KARACHI: Leaked video footage of the prime minister’s meeting with the army chief at PM House on Tuesday has raised eyebrows because of its rare audio content and timing of release.

News TV channels aired the footage in which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in an apparent one-on-one meeting with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif can be heard telling him that a “date has been given”.

Although the sound is not clearly audible and the chief’s response is unclear, one TV journalist quoted the general as saying, “You [Nawaz] have to reach there before that date”.

While such high-level meetings between the civil-military leadership are routinely recorded by the state TV crew on camera, the audio is always muted.

A former news in-charge at Pakistan Television (PTV) explains how it is done: “According to standard protocol, the audio should be on mute. At times it happens that a general sound is captured by the camera microphone. Even then, when it is being broadcast on PTV it is always put on mute.”

He said the footage is recorded by a PTV cameraman or the crew member assigned to cover functions at PM House, but the audio is not recorded.

The timing of the video release raises alarm because it was broadcast soon after “unnamed sources” told reporters in a selective leak that the army chief had conveyed a ‘pointed’ message to PM Sharif, asking him to resolve the Panama Papers issue at the earliest.

“Gen Sharif believes that the issue is causing instability and insecurity,” a source had said.

A PM Office statement swiftly denied that any message about the offshore entity scandal had been conveyed, and asked the media to “avoid speculation/flashing of news pertaining to unrelated issues and obtained through sources”.

The statement emphasised that the meeting had discussed issues pertaining to national and internal security.

Asif’s reasoning

Speaking to Geo News later on Tuesday evening, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif too denied that the Panama Papers issue came under discussion.

“Whichever media channel or journalist has leaked it, was he in the meeting?” he asked. “It was a one-on-one meeting; who was the third person getting these details? Panama leaks is a political issue that is already dying.”

The video as well as the unofficial comments coming from the army chief and the premier’s meeting add weight to speculation about the civil-military friction over the issue of accountability.

The Panamagate erupted last month after it named Nawaz Sharif’s children among those holding offshore financial assets. Although the Panama documents had disclosed offshore companies of several politicians, the opposition has been demanding that the probe should start with the prime minister’s family.

The government and the opposition have separately proposed their terms of reference for a judicial inquiry. Differences between the two sides over how the probe should proceed are preventing the start of the inquiry.

Coincidentally, the Panamagate un­­folded as Mr Sharif’s government was embroiled in a controversy with the military over the start of a counterterrorism operation in Punjab. The government had initially resisted authorising a military-led operation in the province, which the army unilaterally started after the Easter Day bombing in a Lahore park. Later the army settled for a coordination mechanism at the level of the provincial government.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2016