Pakistan’s ex-foreign minister Qureshi arrested under Official Secrets Act

Islamabad: Pakistan’s former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a close aide of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, has been arrested from his house here under the Official Secrets Act in connection with the leakage of a confidential diplomatic cable. Qureshi, 67, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s Vice Chairman, was arrested on Saturday night and taken to the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) headquarters soon after he demanded that a level playing field be provided to the embattled party during the upcoming general elections.

Qureshi, a two-time foreign minister, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act for violating the secrecy of the official cable sent by the Pakistani embassy in the US to the foreign office when he was the foreign minister.

On Sunday, Qureshi appeared in a sessions court, which granted the FIA a day’s remand of the PTI senior leader in the cipher case.

Judicial Magistrate Ehtisham Alam Khan issued the orders, asking the body to produce him before the court on Monday.

“I have not shared any such document with any unrelated person,” Qureshi said while talking to the media before being sent on remand.

Qureshi said no secret code of Pakistan has been compromised. He spoke about proving his responsibility and has “acted responsibly”. “This is a politically motivated case,” he added.

Former premier Khan has for long mentioned the missing cable as evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” to remove him as the prime minister in April last year.

A first information report (FIR) registered against Qureshi by the FIA refers to the matter and invokes Sections 5 (wrongful communication of information) and 9 (attempt to commit or abet the commission of an offence under this Secrets Act) of the Official Secrets Act read with Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The development came only two days after PTI chief Khan was named in an FIR registered by the FIA under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1923 in the case.

“PTI vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been illegally arrested once again,” the PTI said in social media post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Qureshi was foreign minister when the issue of the diplomatic cable erupted.

Meanwhile, Geo News reported on Sunday that another senior leader of Khan’s party, Asad Umar, has been arrested from Islamabad in the cipher case.

Umar has been a close aide of Khan and formerly held the post of the party’s general secretary. However, following his arrest during the May 9 riots, in which PTI workers attacked government and military installations, he stepped down from his party positions.

The purported cipher (secret diplomatic cable) contained an account of a meeting between US State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Pakistani envoy Asad Majeed Khan last year.

PTI General Secretary Omar Ayub said that Qureshi was arrested shortly after reaching home after addressing a press conference.

“Had hoped that the reign of lawlessness would have ended after the exit of the fascist PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) government, but it appears that this caretaker government wants to break the records of their predecessor fascist government,” Ayub said.

Interim Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said on Geo News that the former foreign minister had been taken into custody in connection with the cipher case.

“He (Qureshi) is nominated in the case and will soon be presented in the court,” Bugti said, adding, “We have to enforce the law and all those nominated in the cipher case will be arrested and presented in court.” Addressing a news conference minutes before his arrest, Qureshi had rejected media reports about a split in the party and also demanded elections on time. He also said in the presser that he had recently met foreign ambassadors recently.

“Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar has said that he will ensure transparent elections. I would ask him how he will do so in such an environment. I would request the CJP and ECP to take notice and ensure level playing field for PTI,” he said.

Qureshi also said that it was unfortunate that his party leaders were being arrested and then released after an announcement that they want to part ways with the party.

“Our Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi has once again been arrested for doing a press conference and reaffirming PTI stance against all tyranny and pre-poll rigging that is going on currently in Pakistan,” PTI leader Zulfi Bokhari said on X, formerly Twitter.

Qureshi was also arrested on May 11 and released on June 6.

Of late, Khan has come under increased scrutiny following the publication of a purported copy of the secret cable by the US media outlet The Intercept, with many in the previous government led by Shehbaz Sharif pointing fingers at the PTI chief for being the source of the leak.

Former interior minister Rana Sanaullah has said that if Khan had indeed lost the copy of the cable provided to him, it would constitute a crime under the Official Secrets Act.

Khan, 70, is currently serving a three-year jail term after he was sentenced by a court in a corruption case earlier this month.

The former cricketer-turned-politician-led government was ousted through a no-confidence vote in April 2022.