Highly damaging leaks

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THE decision of the Government to probe the highly damaging audio leaks of the Prime Minister Office (PMO) is logical and one hopes the investigation into this mega scandal would be carried out in a professional and completely transparent manner to reach to the bottom of the controversy.

According to Interior Minister, Rana Sanaullah, taking serious notice of the security breach of unprecedented nature, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered an inquiry and representatives of all security agencies would form part of the investigation team.

He, however, innocently claimed that there was nothing to worry about phone-tapping as it was common in the world and that the leaks portray a better image of the Government about governance and fair-play.

Hopefully, the investigation would reveal how conversations of the PM Office including those of the chief executive of the country were tapped, who was behind this sordid conspiracy and how the recorded material found its way to the so-called dark web where it is allegedly on sale.

Phone-tapping is not uncommon and as an Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah must be fully aware and that is why he says it is done all over the world.

True, it is a long running practice of the secret agencies of almost all countries to spy on top officials and this penetration goes right to the bed-rooms of these officials in some cases.

However, agencies do it to safeguard security and economic interests of the state and the recorded material is neither sold nor handed over to the political opponents for the sake of blackmailing.

In this backdrop, one wonders what prompted the Interior Minister to view it a matter of routine when it is an extraordinary incident.

Ostensibly, the Minister is confining himself to the political side of the issue as the leaked material points to no wrongdoing of the government officials but it is not as simple as this.

Some claims suggest the recorded material runs into hundred hours and includes audios of both the incumbent and the previous Prime Minister.

For the time being, no one knows for sure whether it was phone tapping, bugging or hacking but the magnitude of the scandal and availability of the material on the dark web for sale is a matter of national shame and embarrassment.

While the Government can entertain self-consoling as the material so far released is not dangerous for it politically and instead points to the reality that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif believes in transparency and rule of law, it should be a matter for concern for relevant agencies and officials as the leaks have the potential to shatter the confidence and trust of the world leaders, who might show reluctance in having a heart-to-heart talk with their Pakistan interlocutors, especially during their visit to Pakistan for fears of being bugged and then taped material released.

It is also agonizing to think that if the security of the top office of the land is compromised then what about ministries like foreign affairs, planning and finance, even if we exclude the ministry of defence, which seems to be in safe hands.

The scandal also reflects poorly on the performance of all those who are responsible for the security of the PM Office.

There must be thorough professionals and an elaborate protocol to ensure security of the highest office and, therefore, leaks assume greater significance.

As for the contents of the leaks, these are immaterial but one should give credit to the Prime Minister for not entertaining the idea of giving any undue favour even to a close family member.

The import of a power plant from India by the son-in-law of Maryam Nawaz loses its relevance even for the opposition as the policy for the purpose was devised by the PTI Government and half of the plant machinery was imported in 2020.

The leaked conversion confirmed that the Prime Minister accepted the advice rendered by his Principal Secretary not to give special permission for import of the remaining half.

Similarly, issues like resignations of the PTI members and performance of Miftah Ismail are routinely discussed by ruling parties and, therefore, are not worrisome.

But who knows whether or not highly sensitive conversations have not been taped/hacked and might already have fallen into the hands of our enemies.

Pegasus spyware developed by an Israeli company has been making headlines for months as this ‘hacker for hire’ company provided services to intelligence agencies and governments around the world for spying on rivals.

We have, therefore, to look at all aspects of the scandal to arrive at true conclusions. The investigations should not be confined to how it happened but there should be sound recommendations to prevent its recurrence in future.

We have the demonstrated capability of ensuring physical and invisible security of our nuclear assets and programme and there is no reason we can’t ensure security of conversation at important offices.

 

 

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