PTI Secretary General Asad Umar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Finance Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra on Monday defended and all but acknowledged the authenticity of the audio leaks attributed to PTI Senator Shaukat Tarin regarding the crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme
Umar said there was “nothing wrong” in the leaked conversations and that Tarin, in the leaked conversations, was merely giving “advice” to PTI’s provincial finance ministers to ask the federal government to renegotiate with the IMF — something he claimed was necessary in light of the devastations caused by the floods.
Earlier on Monday, two audio clips surfaced via TV channels and social media; in one, the man said to be Tarin can be heard guiding Punjab Finance Minister Mohsin Leghari to tell the federal government and the IMF that he would not be able to commit to a provincial budget surplus in light of the recent floods that have wreaked havoc in Pakistan.
“We only wanted the provincial finance minister to write to the federal government so “pressure falls on these b******* … they’re jailing us, filing terrorism charges against us and they’re going away completely scot-free. We can’t allow this to happen,” the voice purportedly that of Tarin’s is heard telling Leghari.
Leghari — who unlike Jhagra has yet to confirm or deny if the audio is genuine — asks Tarin whether the activity would hurt the state, to which Tarin responds: “Well … frankly speaking, isn’t the state suffering the way they are treating your chairman and everybody else? This will definitely happen that the IMF will ask ‘where will you arrange the money from’ and they (the government) will bring another mini-budget.”
Tarin further says that it could not be allowed that “they mistreat us and we stand on one side and they blackmail us in the name of the state and ask for help and we keep helping them.”
Later in the leaked conversation, Tarin tells Leghari that the mechanism of the information’s release to the public would be decided later.
“We will do something so it doesn’t seem we are hurting the state but we should at least present the facts that you won’t be able to give [budget surplus] so our commitment is zero.”
In the other audio, Tarin can be heard asking Jhagra whether he had drawn up a similar letter.
“[The IMF commitment] is a blackmailing tactic and no one will release money anyway. I won’t release them, I don’t know about Leghari,” says the man, alleged to be Jhagra.
Tarin says the letter, once drafted, would also be sent to the IMF representative so “these b******* know that the money they were forcing us into giving will be kept by us”.
PTI senior leader Shireen Mazari was the first to acknowledge the audio clips, saying there was “nothing illegal or wrong” in the conversations. “We have publicly opposed the terms on which the imported govt is taking loan from IMF.”
“But what is illegal is the wire tapping done on conversation without court order. A criminal offence,” she tweeted.
‘Nothing wrong’ in leaked conversations: Asad Umar
On Friday, Jhagra had written a letter to Finance Minister Miftah Ismail just three days ahead of the IMF executive board’s meeting scheduled for Aug 29 (today) to approve the disbursement of a $1.18 billion tranche to Pakistan under a bailout package. In the letter, Jhagra informed Ismail that his KP administration might find it difficult to run a provincial surplus this year in view of flood-related damages.
In the press conference following the leaks, Jhagra explained the context and leadup of events to writing his letter, saying it was related to ex-Fata funding and other issues such as funds for tribal districts.
He said Finance Minister Miftah Ismail had kept delaying meetings with him on the issue of. Jhagra said that KP and ex-Fata were also parts of Pakistan and that he would keep defending their rights.
The KP finance minister said he “owned” the letter since it was written “in the interests of our people and Pakistan”.
Meanwhile, Umar derided the government for “cutting, pasting and editing” audio and videos. Referring to the alleged audio content, He said Tarin had asked both provincial finance ministers to request the federal government to renegotiate the IMF agreement due to the recent floods as the expenses required for relief operations would make achieving a provincial surplus difficult.
“Can anyone say this isn’t good advice?” Umar questioned, adding that former prime minister Imran Khan had done something similar and negotiated with the IMF when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
All but confirming the authenticity of Tarin’s remarks, Umar asked if Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also not requesting foreign organisations and other countries for help the country with aid in following the devastation caused by the floods. “Tell me if you are asking money from foreign governments, then why can’t you ask the IMF to give us space this year to use our money for flood-related expenses,” he questioned.
Umar recalled the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s strategy when it was in the opposition under the PTI government’s tenure, and accused it of acting against the state’s interest and international commitments by voting and speaking out against legislation related to the Financial Action Force and IMF agreement.
He said that Tarin, as a former finance minister, had every right to “give advice” to Jhagra and Leghari. “There is nothing wrong in Tarin speaking to Jhagra and Leghari on phone and giving advice.”
Umar said Jhagra’s letter was the result of advice given by Tarin. “If Jhagra felt that there was something wrong in it, then he would not have brought himself before the nation,” he added.
Umar sidestepped the question when asked to confirm the audio’s veracity and whether the party was owning it, simply saying that the “end result” was Jhagra’s letter.
In one of the leaks, a voice — purportedly of Leghari — can be heard asking Tarin if the letter he was being asked to pen would be anti-state. When asked about this portion of the audio, Umar said: “Shaukat Tarin can better explain it himself [but] he was asked if this was anti-state or not. He did not say, ‘Yes, this is anti-state and we have to do it anyway.’ He did not say this.”
While Jhagra has addressed the leak involving him and Tarin, Leghari has yet to confirm or deny if the person in the other audio is him.