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Explained: What's the 'cypher controversy' roiling Pakistan politics? Here's what you should know

explained:-what's-the-'cypher-controversy' roiling-pakistan-politics?-here's-what-you-should-know

‘Cypher’ is a keyword in Pakistan politics now. The term that evokes images of secret diplomatic and intelligence communications crept its way into the South Asian country’s daily news terminology after claims from former prime minister Imran Khan about a conspiracy to oust him. He was indeed removed from office, but his oft-repeated references to a ‘cypher’ has led to a controversy that refuses to die down. 

The latest development is that a former diplomat on Sunday questioned the federal cabinet’s decision to reevaluate the cypher’s details in a cabinet report.

The ‘cypher controversy’ escalated in the wake of recent audio leaks of several political leaders, including that of Khan. 

The diplomat in conversation with The Express Tribune said, “By revealing the date and number and stating that it was annexed with the summary, an impression arises that the whole cabinet has read it and thus violated the secrets act.” 

“Even citing cypher No and date is a violation of the official secret act,” the ex-diplomat said.

Also read | Pakistan court drops contempt of court case against ex-PM Khan

So what exactly is a cypher?

Simply put, cypher is a secret, restricted diplomatic communication written in some kind of code language, with a specif number and date assigned to it. Deeply encrypted and difficult to decode, a cypher is divided as per its grade. There are two grades for circulation; grade I and grade II. The first grade has limited circulation in comparison to the second one. Cypher details are machine-generated as per the distribution list unless it has been specified by a dignified person. 

The original copy is kept at the Foreign Office and making copies is against the law. 

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The controversy about cyphers revived last week when the current government charged Imran Khan with violating his oath as a prime minister by providing false information on a diplomatic cypher for his political gains. This controversy surfaced when the former PM accused a US diplomat of threatening a Pakistani diplomat, the latter being informed about this through a cypher. 

Last week, two audio recordings of Imran Khan, along with his secretary and cabinet ministers, allegedly discussing how to play up the cypher issue went viral on social media. After the leak of the first audio, Khan said that it was good that this audio got leaked and he wanted the cypher to also get leaked. 

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The Shehbaz Sharif administration on Friday noted that a copy of the cypher was missing from the PM’s house. 

However, the former diplomat said that the prime mover cannot be held responsible for it, as he doesn’t keep the cypher nor do the filing. The cypher is kept in the principal secretary’s office, where several others keep an eye on secret communication. 

When asked about what happens if the cypher goes missing, a renowned attorney said that it cannot be specially stated.

In Pakistan, leaked audio and video calls have troubled the ruling government, but there has never been a thorough investigation into this to accept or deny the claims. Will this be repeated?

(With inputs from agencies)

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