The year of audio leaks that shook Pakistan

A series of audio leaks — without discriminating between treasury and opposition benches — were released this year, leaving politicians scrambling for answers

Khawaja Burhan Uddin

In the year 2022, while Pakistani politics witnessed one of its most severe turmoil — from the Centre to provinces — the period also saw a series of audio leaks that "shook" the country.

While secret audio and video clips coming to the fore aren't an unusual phenomenon, 2022 felt like politicians or powers that had gotten better acquainted with modern technology.

Back-to-back audio leaks — including Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan's US threat letter being exposed, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz criticising then-finance czar Miftah Ismail and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif discussing PTI's resignations — were released throughout the year.

As they kept coming to the fore, some of them were accepted, others termed "edited" or "fake", but the PTI has been constantly peddling a narrative that all the audio leaks relating to it were "copy-pasted".

As a result of the "serious" security lapse as termed by Premier Shehbaz, the National Security Committee (NSC) formed a body to probe the audio leaks and a committee, comprising federal ministers, was also constituted. But not a single person responsible for the much-talked-about leaks has been brought before the public.

Although it is early to be claiming that all the audio leaks are true without a forensics test — which has been called for but not yet conducted — let's look back and see which were the sound bites that had surprised politicians and people alike.

Power plant for Maryam's son-in-law

The first audio leaked from the PM's Office purportedly featured the prime minister's discussion with an unidentified man regarding Maryam Nawaz, who reportedly asked for a power plant from India to be imported for her son-in-law.

“He is our son-in-law, inform him about the issues in importing a plant from India,” PM Shehbaz allegedly said, to an unidentified man.

The unidentified man can be heard explaining to the person, alleged to be the premier, about the consequences of taking the decision, to which Premier Shehbaz asks him to convey all reservations to Maryam’s son-in-law and that he will personally meet him soon.

PTI resignations: What to do?

Another audio leak from the PM's Office purportedly featured several ministers exchanging views over the strategy to deal with the resignations of PTI lawmakers from the National Assembly.

The audio clip purportedly featured PM Shehbaz, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Economic Affairs Minister Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, among others.

The PML-N leader also allegedly talked about London's permission to accept the resignations.

Maryam thinks Miftah 'doesn't know what he's doing'

In another audio clip allegedly featuring Maryam and the premier, the former could be heard expressing her concerns about Miftah as the then-finance minister.

"He doesn't take responsibility [...] says strange things on TV which people make fun of him for [...] he doesn't know what he is doing," Maryam can be purportedly heard as saying.

In response, PM Shehbaz said: "He clearly cut corners."

"Uncle, he doesn't know what he is doing," Maryam purportedly said.

Not thinking it's enough, PPP seeks more 'shares'

In another audio clip, featuring the incumbent prime minister, he could purportedly be heard speaking to an unidentified person about the appointment of his special assistants.

The unidentified person could be heard telling PM Shehbaz that Ayaz Sadiq has communicated to him that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is asking for "shares" for SAPM as well.

"Yes, Bilawal had spoken to me about it," the PM responded.

Playing with diplomatic cable — or the cypher

The leaks did not remain restricted to government officials, and then came the turn of PTI leaders.

The first audio that came to the fore of PTI leaders included a discussion between then-prime minister Imran Khan and his then-principal secretary Azam Khan, wherein the former premier talks about "playing" with a US cypher allegedly containing threats to Pakistan.

Khan allegedly told Azam in the audio that "let's just play" with the cypher and not mention America's name.

In response, Azam tells Khan a scheme of how to use the cypher to forward PTI's political agenda — and in that, he also suggests using then-foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood so the matter can be highlighted at a "bureaucratic level".

Although it's US, 'we will not talk about it'

Another purported audio clip of the PTI chief and his team also surfaced, which featured Azam, then-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and then-planning minister Asad Umar.

In it, Khan could allegedly be heard discussing the cypher with party leaders and telling his close confidants that all of them should ensure that nobody should mention the US in this regard.

"Are you intentionally calling it a letter? Because this isn't a letter, it is a transcript of the meeting," Umar could purportedly be heard asking Khan.

In response, Khan said: "It is the same thing, whether it’s the meeting transcript or a letter. People won't understand what a transcript is. You have to say this in your rallies."

'Mir Jafar and Mir Sadiq narrative'

In an audio allegedly featuring ex-human rights minister Shireen Mazari, Umar, Khan could allegedly be heard saying: "Feed Mir Jafar and Mir Sadiq narrative to people. The [people] going to the assembly for voting [on the vote of no-confidence] should be branded as Mir Jafar and Mir Sadiq."

"The strategy is that the public is with us and now we have to channelise this public pressure [this Sunday] and ensure that the pressure reaches such a height that anyone who goes to the [National] Assembly to vote they are branded for life.”

Fawad wants ‘negotiations’ despite opposing govt in public

A purported audio call between PTI Senior Vice-President Fawad Chaudhry and PM Shehbaz's close aide, Zulfiqar Ahmed, also surfaced, wherein the two were allegedly discussing a message hinting at the possibility of talks between the PTI and the PML-N.

Fawad purportedly said he had sent a letter, to which, Ahmed responded that he hasn’t read the “lengthy message” and what should he do with it.

“Send it to Suleman and tell him that politicians should talk to one another and form a framework,” he allegedly said, asking Ahmed to forward the “message” to Suleman Shehbaz, son of the incumbent prime minister, about the formation of a framework following talks between politicians.

'Traitor trends' against Imran's opponents

Before all the leaks started in September, the audio leaks of the PTI chief's wife, Bushra Bibi, had come to the fore in which she was asking a party leader to run trends on social media to declare people as traitors.

“Imran Khan asked you to [run] the traitor hashtag [...] but your social media has not been active for a week. Why is it [like this], beta?” asked Bushra.

Before Dr Khalid could explain himself, Bushra told him to let go of what happened and shared that ex-PTI leader Aleem Khan and others would speak up against Khan, her, and her friend Farah Khan.

“They will create so many stories and will share people’s statements as well, you do not need to create an issue out of this [but] call them traitors on [social media],” directed the former first lady, to which Dr Khalid responded in the affirmative.

'Murshid' and Toshakhana watches

In a more recent audio, Bushra Bibi was purportedly heard discussing the sale of Toshakhana watches — which had caused an uproar in Pakistan.

The audio begins with Bushra asking Zulfi how is he, to which he says: "I'm fine murshid [spiritual leader]."

Then Bushra tells him: "There are some watches of Khan sahib. He asked me to send these to you and you will sell them because they are of no use to him [...] So, he wants you to deal with it."

"Yes, murshid. I will do it," Zulfi replies.

— Thumbnail and banner image: Faiz Iqbal