Spy games

Published October 2, 2022

THE recordings leaked online over the past week may have given us a rare peek into the behind-the-scenes machinations of our political leaders, but it must also be acknowledged that there is something decidedly sinister about the way the affair is playing out.

Be it the conversations between former prime minister Imran Khan and his confidants on the ‘Cablegate’ affair or the various conversations between the incumbent, Shehbaz Sharif, and his inner circle — the leaks ‘expose’ both sets of civilian leaders as two-faced and untrustworthy. They are clearly not the work of an external party that is — one hesitates to use the word — neutral or unfamiliar with the subtleties of Pakistani politics.

Rather, the audios leaked so far appear to have been carefully curated: they apply pressure but do not do major damage. Rather than being explosive or sensational, they seem to be warning that the leaker or leakers are in possession of kompromat on both sides and will go public with it if need be.

Editorial: After cipher audio leak, it's clear that PMO has been under illegal surveillance for long

After the leak of his second conversation on the Cablegate matter, former prime minister Imran Khan has directly asked the country’s security establishment who is responsible. It is a pertinent question — and one that the incumbent government itself ought to be asking publicly as well. It is strange that the current occupants of the Prime Minister’s Office have so quickly moved on from the embarrassment caused by their own leaked conversations.

Rather than sharing the result of whatever the investigation into the incident has uncovered so far, they have hushed up the matter after announcing token measures for ‘enhanced security’. The government should not need to be repeatedly reminded that the public deserves to know who dared to so brazenly spy on two successive prime ministers as if they were enemy targets and not elected representatives of the Pakistani people.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had said shortly after the first few leaks began circulating that they should not be a major concern if some mobile phones had been hacked. The attitude suggests he is neither qualified nor fit to be leading the committee probing the matter. Mobile phone hacking is not ‘simple’ and certainly not something that ought to be brushed aside. It requires resources at a level only government agencies usually have. The interior minister’s attitude suggests that he believes it to be common practice: this is highly alarming and ought to be looked into immediately.

No Pakistani citizen, let alone a leader, should be the subject of an illegal hacking, bugging or spying operation. Surveillance of any individual should only be done after formal authorisation by a competent authority — that too only when there is incontrovertible evidence of their involvement in hostile activity. The vast powers held by the country’s security apparatus should not be abused with impunity, as the interior minister suggests they are.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2022

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