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Mystery Around Audio Leaks from Pakistan PM’s Office Deepens

FILE - Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, center, speaks during a rally in Islamabad, May 26, 2022.
FILE - Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan, center, speaks during a rally in Islamabad, May 26, 2022.

Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, has condemned the recent audio leaks of conversations from his time in office and those of incumbent Shahbaz Sharif, seeking a judicial probe into what he calls “a serious breach of national security.”

Multiple audio clips have hit social media platforms over the past few weeks in which Prime Minister Sharif and his predecessor Khan could be heard discussing official matters with their ministers or close aides.

The conversations were purportedly recorded in the prime minister’s office and official residence.

“We intend to go to Court to establish authenticity of Leaks & then form JIT (Joint Investigation Team) to investigate which Intel agency is responsible for the bugging & who is leaking out the audios many of which are edited/doctored,” Khan tweeted Monday.

“This is critical because sensitive security issues are & have been illegally recorded & subsequently hacked, implying confidentiality of Pakistan's national security has been exposed globally,” lamented the former prime minister.

Sharif himself has called the leaks a “very serious (security) lapse” and formed a high-level committee about two weeks ago, led by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, to investigate the incident.

Officials have not shared any information about the status of the probe or its outcomes.

However, Khan and his opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have rejected the government-led investigation, calling into question its impartiality and fearing political victimization. They also allege that the Sharif-led coalition government leaked the clips.

The audio clips started emerging on social media late last month. In one of them, Sharif could be heard discussing with a top bureaucrat how to import industrial machinery from Pakistan’s archrival India for one of the prime minister's close relatives.

In a subsequent audio clip, Maryam Nawaz — Sharif’s niece and vice president of his ruling party — is purportedly requesting her uncle to scrap a public health project launched by his predecessor Khan.

Sharif’s aides quickly downplayed the audios without questioning their authenticity, saying nothing illegal was discussed.

In a leaked audio clip featuring Khan when he was still prime minister, he could be heard telling his chief bureaucrat about a “cypher” or secret diplomatic cable sent to Islamabad by the then-Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

“We only have to play it up. We don’t have to name America. We only have to play with this,” the former prime minister could be heard saying in the audio lasting more than 100 seconds.

Khan was removed from office in April this year in a parliamentary no-confidence vote, advanced by the Sharif-led then-opposition alliance.

But the ousted Pakistani leader rejected the vote, alleging without evidence that it was orchestrated by the United States in collusion with his political opponents, charges Washington has denied. Khan has also alleged his country’s military leadership facilitated the “regime change” conspiracy.

After tweeting about the audio recordings and calling for a judicial probe, Khan addressed a ceremony in the garrison city, Rawalpindi, Monday where he stopped short of accusing the Pakistani military establishment of being behind the leaks.

“I ask my (security) agencies, is your job to spy on your own people? Is your job to manipulate who should be brought in (power) and who should be removed? ... Is this your duty to tap phones to see what Imran Khan is doing or discussing?” asked the populist opposition politician.

The leaking of audio recordings from the prime minister’s office is unprecedented in Pakistan and officials have not yet commented on who could have recorded or leaked them.

Army officials deny any role in the leaks or in the current political happenings in the country.

“The PM office needs pest control, as well as a good plumber or two,” remarked the English-language DAWN newspaper in a recent editorial. “The place appears to have had a bug problem for months, if not years, and private conversations held inside its usually secure walls are now casually leaking into the public domain,” the paper wrote.