Experts, politicians sound alarm as audio leaks put Pakistan national security, PM house ‘at stake’

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs Federal Cabinet Meeting in Islamabad on May 6, 2022. (PID/File)
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Updated 26 September 2022

Experts, politicians sound alarm as audio leaks put Pakistan national security, PM house ‘at stake’

  • Experts call for strict compliance with protocols as audio recordings of conversations between key officials leaked
  • Ruling party's Talal Chaudhary called events “serious issue of national security,' saying government taking "very seriously"

ISLAMABAD: Intelligence and cyber security experts on Monday called for strict compliance with protocols as a slew of audio recordings of conversations between key government figures, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, were leaked online over the weekend.

The leaks involve discussions between Sharif and members of his cabinet, including conversations with ruling party leader Maryam Nawaz over the performance of outgoing finance minister Miftah Ismail, and with an unidentified official about the possibility of facilitating the import of Indian machinery for a power project for Nawaz’s son-in-law.

Opposition leader Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a close aide to ex-PM Imran Khan, demanded an inquiry into the leak, saying the results should be shared with the public. Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said in a statement on Sunday the leaks had not revealed that the government was involved in any “illegal act.”

However, addressing a press conference in Faisalabad on Monday, ruling party leader Talal Chaudhary called the events a “serious issue of national security.”

“The audio leaks issue was taken very seriously because the national security and the sanctity of the prime minister's house are at stake,” he said.

Speaking with Arab News, intelligence and cybersecurity experts called for strict compliance with protocols and procedures.

“These data hacks occurred because advisories, recommendations, and precautions advised by the concerned institutions and departments were not followed in letter and spirit,” cybersecurity expert Tariq Malik told Arab News. “All the top officials have to cooperate with concerned departments to secure all technological devices including smartwatches and strictly follow the protocols and procedures given by the concerned authorities.”

Former additional director general Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Ammar Jafri called the leaks a “serious threat.”

“All should take it beyond politics as it is a matter of the state of Pakistan, not any particular political party,” he told Arab News.

“The telephones of all the senior people related to these offices should be thoroughly checked by the security institutions, to find any viruses or such things. Secondly, all the officials should be strictly prohibited from downloading unnecessary applications, and thirdly the premises should be thoroughly screened and it should be done frequently.”

Bashir Wali Mohmand, a former director general at the Intelligence Bureau (IB), said the data of the prime minister’s office was top secret and taken care of accordingly by concerned departments.

“This leak is not a big thing as it has not indicated any direct threat to the prime minister's life,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan last year called on the United Nations to investigate whether India used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to spy on public figures including then PM Imran Khan.

The Pakistani leader's phone number was on a list of what an investigation by a group of 17 international media organisations and Amnesty International said were potential surveillance targets for countries that bought the spyware.


Pakistan minister heads to Russia for oil and gas talks

Updated 10 sec ago

Pakistan minister heads to Russia for oil and gas talks

  • Trip comes as the South Asian nation struggles to meet domestic gas supply needs as winter approaches
  • Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said that Pakistan is considering buying discounted Russian oil

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's junior oil minister and the petroleum secretary have flown to Russia for talks on issues including oil and gas supplies, two people close to the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The trip comes as the South Asian nation struggles to meet domestic gas supply needs as winter approaches while battling to contain a current account deficit swelled by energy payments, mostly for oil.

Junior oil minister Musadik Malik did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The sources provided no further details, such as the exact agenda, who the Pakistani officials would meet in Russia or when the talks will take place.

Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said that the country is considering buying discounted Russian oil, pointing out that neighbour India has been purchasing oil from Moscow and Islamabad also has a right to explore the possibility.

Pakistan has been unable to procure Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from the international market because spot prices remain out of its range and shipments under long-term deals remain insufficient to match rising demand.

With dwindling local gas reserves, the country has begun to ration supplies to residential and commercial consumers. Local media has also reported that oil supplies remain tenuous owing to difficulties in paying for imports.


Ex-PM Khan's party announces it will dissolve provincial assemblies after Saturday

Updated 7 min 58 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan's party announces it will dissolve provincial assemblies after Saturday

  • Calls on new military leaders to review policy of carrying 'political dead bodies'
  • Pakistan appointed new army chief, chairman joint chiefs of staff committee last week

KARACHI: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday urged the country's new military leaders to review the policy of supporting the coalition government led by PM Shehbaz Sharif, announcing that the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assemblies would be dissolved after Saturday this week to pave the way for general elections.

