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EDITORIAL: First things first, the National Security Council is scheduled to meet today to take stock of the situation arising out of leaked audiotapes that have left the 11-party coalition government twisting in the wind. It will be attended, among others, by prime minister and heads of three services and others.

Yesterday, piqued by the leaked audiotapes, a visibly upset prime minister ordered a ‘high-level probe’ into the matter, expressing his dismay and anguish in the following words: “Who will come to meet the prime minister at the Prime Minister’s House [PMH] now? Be it a sympathizer or friend, they will think one hundred times before uttering a single word [at the PMH].”

That the prime minister’s anger is plausible is a fact because it isn’t a whisper that a recording device or a cell phone of a person within the confines of the prime minister’s house (PMH) had reached the media by hook or by crook; in fact, it is a large clutch of conversations and consultations at the PMH that have been secretly recorded and reported on social media. The call time of leaked audiotapes is about 100 hours and the space they took exceeds 8 gigabytes. And the social media blogger has promised to reveal ‘more’.

The subjects of these audiotapes are mostly of political nature, with one or two about favouritism, and therefore of ample interest to the political opponents and general public. For instance, the government leaders can be heard talking about London’s (read PML supremo Nawaz Sharif’s) permission to accept the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) members’ resignations and how to go about it.

Another audiotape features Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif having a discussion with an officer (Tauqir Shah, principal secretary to PM) in the PMH regarding Maryam Nawaz, asking for a plant machinery from India to be imported by her son-in-law.

In another tape, she asks Shehbaz Sharif, “Uncle, the US dollar is rising but Miftah Ismail [the then finance minister] is not taking responsibility for it at all,” and then she adds: “Dar saheb has control over things; he knows what to do Miftah Ismail doesn’t.”

In totality, none of the audiotapes reveals any national security secret, prompting Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb to emphasise that audiotapes are “proof that nothing illegal happened” while Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah plays down the audiotape saga, saying: “I don’t think we should take them seriously since this is so common”.

The PM, too, has defended the contents of the talks that took place at PMH in a plausible manner. However, barring a few exceptions, the whole lot of PTI leaders finds the audiotapes an endorsement of their claim that the government is nothing but a “gang of the imported corrupt people”.

If the recent record of hacked phone calls, bugged meetings and social media disclosures is any guide then we dare say nothing extraordinary happened at the PMH per se. Like the earlier leaks these too would soon be ‘a yesterday’s tale’.

However, what cannot be overlooked is the security of the house of the country’s prime minister who is also the chief executive and the ultimate custodian of Pakistan’s national security. According to reports, the Intelligence Bureau is responsible for the cyber security of the prime minister’s house and it is expected to regularly conduct de-bugging of the entire complex.

There is sufficient evidence now suggesting that for somebody the entire PMH complex was stripped naked and everything that took place there was on record for someone to look into.

Is it that the security of the country’s chief executive’s house has been put on sale? A meeting of the concerned security agencies tasked with scouring the PMH and other sensitive installations has been held; they would certainly have provided their informed input on this matter and it is expected that a thorough inquiry would be conducted and those responsible for this security breach taken to task as the volume of the leaked information suggests that it is not the handiwork of a lone wolf but of some kind of a syndicate.

Last but not least, the cyber security breach at PMH perhaps lends credence to some arguments that British novelist George Orwell’s worst nightmares seem to have come true in today’s surveillance societies in which all actors practice surveillance against one another.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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