricity and fuel.
Opposition lawmaker Sarath Fonseka, present at the protest, voiced the public’s distress, saying, ‘The government is not concerned with the people suffering and being unable to provide for themselves.’ Highlighting the severe impact on daily life, he added, ‘People can no longer pay their bills or buy their children school supplies.’ Fonseka urged the populace to ‘rise’ and vote against the current government in the impending election.
Earlier in the day, courts had issued prohibitions against marching towards key buildings like the president’s office, finance ministry, and central bank, designating two specific areas in Colombo for the protest.
Sri Lanka’s descent into its worst economic crisis in 2022 led to its bankruptcy declaration in April the same year, grappling with over $83 billion in debt.
This dire financial situation sparked intense protests, culminating in the removal of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
In a stated bid to ‘stabilise’ the economy, the International Monetary Fund approved a four-year bail-out programme last March.
The current government, under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, elected in July 2022, defends its policies as essential steps to meet IMF targets, ensure sustainable debt, and regain international confidence.
Wickremesinghe has been accused of suppressing dissent, pointing to recent actions such as the crackdown on protesters and the passing of an internet regulation bill, which has been criticised for creating ‘a very oppressive environment’.
The bill, passed by the parliament where the ruling coalition holds the majority, has further intensified concerns about civil liberties under Wickremesinghe’s presidency.
- Meanwhile in India, the recent inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, a city etched deeply in India’s historical and religious consciousness, has resurfaced a long-standing schism between the ideals of secularism and the rise of Hindu nationalism.
The temple stands on a site claimed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, a central figure in Hinduism, and where the Babri Masjid once stood.
The Babri Masjid, built in 1528 under Mughal rule, stood on this contentious land until December 6, 1992, when it was demolished by a mob of Hindu nationalists.
This act, a culmination of a campaign fraught with tension and violence, sparked nationwide riots, resulting in the death of about 2,000 people.
In 2019, a landmark Supreme Court ruling handed the disputed site to a trust for constructing the Ram Mandir, while allocating a separate piece of land for a mosque, a decision that writer Apoorvanand termed as ‘five-acre justice,’ reflecting tensions Hindus and Muslims.
The BJP, a fringe party in the 1980s, capitalised on the Ram Mandir issue to gain national prominence.
Leaders like Lal Krishna Advani led rallies and campaigns, intensifying communal tensions.
Modi, then a rising figure in Gujarat’s BJP faction, was instrumental in organising these rallies.
The temple movement became a cornerstone of the BJP’s agenda, intertwining religion with politics, and ultimately aiding their ascent to power.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the Ram Mandir saga has been critical.
By laying the foundation stone of the temple, Modi not only fulfilled a long-standing BJP promise but also reinforced his image as a champion of Hindu nationalism.
During his speech, he portrayed the temple as a symbol of a new era in India, igniting a sense of triumphalism among his supporters.
In the immediate aftermath, there was a noticeable upsurge in violence against Muslims.
Incidents such as the brutal attack on Mohammad Tariq in Mumbai’s Mira Road, where he was violently assaulted by participants of a Hindu nationalist rally, point to the religious divide.
This surge in violence, punctuated by instances of mosques and Muslim properties being targeted and desecrated, symbolises the growing emboldenment of far-right groups.
These developments, coupled with Modi’s portrayal as the ‘high priest of Hinduism’ during the inauguration, reflect a worrying trend where state-endorsed religious ceremonies are exacerbating communal tensions.
Additionally, the Indian Supreme Court’s 2019 decision, while acknowledging the unlawful nature of both the 1949 idol placement and the 1992 demolition, failed to deliver justice that resonated with the Muslim community.
The inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya marks a decades-long religious and political strife, a symbol of Hindu nationalist ascendancy, and an existential challenge to the country’s secular ethos.