Who leaked Hussain Nawaz's picture?

Umar Cheema

ISLAMABAD: On May 16, I received a call from the Joint Investigation Team set up to investigate Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children in connection with the Panama Papers probe. The letter had already been received requiring my appearance before the JIT on May 17. The call was only a reminder.

The caller introduced himself as the coordination officer to the Chairman of JIT. Wajid Zia, the chairman, is from the police service, presently serving as additional DG FIA. Considering this background, I thought Wajid must have brought his coordination officer either from the FIA or police. More so, because the implementation bench of the SC had ordered this: “The Head and Members of the JIT shall arrange secretarial staff of their choice from their respective departments.”

However, what transpired was contrary to my expectations. Situation started unfolding when I reached the Federal Judicial Academy on the given date and time for appearance before the JIT. The police stopped me at the main gate. They were under instruction not to let anybody enter the premises without the consent of the coordination officer. I drove to the parking lot after receiving a go-ahead. The coordination officer was there to receive me.

He shook my hand with a warm smile. This followed a request to drop the mobile phone in the car. Else, it would have been taken away at the first security check. No visitor is allowed to carry any electronic gadget inside the building that houses the JIT Secretariat and I wasn’t an exception. As we moved towards the secretariat, I asked if he was from the FIA. “I am from the Ministry of Defence,” the coordination officer of Wajid Zia replied.

What did he mean by the Ministry of Defence (MoD)? He was from an agency which is under the administrative control of the MoD. After crossing the security check, I was taken to a room where a pleasant-looking officer greeted me. I asked if he was also from the MoD. He replied in the positive.

That secretariat has been manned and monitored by you-know-who was quite intriguing for me as the SC’s implementation bench had ordered the secretary interior “to ensure necessary security arrangements for the Secretariat and the Members of JIT.” That security, it appears, was limited to the police guard at the gate.

The MoD officer then went to check with the JIT members as when to present me before them for interrogation. Almost 10 minutes later, I was before them to answer their questions while sitting on the same chair Hussain Nawaz was found in the picture which went viral the past weekend.

How Hussain’s picture was leaked remained a mystery. We only know that a mysterious twitter handle (@takentweets) was the first to post the picture on social media. The operator of this handle describes himself as “an agent of mystery with an unrelenting taste for pandemonium, has a liking for the finer games in life. Diehard Pakistani nationalist.”

Who is the man behind this handle is anybody’s guess. How did he get the picture should be a matter of concern. Who has leaked the picture is subject of speculations. The opposition alleged the government has done it deliberately in order to win the sympathies of public and make the JIT controversial.

The allegations merit some consideration as far as the possible objectives of the government are concerned. The Sharif family’s objections against two JIT members have already been dismissed. However, claiming that the picture has been released by the government is beyond my comprehension. That it has benefited the government doesn’t necessarily mean the leak is the government’s brainwork. Even if it wants, it can’t access the CCTV record.

In a secretariat where even the chairman JIT’s coordination officer is from MoD, the government has zero access to CCTV footage. Intelligence Bureau is also being alleged as the agency behind this leak. In reality, the IB is not part of the JIT. It would rather be appropriate to say that this is the first-ever JIT in recent years made without the IB. The interior ministry has already clarified that it had nothing to do with the security of the Federal Judicial Academy.

Given my own observation during the course of the visit, the JIT Secretariat is under effective control of the subordinate departments of MoD. It was not only me who was escorted by the MoD staff right from the parking to the JIT room, almost every witness or accused is handled by them. Other than ISI and MI, there are representatives of FIA, SECP, NAB and SBP. None of them could qualify for the management of CCTV record more than the staff of intelligence agencies.

That the Sharif family wants to make the JIT controversial is a fact and the JIT is helping it out is also a reality. Earlier, an ambulance was called and a story was leaked to the media that Hussain Nawaz’s condition had deteriorated during the investigation process.

This turned out to be a fabricated story. No official word came out from the JIT as what the purpose of summoning the ambulance was. The management of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) later told journalists that it was called by the JIT as a ‘pre-emptive’ measure. Apparent objective was to ridicule Hussain Nawaz.

Not only the MoD officials are in control of the secretariat, seating arrangement of the JIT team also indicates as to who are calling the shots. Representatives of intelligence agencies sit on the left and the right of Wajid Zia as they conduct interrogations. This signifies the ubiquitous influence of the MoD in the JIT.

This is good as for as the purpose is to insulate the JIT from any political influence. However, the MoD can’t come out clean if the mischievous leakages continue. The JIT representatives and their staffers are there to probe the Sharifs, not to poke fun of them.

As the JIT has started its investigation into this leak, getting to the fact and making it public is the biggest test. Without putting its house in order and holding the culprits to account, it doesn’t have any right to conduct others’ accountability.

This article was originally published in The News  

The writer is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and worked on the Panama Papers leak.