Leaky times

Editorial Board
Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

Former prime minister Imran Khan is not happy. Talking ostensibly to ‘the nation’ in an address on TV yesterday, the PTI chairman said the only reason he has been quiet about those who were behind the conspiracy to oust his government is because he does not want to damage Pakistan. But, said a visibly perturbed Imran, that could change and he could start ‘naming names’ if pushed to the wall. From calling the current situation akin to what is going on in the occupied territories of both Kashmir and Palestine to alleging that the current government will recognize Israel, give bases to the US, get involved in another US war, not buy Russian oil due to US pressure to calling those in government ‘traitors’, Imran used up the complete conspiracy handbook that has been deployed on and off by governments and leaders in Pakistan – though perhaps not with as much gusto and abandon as the former PM. Ironically, he also said he had never seen ‘such fascism’ before in the country, while talking about journalists' rights – forgetting the PTI’s tainted record when it comes to freedom of the press.

Taking to the proverbial container is not much of a shock when it comes to the PTI, but it seems the recent audio ‘leaks’ are what prompted the PTI chairman’s Tuesday televised outburst. Interestingly, the tag of ‘traitor’ is what the alleged audio leak of the former first lady is also all about. The audio tape has Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi allegedly talking to the former PM’s focal person on digital media Dr Arslan Khan and instructing him to use PTI social media to label those who attack Imran, Bushra Bibi and her friend Farah Gogi as ‘traitors’ and link them with the ‘foreign conspiracy’ to oust PTI government. So far, the PTI’s stance on the alleged audio leak is unclear: some have called the audio fake, some others say the tape is edited and have called for an inquiry as to who was recording private conversations while Fayyaz Chohan has said there is nothing wrong with any directions calling those who left the party as traitors. In all fairness, the PTI’s demand to know who was behind the recordings is justified because illegal tapping of private conversations is a violation of privacy. Irrespective of whether these tapes are real or doctored, the practice in itself deserves condemnation without any reservation. In light of the Supreme Court decision in the Benazir Bhutto case, the practice of tapping must be treated as similar to contempt of court.

The PTI’s demand for a forensic analysis is also valid – but will it trust the government to conduct it or, as Khawaja Asif has suggested, should this be done by a third party? Meanwhile, the government has said that a press conference by PTI representatives is an admission that the audio leak is real. If it does indeed turn out to be real – and this will need some extreme due diligence regarding authenticity – the affair raises some important questions about the former first lady’s role in the PTI’s internal politics, social media strategy, and her association with Farah Gogi. More importantly, there is an urgent need for introspection within all political parties when it comes to the traitor tag. From Maulvi Fazlul Haq and Fatima Jinnah to the Bhutto and Sharif families, no one has been spared this label. Unfortunately, the three years under the PTI saw a heavy-handed use of allegations of treason and sedition against anyone seen as dissenting from the government’s narrative. Even out of power, the party has been using the same tactics. All else aside, audio or video recordings of public figures, whether in or out of government – and favour –only adds to the toxicity of politics in Pakistan. That, however, seems to be the farthest concern in anyone’s mind at the moment. One can be quite sure there will be more leaks, more labels of ‘traitor’, and more threats of tell-all revelations.