Sharif last week named General Asim Munir as chief of Pakistan's army, an organisation that plays a hugely influential role in the governance of the nuclear-armed nation. Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza was appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee. 

The PTI has accused outgoing army chief General Qamar Bajwa, who retires tomorrow, Tuesday, of backing the coalition government and helping it come to power through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence that removed Khan from office in April. The army says it does not interfere in politics.

"There is a new dispensation [in the military]," close Khan aide Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said at a press conference after a meeting to deliberate on the PTI's recent announcement that its legislators would resign from the Punjab and Khyber Pakkhtunkhwa assemblies where the party is in majority. 

"The weight of the policies of the last seven months is bending you backwards," Hussain said, addressing the new military leaders. "Our establishment is carrying around the weight of Nawaz Sharif and Zardari's political dead bodies. You will not be able to carry this weight."

He was referring to Sharif's brother Nawaz, a former three time PM and head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, and former president Asif Ali Zardari, who heads the Pakistan Peoples Party. 

"Pakistan's public is expecting that you will change this policy and we will move forward."

At a rally on Saturday, Khan said he was consulting his party on the possibility of resigning from all provincial assemblies in a fresh bid to push for early elections. PTI has already resigned from the federal parliament, but remains in power in two provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two administrative units.

Speaking about Monday's meeting where the decision to resign from assemblies was discussed, Hussain said:

“The decision to dissolve both Punjab and Khyber Pakhunkhwa assemblies has been endorsed."

He said KP chief minister Mehmood Khan had already met Khan while Punjab CM Chaudhry Pervez Elahi would meet him on Tuesday.

"On Friday, a session of Punjab's parliamentary party [assembly] has been called and on Saturday a session has been called of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [assembly]. After both sessions, these assemblies will be dissolved."

Speaking to Arab News, Hussain said the move to dissolve assemblies would force early elections, which has been Khan's main demand since April. 

“A large number of 568 seats will be vacated with dissolution of assemblies and resignations from national and two other provincial assemblies,” he said, adding that the government could not hold by-elections on so many seats. 


Pakistan Taliban end cease-fire, order nationwide attacks

Updated 28 November 2022

Pakistan Taliban end cease-fire, order nationwide attacks

  • TTP agreed to a cease-fire with the Pakistan government in June
  • Both sides have repeatedly claimed the truce was ignored by the other

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Taliban said Monday they have called off a shaky cease-fire agreed with the government in June and ordered fighters to stage attacks across the country.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a separate entity from the Taliban in Afghanistan but sharing a similar Islamist ideology, have been responsible for hundreds of attacks and thousands of deaths since emerging in 2007.
They agreed to a truce earlier this year after Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers took a prominent role in brokering peace talks, but negotiations made little progress and there were frequent breaches.
“We... have shown our continued patience so that the negotiation process is not sabotaged,” the TTP said in a statement.
“But the army and intelligence agencies do not stop and continue the attacks, so now our retaliatory attacks will also start across the country.”
Less than two weeks ago the TTP claimed an ambush that killed six policemen in northwest Pakistan, claiming they were plotting a “raid” on their base in the area.
Since Friday the military has been patrolling the area in an attempt to root out militants, with helicopter gunships shelling their hideouts.
The TTP was founded in 2007 by Pakistani jihadists who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s before opposing Islamabad’s support for American intervention there after 9/11.
For a time they held vast tracts of Pakistan’s rugged tribal belt, imposing radical Islamic law and patrolling territory just 140 kilometers (85 miles) from the Pakistan capital.
The Pakistani military came down hard after 2014 when militants raided a school for children of army personnel and killed nearly 150 people, most of them pupils.
Its fighters were largely routed into neighboring Afghanistan, but Islamabad claims the Taliban in Kabul are now giving the TTP a foothold to stage assaults across the border.
In the year since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Pakistan has seen a 50 percent surge in militant attacks, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).
Lawmakers and business owners in northwest Pakistan have also told AFP that instances of TTP blackmail in the area have increased.
The presence of militants in the area is a deeply sensitive topic for Islamabad, which has long struggled to establish a writ there.
Analyst Saad Khan, a Peshawar-based retired brigadier, played down the significance of the TTP statement saying the cease-fire was barely observed anyway.
“The Afghan Taliban have assured the whole world that they will not allow their territory to be used against any other country,” he told AFP.
“It is important to initiate serious negotiations with the Afghan Taliban on this issue and make them aware of the seriousness of the matter.”


