More purported audio clips of govt surface; PTI raises questions over security of PMO

Published September 25, 2022
<p>This combo photo shows Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (left), Finance Minister Miftah Ismail (middle) and PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz (right). — Photo courtesy: AFP/APP</p>

This combo photo shows Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (left), Finance Minister Miftah Ismail (middle) and PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz (right). — Photo courtesy: AFP/APP

In a turn of events straight out of a spy movie, more purported audio clips featuring leaders of the ruling coalition surfaced on Sunday as the opposition PTI questioned the security of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) while the government maintained that there was "nothing illegal" in the audio leaks.

Just a day earlier, an audio recording of an alleged conversation, purportedly between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a government official, was leaked on social media.

In the over two-minute-long audio clip, shared by PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry on his Twitter account, a voice — said to be that of PM Shehbaz — could be heard saying that Maryam Nawaz had asked him to facilitate her son-in-law Raheel with the import of machinery for a power plant, from India.

The clips which surfaced today, shared on Twitter by several PTI leaders, concerned embattled Finance Minister Miftah Ismail and the resignations of PTI lawmakers from the National Assembly.

The first clip purportedly features a conversation between PML-N Vice President Maryam and the premier about Miftah, who has reportedly faced criticism from within the party for taking tough economic measures.

The PML-N vice president has publicly stated that she does not agree with the decision to hike petrol and electricity prices, saying she did not own such decisions, whether her party was in government or not.

"He doesn't take responsibility [...] says strange things on TV which people make fun of him for [...] he doesn't know what he is doing," the voice said to be Maryam's says in the alleged clip.

"He clearly cut corners," the voice said to be PM Shehbaz's is heard as saying.

"Uncle, he doesn't know what he is doing," Maryam purportedly says, as she wishes for the return of PML-N stalwart Ishaq Dar.

Former finance minister Dar is set to return to the country next week to facilitate PM Shehbaz on the economic front.

The second clip allegedly concerns a conversation between the premier, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Law Minister Azam Tarar, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and former NA speaker Ayaz Sadiq about the resignations of PTI lawmakers from the lower house of parliament.

A third clip purportedly features a conversation between Maryam and PM Shehbaz regarding the return of former army chief retired Gen Pervez Mushar­raf.

The former military ruler’s family publicly confirmed in June that he was “going through a difficult stage" where recovery was not possible while Inter-Services Pub­lic Relations (ISPR) Director Gen­eral Maj Gen Babar Iftik­har said Mushar­raf's family was in contact with the military regarding his planned return.

Discussing this in the alleged clip, the voice alleged to be Maryam's can be heard saying that she "sees this coming", adding that she said the same to Nawaz in a phone call.

"I told him to tweet this. He listened to me immediately," the PML-N vice president allegedly says, adding that the move was "opposed" by several people. She allegedly reasons that showing "magnanimity" in this situation would help the government save face.

Hours after Gen Iftik­har's comments were aired in June, Nawaz had tweeted, saying: “I have no personal enmity or animosity towards Pervez Musharraf. I don’t want anyone else to suffer the trauma I have had to endure.”

According to a statement from the Ministry of Information, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the audio leaks were "proof that nothing illegal happened" and neither was any unfair advantage provided to anyone.

She said that there was nothing in the leaks that was similar to the "anti-Pakistan conspiracy of Shaukat Tarin", referring to the audio clips attributed to Tarin regarding the International Monetary Fund programme.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah appeared to play down the matter while speaking on Geo News show "Naya Pakistan", saying that nothing definitive could be said about the prime minister house’s security being breached until the leaks were investigated.

"I don't think we should take them so seriously since this is so common," he added.

“If the probe proves that it’s not safe to talk in the prime minister house and somebody has done this [spying] arrangement, then it’s really serious but it is inappropriate to say this without proof.”

Sanaullah did not reject the content of the audios, instead, saying that the current setup's "good governance" was reflected through them.

He also said that the prime minister had taken notice of the leaks and would consult his cabinet on the issue tomorrow, adding that the matter would be sorted out in the next few days.

On the leak where Maryam could allegedly be heard criticising the finance minister, the interior minister said expression of opinion was allowed in democratic and political systems, adding that Ismail was criticised by outsiders so it made no difference if Maryam or some others in the PML-N did so as well.

"What was wrong if Maryam said some of his decisions cost us politically."

Sanaullah also seemingly blamed the finance minister for the recent high fuel adjustment charges, asking why they couldn't have been spread over a period of months.

Govt taking the leaks 'very seriously': Talal

Meanwhile, PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry, who holds no official position, said the government was taking the leaks "very seriously" and demanded an investigation into it.

Addressing a press conference in Faisalabad, he questioned the violation of the secrecy of official correspondences, saying it was shocking to note that "even the PM House is not safe".

"Does it mean that details of all national security meetings will be leaked internationally?" he asked.

The PML-N leader also sought to expose the elements behind the leaks.

"Who is doing all this? who is targeting the PM House? Are these same elements who had brought Imran into power?" he questioned.

He said the leaks were also a matter of shame for the PTI chief, pointing out that "even our private discussions are in fact transparent and merit is being discussed in it".

The PML-N leader, however, did not question the authenticity of the audio at any point in his presser.

Fazl demands 'strict action'

Later, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also mentioned the leaks at a press conference in Multan and said the matter was "very concerning" which he said required "strict action".

"Today, audio calls of the Prime Minister House are surfacing, therefore I will urge the premier to take strict action and inquire as to who hacked the conversation," he said.

'PML-N's corruption exposed in the wake of audio leaks,' claims Imran

While the government maintained its silence on the matter on Sunday, PTI leaders were in overdrive questioning the PMO's security.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan, at a rally in Karak, chastised Maryam, alleging that "she is involved in corruption and illegal acts since coming into power."

He claimed that the incumbent coalition government was now trying to revive trade ties with India for its own mileage.

"The trade between the two countries hasn't resumed, but Maryam's son-in-law is illegally procuring machinery from India, which shows that they worship money," he said, while alleging the PML-N "will ignore the sacrifices of Kashmiris for money as well".

Imran said that the leaks had also made it clear that the "PML-N came into power only to make money" and claimed that its whole political dynasty was involved in corruption.

Soon after, the PML-N tweeted a response about the allegation regarding the grid station that was talked about in the leaked audio, saying that its installation order was given by the Lahore High Court in 2020 during the PTI's government.

Meanwhile, the information minister claimed that Imran had "become mad with anger because no illegal action was done". She criticised Imran's Karak address as being "shameless".

Earlier, PTI's Fawad Chaudhry said that the way the PMO data was offered up for sale on the dark web showed the state of the country's cybersecurity.

"This is a failure of our intelligence agencies, especially the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Obviously, apart from political issues, important discussions on security and foreign issues are now in everyone's hands," he remarked.

KP minister Taimur Khan Jhagra, who has also been a victim of an audio leak, said: "8GB of hacked leaks from PMO. Regardless of who is speaking, this Orwellian culture of recordings is disgusting."

Will someone answer under what law and who is taping the conversations of the political leadership, whether in the PMO or on the phone, he questioned. "And who is accountable for the security of this data?"

Ex-human rights minister Shireen Mazari said one of the alleged audios showed the laying down of groundwork for Dar's return.

"The leaked audios certainly reveal the influence of convict Nawaz Sharif and his convict-on-bail daughter in the running of this imported government itself a cabal of crooks," she said.

She went on to say that the "real issue" was who bugged the PMO or the Prime Minister House in the first place.

"The hacking happened because devices were placed in these locations. So who is responsible and where did orders or decision come from? That is a question that must also be focused on," she said.

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