After 7 years, Shahid Masood says ‘35 punctures’ charge was fake news

Murtaza Ali Shah
Saturday, Oct 23, 2021

LONDON: Anchorperson and columnist Dr Shahid Masood has apologised to former Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman and journalist Najam Sethi for falsely accusing him of rigging 2013 elections through “35 punctures”.

In the middle of 2014, Dr Shahid published allegations that Najam Sethi was involved in the rigging of 2013 elections and applied “inserted 35 punctures” or “Penti Punctures” as Najam Sethi was the caretaker Punjab chief minister and allegedly rigged results of 35 seats, giving favour to Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN).

The same allegation was later on used to run a full campaign against the 2013 elections and Geo and Jang Group were maligned and targeted on the basis of the same allegation that Geo and Jang Group was allegedly part of the same rigging exercise.

The rumour was first made mainstream by Dr Shahid Masood who also defended it when Najam Sethi issued strong denials and Jang and Geo condemned the fake news. But this week, Dr Shahid Masood set the record straight and accepted on his TV show that the allegations were actually fake news.

Dr Shahid said: “The source of 35 punctures news was fake. The source gave me fake news and vanished. I realise how hurtful it was to Najam Sethi. I unconditionally apologise to him and I seek forgiveness.

“The news was passed on to me by someone who I never thought would do such a thing. Najam Sethi is a friend and I apologise to him. I had a source who passed that weird news of ‘Penti Punctures’ to me. “From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry to Najam Sethi, on the condition that when I visit Lahore I will visit his house for a cup of tea.”

Speaking to this correspondent, Dr Shahid Masood said the apology to Najam Sethi was long overdue.

So, how did the news of “35 Punctures” reached Dr Shahid and to the influential circles in Islamabad, who actually believed in the fake news?

The News had published a story by this reporter on Sept 10, 2014 headlined “Reality behind fiction of 35 punctures”.

An investigation by The News established that the rumour was spread in Pakistan by a UK-based man called Dr Ejaz Hussain Shah, who was an advisor to Dr Tahirul Qadri during the Islamabad dharna (sit-in) in 2014.

Dr Ejaz Hussain, who also advised Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi when he was Punjab Chief Minister, was able to convince Dr Tahirul Qadri that the establishment had decided a role for him after overthrowing the then government. Dr Ejaz also spread a conspiracy theory in the chattering circles of Islamabad that Najam Sethi had fixed punctures on 35 seats to give edge to the PMLN over its rival parties.

In an email dated February 10, 2014, Ejaz wrote to a few anchors in Pakistan, quoting the revelation made by Edward Snowden on snooping made by the US on Pakistan that he (Mr Hussain) had come across “more than a thousand sources” related to Pakistan.

Dr Ejaz Hussain gave a talk at the National Defence University in Islamabad titled ‘Pakistan’s Cyber Security and Outer Space Challenges’ discussing the same issue.

Dr Ejaz never presented any evidence of his “research” and claimed in his email that “amongst dozens of interesting news clips one fascinated my eyes—which I used in my research on cyber invasion”.

Dr Ejaz Hussain never produced any audio or video evidence to back his claim. He went on to suggest in his conspiracy email: “When Najam Sethi was caretaker CM in Punjab (March-May 2013), he was serving the cause of ensuring Sharif brothers’ electoral victory” and then goes on to attack the former army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani by alleging: “Kayani was in total picture — he did not authorise it but acquiesced in Hinduja Brothers’ (Sharif Brothers’) favour”.

Dr Ejaz claimed, falsely, that on April 26, 2013, Najam Sethi informed Sharifs in a meeting with dozens of other senior bureaucrats that “the PMLN may lose 30 to 35 key MNA seats in Punjab”. Dr Ejaz never produced any proof and it turned out he lied about it as no such meeting took place on that day.

Dr Ejaz claimed in his email that Najam Sethi made many “transfers/ postings in vulnerable districts” of Punjab in late April and May to help Sharifs win and all his communications “were being snooped by the NSA”. He never produced any evidence of that.

Dr Ejaz claimed that Sethi’s “phone-chat/ SMS were recorded as he assured both Nawaz and Shehbaz (in Punjabi): “Mian Sb, aye tee/ penti seetan da rola aye, pur tusi k’abrao naeen, main tiyari kar lai aye ke aena tee/ penti seetan wich main dus-tu-pundra hazaar votaan da PANCHURE la diyan ga” (I have made preparation and I will fix punctures of about 10,000-15,000 votes in 15 constituencies). However, no tape recording was ever produced to back this claim. And it was this claim that was passed on to Dr Shahid Masood which he passed on as authentic news and it’s the same fake news that Dr Masood has now disowned, apologising to Najam Sethi. Dr Ejaz Hussain further wrote about how “NSA’s head of snooping division Rich Ledget contacted his team of Subcontinental linguists at the NSA to find out what ‘Panchure’ meant. Ledget contacted the UK GCHQ vin Cheltenham/ Gloucester and requested Sir Ian Lobban to find out etymological justification. Around the same time Ambassador Richard Olson was also contacted. In the end, the Bradford Chapter of GCHQ providing intelligence to MI5/MI6 on recently radicalised Pakistani-Brits in Yorkshire/Lancashire and Midlands solved the problems by considering Panchure as a vernacular linguistic variation of the word Puncture.”

When approached by The News in Sept 2014, UK defence and diplomatic sources laughed off at the allegations made in Ejaz Hussain’s email and then presented as facts to mainstream Pakistan through a few anchors. They said there was no truth in this story and Ejaz Hussain failed to tell how he came to “know” about this story. Dr Ejaz was upset when Dr Shahid Masood first did the TV show linking “35 punctures” with Najam Sethi with the so-called conspiracy.

Taking exclusive credit for the “35 punctures”, Dr Ejaz Hussain said: “I shared the term Panchure with my friends in Peshawar/ RWP/ Islamabad and Lahore; I guess Shahid Masood (Beefy) may have learnt through Brig Simon Sharaf (a PTI supporter) to him. I related the incident at a dinner at Poya Sb’s (Agha Murtaza Poya) place on Jan 29. Brig Simon shared it with Imran Khan and other PTI workers — may be Shahid Masood scavenged it from any of those sources reported by me”.

Dr Ejaz then stressed that it’s him, and not Dr Masood, who came up with this information. “The fact remains that I used this information in October 2013”.

Dr Ejaz later on played a key role in convincing Dr Qadri to support PTI’s dharna in Islamabad, attended the dharna press conference by Dr Qadri in London sitting next to him and travelled on the “revolution journey” with Dr Qadri to Pakistan.