Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday vowed to hold his predecessor and PTI chief Imran Khan accountable before the law for putting national security at stake by “manipulating” diplomatic cypher. In a hard-hitting statement issued by the PM Office on Monday, PM Shehbaz accused the deposed premier of running a smear campaign against the state institutions. The prime minister said the recent purported audio leaks have exposed Imran’s plot to ‘play’ on the cypher for political gains. “Being popular does not mean one is exempted from the law. Law is equal for all,” he said in an apparent reference to Imran Khan. He added that the audio leaks on cypher have exposed the truth about a serious conspiracy “hatched by Imran Khan” against the interests of Pakistan. “The thieves were caught red-handed and are now struggling to evade the law by indulging in defamation of the state institutions.” The statement came a day after the federal cabinet gave its go-ahead to initiate legal action against ousted PM Imran, his key cabinet ministers and his principal secretary Azam Khan in connection with the audio leaks where the former rulers discussed how to “play on the cypher”. The approval came on the recommendation of a committee which was formed by the cabinet on Friday to deliberate and recommend actions regarding the conversation “available on the internet regarding the Cypher Message received from Parep Washington (Cypher No. I-0678 dated 7th March 2022) (Annex-I)”. On Saturday, the committee recommended that “it is a matter of national security, which is/was prejudicial to national interest and needs legal action”. Therefore, it added, “the apex investigation agency [FIA] may be directed to inquire into the matter by constituting a team of senior officers, which may co-opt officers/officials from other intelligence agencies for the purpose, and to proceed further against the perpetrators in accordance with the law”. Following the recommendations, the cabinet gave its nod to the investigation and legal action against Imran, Azam Khan, and the relevant former ministers through the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).