Pakistan Reader# 399, 15 November 2022
On 14 November, Defence Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif said that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan will “have to pay a political price” for “misleading” the country on the cipher controversy. This comes as Imran Khan in an interview with the Financial Times took a “U-turn” on his accusations against the government led by PML-N, commented on the cipher issue and said that it was “behind him”. Additionally, he said that he wanted to maintain cordial relations with the United States and that the matter was not in contention anymore. Asif responded to this interview and criticised the former prime minister for reversing his stance on the cypher issue. He warned the nation of Imran Khan’s unaccountability, and asked the Parliament to “seize” Imran “by the neck”. He condemned Imran Khan’s inconsistent claims, whilst expressing indignation at the PTI government’s policies. The defence minister maintained the criticism against Imran Khan by citing that the National Assembly ousted his government because of his invalidated claims, but questioned his beliefs of the current government being an “imported one”.
What did the Prime Minister and other leaders say?
On 14 November, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif slammed Imran Khan’s rebuttal of a “foreign conspiracy” narrative and reacted to his interview by condemning the PTI’s Chairman’s statements. PM Shebaz said that Khan was fettering Pakistan’s external relations in a bid to extend his “own petty politics”, and said that the country is “shocked” by his “deceit and treachery”. The interview was met with widespread criticism from the government, where Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and Climate Minister Sherry Rehman drew open their disapproval of Imran Khan’s sudden claims. They said:
“Simply withdrawing from the statements that were used to spread chaos and lies without answering for them will not be enough..”
“Who is responsible for all damage caused to the country's diplomatic ties by his false narrative?”
What did Imran Khan say?
On 13 November, however, addressing multiple gatherings of PTI supporters through a video message, Imran Khan led his speech against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif and said that the PML-N leader was “pushing” Pakistan towards a “disaster” by disallowing the PM to hold transparent elections in the country. He cited a “regime change conspiracy” of the government in power and said that it is fleeing from holding accountable elections. Further, he added that the experiment of the regime change failed and that the leaders in power were “not accepting their mistakes”. He said that the “illegitimate” government should be “thankful” that his party is bringing forth a “public wrath” and holding the long march to refute against policies of the government.
Subsequently, in an interview with a British newspaper, the Financial Times, Imran Khan reversed his stance on the cypher controversy, stating that he no longer “blamed” the US for the removal of his government in power, and asked for better relations with the US and Pakistan. He said that he blamed his “own governments” for the lack of a mutual relationship between both countries and defended his stance. He objected to the government’s claims and on 14 November, said that he had always wanted Pakistan to have cordial relations with other nations. He made known that his statements were being “misinterpreted” and that a “propaganda cell” was working against him. Imran Khan said: “What is the issue in this? When we say that we are moving forward, it means we want good relationships.” (“'Propaganda cell' twisting my remarks on foreign conspiracy: Imran,” The Express Tribune, 15 November 2022; Muhammad Anis, Mumtaz Alvi, “Imran Khan to pay politically for cipher U-turn: Khawaja Asif,” The News International, 15 November 2022; Mansoor Malik, “PTI chairman Imran Khan no longer blames US for his ouster, Dawn, 14 November 2022)