What do a judge, a general, a cleric and a politician have in common?

Over the last five years, Pakistan seems to have developed a serious plumbing issue.
Published November 25, 2021

Over the last five years, Pakistan seems to have developed a serious plumbing issue. Every few months, a new leak threatens to decimate the status quo. Sometimes it's the politicians. Other times it's the judiciary or media. Even the nation's much-guarded 'guardians' have not been spared.

Here, Dawn.com recaps some of the biggest leaks to have shaken the proverbial system in recent times.

2016 & 2017

The leak that flooded the corridors of power

The Panama Papers — a trove of 11.5 million secret documents made public by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was the biggest jolt to Pakistan's political landscape in recent times.

Eight off-shore companies were reported to have links with the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, then chief minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif.

According to documents available on the ICIJ website, the prime minister's children Maryam, Hassan and Hussain “were owners or had the right to authorise transactions for several companies”.

The leaks breathed a new life into allegations of corruption that the Sharif family had long been haunted by.

Amid the aftershocks, then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif was convicted on the basis of financial information contained in the documents and forced to relinquish the premiership in 2017.

The 'rejected' leak

It would be amiss not to mention the Dawn story that garnered strong attention from both the military as well as the government, had the then information minister removed and led to the ISPR withdrawing a 'rejection' tweet.

In October 2016, Dawn published details of a high-level civil-military meeting discussing the issue of banned outfits operating in Pakistan — which basically quoted government officials warning the military leadership of international isolation if Pakistan failed to act against militants — leading to a series of events that came to be known as Dawn Leaks.

What followed was a huge hue-and-cry over the contents of the report with the Prime Minister's Office initially rejecting the story, but the military mounted pressure to demand a probe into the matter to determine those involved in disclosing the details of the meeting.

Subsequently, a committee was formed to identify the persons responsible for disclosing the details of the meeting to Cyril Almeida, who wrote the story.

The next year in 2017, the Prime Minister's Office issued directives based on the committee's recommendations, which too were 'leaked' to the media and — lest we forget — were rejected by the army's media wing within hours and unrejected within a span of two weeks.

Plenty of heads rolled — including that of information minister Pervaiz Rasheed, who was sacked as the government felt he should have told the newspaper not to publish it, as well as of Syed Tariq Fatemi who was removed as the special assistant on foreign affairs.


'A bigger crime: wanting to get married'

The year when everyone's attention was on the 2018 general elections started with reports of then-leading candidate Imran Khan's third marriage.

The News ran an article saying that Imran had most likely married a woman, whom he regarded as his spiritual leader, in a secret ceremony on January 1.

What followed was the PTI leaders first blasting the report as ridiculous, then clarifying that he had only proposed to Bushra Maneka, and then Imran himself saying "For 3 days I have been wondering have I looted a bank; or money laundered bns in nation's wealth; or ordered a model-town-like killing spree; or revealed state secrets to India? I have done none of these but discovered I have committed a bigger crime: wanting to get married."

The actual marriage announcement came in February via the party's spokesperson.

Controversy followed the couple in June when a shaky video of the two arriving at Pakpattan to pay their respects at Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar’s shrine went viral within hours of being made available on social media.

Many people on social media disapproved of his visit with several asking if he was visiting the shrine because of his wife’s religious beliefs. This disapproval was further ignited by Maryam Nawaz, who used her official Twitter account to retweet the video with an emoji (hand over mouth) — which was liked more than 1,000 times and shared as well.


Who is watching the watchdog?

Much-feared National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman Javed Iqbal was also embroiled in a controversy in 2019 after some audio and video clips — first aired by News Onesurfaced in which a male can be heard talking to a woman and making inappropriate remarks.

While the TV channel linked the male voice with the NAB chairman, the corruption watchdog vehemently denied the allegation, labelling it "the propaganda of a blackmailers' group".

For the "scoop", the channel was issued a show-cause notice by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

The anti-graft watchdog later filed a reference in an accountability court against the woman in the video, Tayyaba Gull.

Of the leaked and the 'immoral'

Exactly a year after an accountability court sentenced then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years imprisonment, Maryam Nawaz made startling claims about how the entire judicial process was allegedly severely compromised.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore, Maryam played a secretly recorded video that she claimed featured a conversation between Nasir Butt, a man she described as a loyal fan of her father, and Accountability Judge Arshad Malik, who had in December the year before sentenced Nawaz to seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference and acquitted him in the Flagship Investment case.

This became a double whammy because while judge Malik claimed that he had not sentenced the former premier under any duress, he revealed that there was another video — an “immoral” one — through which PML-N supporters were allegedly blackmailing him.

Subsequently, Judge Malik was removed from his post. After the video leak, Judge Malik lodged a complaint with the Federal Investigation Agency which arrested an accused namely Mian Tariq Mehmood on a charge of recording the “immoral video”.

