Some things are now reasonably clear.
The audio recordings were probably done by a domestic Intel Agency which targeted important political people and used a software like Pegasus to infiltrate their smart phones and transmit conversations like a standard electronic bug.
Somewhere along the line a chunk of this data was probably stolen by an Intel insider or hacker sympathetic to, or allied with, Imran Khan and the PTI.
Imran Khan selected and approved use of this data against his “enemies” and “opponents” to fortify his anti-“chors”/anti-America narrative to recapture political power.
Then the Neutral Umpire stepped in to balance the debate by furnishing an audio of Imran Khan and his principal secretary, Azam Khan, deliberating on how to analyse and “play” the cable.
Obviously, we have heard only a fraction of what is available to both sides. But we can be sure that Imran Khan is no match for the Agency. The audios are probably not a patch on the damaging audio-videos of Khan that are reportedly in the possession of the Agency. But now that the Agency has been compelled to break the ice because Khan is fast losing his exalted status as a “ladla”, we can expect the war of the leaks to heat up or, alternatively, to cool down because of the fear of “mutual assured destruction.”
We can also be reasonably sure that a domestic Intel Agency was involved if the JIT tasked by the National Security Committee (to identify the source of the audios and the method whereby the conversations were recorded) doesn’t soon come up with a credible explanation. Indeed, if the audios from Imran Khan’s side should suddenly stop titillating the faithful because the Dark Web sleuth has disappeared without a trace, we can assume that the Agency has successfully “restrained” Khan from crossing another red line.
But Imran Khan is getting desperate with each passing week as the Sharifs and Zardaris dig in for the long haul. The NAB cases against leading PMLN stalwarts have been withdrawn or dropped after the promulgation of the amended NAB law. The ex-Finance Minister of Pakistan, Ishaq Dar, has returned from exile to be sworn in as a senator and reoccupy the finance ministry. The conviction against Maryam Nawaz Sharif and husband in the Avenfield case by an accountability court has been overturned by the Lahore High Court after lying in cold storage for four long years. She has got her passport back to travel to London to be with her father. And the PDM is readying to recapture Punjab and consolidate power.
Imran Khan has two options. He can either go ahead with the Long March and try to besiege and dislodge the government. If he opts for this aggressive path, he will find it blocked by Rana Sanaullah’s 50,000 strong force of Police and Rangers. The situation will be precipitous. Only a Third Force can benefit from the chaos and violence that will inevitably ensue, to the detriment of both the government and opposition. Or he can use its threat to renegotiate the terms of getting back into the constitutional game of power. His statement that he is ready to go back to parliament to negotiate the schedule of the next elections if the government sets up a commission to investigate the “regime change cable” suggests he is seeking a fig-leaf behind which to retreat.
The fluidity in the developing situation is deepened by the rumours surrounding the scheduled retirement of the COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, on 29th November 2022. Will he seek and get an extension in service? The ISPR has categorically said he won’t. But by all accounts, the busy-body schedule of General Bajwa – negotiating military supplies with the Americans, cajoling the Saudis and Qataris to bail out Pakistan, asking the US State Dept to put in a good word with the IMF, etc — that makes it to the front page of newspapers almost daily suggests that the Big Man is not exactly readying to put on his spurs and ride off into the sunset.
This issue is critical to the assumed tactics and strategy of the Sharifs/Zardaris to stay in office and get a level playing field for the elections next year, which is a commitment that the incumbent appears to have made to them. But by the same criterion, Imran Khan wants him out so that he can appoint his own man to the coveted slot after a quick round of elections this year.
The confusion is compounded by the fact that Imran Khan is publicly targeting both the COAS and DGISI (Mr X and Mr Y) because he holds them jointly responsible for insisting on “neutrality” when he has constantly demanded that they should back him positively against the “chors”. The dark web sleuth has identified “#13” as the next target. This is the DGISI because he currently ranks 13th in line to the coveted throne.
The months of October and November promise to yield an overdose of fodder for the hungry media. But if we are going to make bold and predict the outcomes of these ruthless struggles, we think that Imran Khan will blow hot and cold but not succeed in bringing down the house. Indeed, the likelihood is that some “settlement” may take place behind the scenes that enables Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to appoint the COAS or extend General Bajwa’s term, as required by the Constitution, when the PTI will return to the National Assembly and when the general elections will be held as per the Constitution next year.