Pakistan vs England Test: English skipper Ben Stokes to donate match fee to flood relief

Updated 28 November 2022

Pakistan vs England Test: English skipper Ben Stokes to donate match fee to flood relief

  • The three-match series, part of the World Test championship, starts in Rawalpindi on Dec. 1
  • PM Sharif thanks English skipper, says “empathy for suffering humanity greatest of all virtues”

RAWALPINDI: English cricket captain Ben Stokes on Monday announced he would donate his match fee from an upcoming Test series against Pakistan to the country’s flood relief efforts to “give something back that goes far beyond cricket.”

The English team is currently in Pakistan to play a three-match series against the host, starting in Rawalpindi on December 1. This is the first Test that England will be playing against Pakistan after a hiatus of 17 years. The second Test will be held in Multan from December 9-13 and the third in Karachi from December 17-21, respectively.

The Test series comes months after Pakistan was hit by floods which affected 33 million people.  The deluge killed more than 1,700 people and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistani authorities' estimates of the damage have varied from $10 billion to $40 billion.

“This is great to be in Pakistan for the first time for this historic series. To be back here after 17 years as a Test side is very exciting. There is a sense of responsibility amongst the playing and support group and to be here is special,” Stokes wrote on Twitter.

“The floods that devastated Pakistan earlier this year was very sad to see and has had a significant impact on the country and the people. The game has given me a lot in my life and I feel it’s only right to give something back that goes far beyond cricket.”

Appreciating the gesture, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif thanked the English team captain.

“Empathy for suffering humanity is the greatest of all virtues. His gesture epitomises the great British tradition of philanthropy.”

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah also welcomed the English team to Pakistan after 17 years and thanked British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner for making the tour possible

“We welcome England team, who will be playing test matches on soil after such a long hiatus. It’s a result of the relentless efforts of all the ppl involved to make this happen, especially Chargé d'affaires Christian Turner. Hoping for a great contest btw the two quality sides,” Sanaullah wrote on Twitter.

Last year, England were due to visit Pakistan but pulled out after New Zealand abandoned their tour minutes before the first one-day international, citing security alerts.

There were fears of a similar pullout earlier this month following an attack on former prime minister Imran Khan during a protest march in Wazirabad, a city in Punjab province.

But England’s Test skipper Ben Stokes quashed all fears following positive security advice.

“It’s been a long time since England have played Test cricket in Pakistan,” Stokes said in Abu Dhabi on Friday.


Pakistan among nations contributing highest footfall at Abu Dhabi airports in Q3 2022

Updated 28 November 2022

Pakistan among nations contributing highest footfall at Abu Dhabi airports in Q3 2022

  • Abu Dhabi Airports releases new passenger traffic report showing 250 percent rise compared to Q3 2021
  • Top five countries for passenger footfall increase during Q3 were India, UK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt

ISLAMABAD: Abu Dhabi Airports, the operator of the five airports in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, on Monday released its passenger traffic results’ report for the third quarter of 2022, showing a total footfall of 4.7 million passengers — a 250 percent rise from 1.3 million passengers in Q3 2021.

The report, the findings of which were published by the UAE’s state news agency, revealed passenger traffic figures across Abu Dhabi International, Al Ain International, Al Bateen Executive, Delma Island and Sir Bani Yas Island between July 1 and September 30, 2022.

“The top five countries in terms of the passenger footfall increase during Q3 were from India (933,640), the United Kingdom (291,576), Pakistan (265,793), Saudi Arabia (217,656) and Egypt (197,193),” WAM reported.

Abu Dhabi’s five airports reported 10,982,114 passengers by September 30, 2022, which is the equivalent of passenger traffic in 2020 and 2021 combined, the report said, saying Abu Dhabi Airports expected to close 2022 with an excess of 15 million passengers.

“These figures are a demonstration of how the aviation industry has recovered remarkably,” Jamal Salem Al Dhaheri, MD and Chief Executive Officer at Abu Dhabi Airports, said.

“New airlines and air routes continue to be attracted to Abu Dhabi, while new and improved services have played a prominent role in accommodating the expected surging demand head-on. For Abu Dhabi Airports, 2022 has been a year of sustained momentum, maintaining a level of excellence that we will carry forward to Q4.”

Third-quarter statistics confirm that 49,046 Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) were recorded across the five airports, a 35 percent increase from 36,367 ATMs in Q3 2021 “in a clear demonstration of network and passenger growth.”

These flights were conducted between more than 100 passenger destinations on 23 airlines.

The busiest destinations served during Q3 included London Heathrow (232,002), Mumbai International (155,294), Delhi International (130,723), Cairo International (118,885) and Kochi International Airport (101,828).