Thus began the latest in a series of audio and video leaks that have left many a senior member of the judiciary red-faced (either because of anger or shame but depends on who you ask).


Hot and spicy Papa John's pizza

Journalist Ahmed Noorani's expose on the business interests of the family members of the then special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, in the US stirred up a storm in the corridors of power.

The report said Bajwa’s younger brothers opened their first Papa John’s pizza restaurant in 2002, the year he started working as a lieutenant colonel on the General Pervez Musharraf’s staff.

The reporting on the retired army officer's family businesses was believed to be aided by data leaks from the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

Though Bajwa fervently denied any wrongdoing, he did offer to resign from the post of SAPM (but not from CPEC chairman post which he also occupied at the time) — an offer that was declined by Prime Minister Imran and eventually accepted.

The government, however, initiated an inquiry against eight SECP officials who were believed to have leaked the data.


A Mufti's indiscretions

Though no stranger to controversy, Mufti Qavi's antics earned him the ire of religious clergy as well as his own family after a video of him being slapped in the face by Tik Toker Hareem Shah surfaced on social media in the beginning of the year.

Earlier in 2016, the cleric had remained a central figure in model Qandeel Baloch murder investigation.

This time though, the cleric's family put their foot down, saying his actions had tarnished their reputation and that they had therefore restricted his movement and isolated him in his house.

Fake intimacy

PML-N leader and former Sindh governor Mohammad Zubair became the target of a leak when a video, allegedly showing him getting intimate with an unidentified woman, emerged in late September.

Zubair was quick to term the video "fake and doctored", adding that this was a "new low" in politics. He had also reportedly hinted at conducting a forensic audit of the said video, but nothing has been reported since.

The Pandora's box that wasn't

A sequel to the Panama Papers, the Pandora Papers promised more revelations into the workings of the uber rich and powerful. Unlike its predecessor — the Panama papers — however, it failed to capture the public's attention even though the documents included a list of 700 Pakistani owners of companies registered in known tax heavens.

The 700 Pakistanis featured in the documents included prominent members of Prime Minister Imran's own inner circle. Some of the more prominent ones were Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Senator Faisal Vawda, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, Ishaq Dar’s son, PPP’s Sharjeel Memon, the family of PTI's Khusro Bakhtiar, PTI leader Abdul Aleem Khan and Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh, ​among others.

The list also included the names of several media moguls like Jang Group publisher Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Dawn Media Group CEO Hameed Haroon, Express Media Group publisher Sultan Ahmed Lakhani, Pakistan Today publisher (late) Arif Nizami and The Gourmet Group, which also owns the GNN TV channel.

What followed was the usual set of clarifications and whodunnit as well as the formation of "a high-powered cell" to investigate if any irregularity had been committed by the Pakistanis named, but no concrete action has been seen against any of the individuals so far.

Whose voice is it anyway?

The year might be coming to an end but the leaks aren't; and this time in the spotlight is the blustering former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar.

First came an affidavit — notarised in the UK — by former chief justice of Gilgit Baltistan Rana Shamim claiming that Nisar had influenced the judicial proceedings to prolong the detention of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam following their conviction in the Avenfield apartments reference.

While Pakistanis waited for more to be revealed during the ongoing Islamabad High Court hearings on the matter, another bombshell dropped in only one more week: an audio clip.

In the said audio — examined by a US firm — Nisar can purportedly be heard saying that Nawaz and his daughter were being convicted and jailed on the instructions of "institutions" to pave the way for Imran Khan to come into power.

Nisar has termed both the clip as well as the affidavit "fabricated"; however, he has not approached the courts for redressal.

While the courts have yet to take cognisance of the audio recording, it remains to be seen what repercussions — if any — it would have on the judiciary and the cases against the PML-N leadership.

Script reversed for Maryam

Only days after Saqib Nisar's alleged audio clip surfaced and was being played up for the court of public opinion by the PML-N, another audio clip — this time of Maryam Nawaz — emerged in which the PML-N leader could be heard issuing instructions to refuse advertisements to certain TV channels.

PTI leaders, including Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, quickly went on the offensive with this latest leak.

While the PTI cadres, until a day ago, were going to great lengths to convince people how easy it was to manipulate audio recordings and why one mustn't trust the veracity of such clips in the digital age, they quickly announced an inquiry into how Maryam had used her father's position (as prime minister) to influence the media through advertisements based on her leaked audio clip.

On this list of leaks, she's the only who has so far owned up to the voice being hers, maintaining that she was heading the party's media cell at the time and was referring to the party's advertisements in the clip.

Given how 2021 has unfolded and with one more month to go, it wouldn't be far-fetched to say that the possibility of more damaging leaks might be in the offing.