Leaked audios stir up political firestorm

Ministers insist leaks point to no wrongdoing; PM may order inquiry on return from London


Rizwan Shehzad & Rameez Khan September 25, 2022

ISLAMABAD/ LAHORE:

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and key members of his party and family became the centre of attention on Sunday after audio recordings purportedly of their conversation surfaced on social media.

The audios drew sharp criticism from the opposition, which expressed concerns over the security of the Prime Minister Office (PMO). However, several government ministers insisted that the audios pointed to no wrongdoing.

Soon after the audios surfaced, there was a storm on social media, many bashing the government and expressing shock at the way sensitive audios had purportedly leaked from the PMO. Also several TV channels also splashed their screens with the leaks.

By Sunday night, the government didn’t order any inquiry into the leaks, however, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb told The Express Tribune that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would look into it and might order an inquiry on his return from London.

“The decision to hold an inquiry into the audio leaks will be taken by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif once he returns to Pakistan,” the government’s spokesperson said via phone from London, without denying the authenticity of the leaked audios.

Reiterating that no inquiry had thus far been ordered by the prime minister, Aurangzeb said that the audio leaks were a proof of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) policy of promoting merit.

“Nowhere in those audio was anyone talking about diamonds and gifts,” the Information minister quipped. Another cabinet member, while speaking on condition of anonymity, also said that there was nothing controversial in the audio from the ruling party’s perspective.

For a long time, successive governments have been embroiled in audio and video leak scandals but there has never been a comprehensive inquiry into any such incident. On every occasion, the truth lay somewhere between the allegations and denials.

In the latest audio leaks, a voice, purported to be of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, informed “a government official” about Maryam Nawaz looking to import machinery from India for a power plant, on the request of her son-in-law Raheel.

A media report about the audio stated that “the official” was apprised that half of the machinery had already arrived.

It added that the purported officer could be heard saying that this was a matter of “grave concern” as being a relative of the prime minister, the issue could “wreak havoc if it comes to the knowledge of the ECC (Economic Coordination Committee) and then of the cabinet”.

The voice thought to be of Shehbaz responded by saying that he would talk to Maryam himself after his return from Turkey, to which the purported official suggested leaving the matter to former finance minister Ishaq Dar.

In the two-minute long clip, the two voices also discuss Maryam’s request for a grid station for a housing society belonging to Raheel, to which the voice, stated to be of Shehbaz, said this “can be executed routinely as it is a fairly common practice”.

A second leaked audio clip that surfaced was purportedly between the federal cabinet members discussing about the resignation of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers and seeking the final approval on the resignations issue from London.

The conversation purportedly took place between Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Law Minister Azam Tarar and former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq, and others.

In the third clip, a voice, said to be of Maryam Nawaz, is heard purportedly telling Prime Minister Shehbaz that she was grateful for the support of someone who had been publicising as well as gatekeeping news from the public as per her demand.

Moreover, the voice can be heard lambasting ex-finance minister Miftah Ismail, who had already been at the receiving end of ample criticism due to some of his decisions regarding the country’s economic situation.

The cabinet member, who spoke to The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity, also said that the one audio, where leaders purportedly could be heard talking about a suitable moment for accepting resignations of only a few PTI lawmakers, was to sketch out a strategy to deal with the PTI’s decision to resign en masse.

Obviously from a spectator’s perspective, he said, it seems that the PML-N leaders were trying to tamper with the assembly procedures but, in fact, it was not the case. Being members of a political party, he said, it was well within their right to decide what was best for them.

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