‘A serious lapse’: PM Shehbaz to form high-level panel to probe audio leaks

Published September 27, 2022
<p>Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and ministers at a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — PID</p>

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and ministers at a press conference in Islamabad on Tuesday. — PID

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday termed the surfacing of audio leaks featuring candid conversations between key figures in the coalition government was a “very serious lapse” as he announced that a high-level committee would be constituted to probe the matter.

The premier made these remarks alongside other federal cabinet members at a news conference in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Responding to a question regarding the audio leaks, he said that such security breaches were a “big question mark”.

“Who will come to meet the prime minister at the PM House now? Be it a sympathiser or a friend, they will think 100 times before talking. This is about the respect of 220 million people of the country.

“I am taking notice of this and a committee will be formed and reach the depth of this matter,” PM Shehbaz said.

Audio recordings of conversations between key government figures — including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz and some members of the federal cabinet — discussing governance matters privately surfaced over the weekend, prompting concerns over the security of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

On Saturday, a recording of PM Shehbaz surfaced where he could be heard speaking with an unidentified official about the possibility of facilitating the import of Indian machinery for a power project that was a concern of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, Raheel.

Responding to the matter today, the prime minister said that Maryam never talked to him about any favours or her son-in-law.

“Dr Tauqeer spoke to me about it and said half of the machinery was imported during the PTI tenure. I don’t know what amount was spent and how much loss they will have to bear if half the machinery is left. Dr Tauqeer told me that the provision is banned and it will have to be taken to the ECC (Economic Coordination Committee).”

Shehbaz went on that he didn’t find it appropriate to take the matter to the cabinet. “I said I will convey this to my daughter [Maryam]. Now tell me what is wrong with this?”

He said that previously several audios relating to PTI chief Imran Khan were leaked but no questions were raised on that. “Have you heard the conversation about diamonds? About the piece of land that was given to them as a gift. You don’t talk about it but you are discussing this matter.”

Imran Niazi, Shehbaz went on to allege, brutally used “his force” to target opponents.

“He called [ex-FIA DG] Bashir Memon to his office and asked him to file cases against his rivals. This is on record. Did I amend the policy, there is no question about it. You must do justice. I will apologise to the nation if I did something wrong.”

Imran also sold the Toshakhana gifts, why aren’t those audios being leaked, the PM asked. “The audios on the increase in sugar prices should surface […] this is a billion-rupee scam.

“Imran said he will form a commission. Was anyone caught, was anyone punished? Billions of dollars from Pakistan were wasted,” the prime minister pointed out, claiming that Imran’s “corruption is a long saga”.

Shehbaz said that Imran did not spare any opportunity in “dividing the army and institutions”, highlighting that the PTI chief was creating polarisation which could take the country towards destruction.

“This is an alarm bell. This man is a risk to the country.”

Army chief’s appointment

Responding to a question about the army chief’s appointment, which is due in November, Shehbaz stressed that the “law and Constitution” had to be followed and “everyone is going to follow it”.

In the past few days, Imran has lambasted the coalition government for trying to “appoint an army chief of their choice” in November to save their skin in corruption cases.

“They want to bring their own army chief… they are afraid that if a strong and patriotic army chief is appointed then he would ask them about the looted wealth,” the PTI chief had said at a rally in Faisalabad earlier this month.

Imran had also called out the incumbent government for consulting an “absconder” and “convict” — Nawaz Sharif — for the crucial decision, claiming that it was against the Constitution.

At the press conference today, Shehbaz asked: “Did Imran consult us before giving an extension to the army chief?”

He also said that he didn’t see anything wrong in consulting Nawaz. “What’s the point of criticising my talks with Nawaz? He is my leader and I discussed Pakistan issues with him,” he asserted.

Responding to another question regarding purported secret meetings between the army chief and Imran, PM Shehbaz said that he doesn’t get time to look into matters other than the economy.

“I am surrounded by [affairs of] the economy and IMF (International Monetary Fund)-related matters. Institutions are working, and I tell them to work under the ambit of the law.”

He also stated that there was “no threat” to the country, adding that the elections would be held on time.

Ishaq Dar’s return

Talking about the return of senior PML-N leader Ishaq Dar, Shehbaz said that the politician was a “hardworking and capable” man.

A few hours before the premier’s press conference, Dar was sworn in as a senator and is set to take over the finance ministry. Earlier today, Miftah Ismail tendered his resignation to pave way for Dar.

Referring to the transition today, Shehbaz said that Dar was an honest politician. “He will work diligently and play his role in making this situation better.”

He said that Miftah’s services for the country were commendable as he saved Pakistan from default.

“Miftah is an honourable party member and he wanted to resign. We allowed him to do so and we told him we will ask for his services in other areas too.”

‘Pakistan out of isolation’

At the outset of the press conference, the prime minister said that Pakistan was out of the isolation it was previously pushed in because of the “bad decisions” and foreign policy of the PTI government.

“It was teamwork and everyone helped me in this. Pakistan has come out of isolation due to this coalition government. The last government affected our foreign policy and upset our friendly countries.

“The ex-prime minister thought he was everything and he would think himself to be Einstein. That approach hurt Pakistan a lot,” the premier highlighted.

However, he said that the incumbent government has steered the country out of isolation and “is holding respectable conversations with countries now”.

Briefing the media about his meetings at the United Nations General Assembly, Shehbaz said that he talked about the flood devastation in Pakistan.

“I told all world leaders about these losses. I thanked President Biden for his support and he assured me of all possible cooperation.”

He said that he presented the Kashmir stance assertively and discussed other important issues concerning Islamophobia and Palestine.

“I also took part in the reception of King Charles and he expressed best wishes for the people of Pakistan. He said he was about to visit Pakistan but due to responsibilities, he postponed it. I told him about floods. He announced 15m pounds for flood victims. I also met Lizz Truss and other former British PMs. I had a good discussion with all of them,” Shehbaz said.

PTI calls for Shehbaz’s disqualification

After the prime minister’s press conference, several PTI leaders took to Twitter and said that Shehbaz had “confirmed his conversation in the audio leaks”, as they called for the Election Commission of Pakistan to initiate proceedings against him.

PTI general-secretary Asad Umar said that the nexus between PML-N and the chief election commissioner had now been exposed. “Now what is the justification for the CEC to stay on the post?’

In a tweet, he called for legal action to be taken against Shehbaz and the ministers who are involved in collusion with the electoral watchdog.

Former federal minister Fawad Chaudhry said that after Shehbaz’s press conference, “there is no need for further investigation”.

“The ECP should immediately send a reference to the election tribunal for his [Shehbaz’s] disqualification,” he tweeted.

PTI leader Shahbaz Gill also called for the prime minister’s disqualification under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, former human rights minister Shireen Mazari said that the prime minister had violated the Official Secrets Act by consulting Nawaz Sharif regarding the appointment of the army chief.

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