March 12th, 2021
By Hamid Riaz & Ahmed Saeed
Friday morning sent ripples of anger and ‘shock’ through the country as Musadik Malik of the Pakistan Muslim League- N (PML-N) and Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), both opposition Senators made explosive revelations of personally discovering professionally installed spy cameras around and inside the polling booth set up in the upper house of the parliament.
The senators instantly took pictures of the installed devices and shared them on their public Twitter account. It was evident from the positioning of the cameras that they were installed to keep in surveillance the polling process so that ‘someone could view the ballot papers to ascertain which lawmaker voted for whom.
The news instantly went viral. With lawmakers from both sides of the house hurling blame at each other on social media. The official Twitter handle of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) put out a tweet suggesting that the cameras were ‘routine security equipment’ and were ‘not spying equipment’.
Soon both sides held formal press conferences to present their version of events. The opposition was represented by Mustafa Nawaz and Musadik Malik and held their briefing first. Both senators demanded an immediate investigation into the event. Moreover, they also claimed that Sadiq Sanjrani, who was also the government’s candidate for the position of Senate chairman – and later won albeit amidst charges of rigging – was in his office till 5 in the morning on Friday. The lawmakers asserted that Sanjrani, who is also directly responsible for conducting this election, had these cameras installed under his supervision to ensure his victory.
Sanjrani has denied these allegations.
Soon after this press conference, government lawmakers headed by Senator Shibli Faraz appeared on the air with rejoinders. Shibli Faraz, the government’s minister for information, claimed that the cameras were placed in the house by the opposition to create a controversy so that they could challenge the result later if they lost the election.
The ‘Hidden Hand’
Analysts and independent observers have pointed fingers at the country’s intelligence agencies who they claim are biased in favor of the governing party. Moreover, a new additional sergeant at arms of the senate was hired (curiously) merely a day before the high-stakes polling.
What do the spymasters have to say?
“If the intelligence agencies were in-fact involved in this operation they would not have been caught,” claims General Amjad Shoaib, former Director General (DG) of the Military Intelligence (MI). “These days spying technology is so advanced that it is almost impossible to detect it. I re-assert that the intelligence agencies could not have pulled off such a botched operation,” continues Amjad Shoiab. “I think it is a conspiracy by the opposition itself,” says Shoaib, reiterating claims made by the government.
But General (retd) Mansoor, former DG of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) negates this claim. “I don’t think it is accurate to say that since the cameras were not put up properly the intelligence agencies were not involved. At the end of the day ‘properly fixing the cameras’ is the operator’s/workman job. If he does not do it properly the equipment can be detected. I think the cameras being caught proves that the operator who fixed them was incompetent, nothing else,” explains Mansoor. General Mansoor also says that if the intelligence agencies were in-fact behind this operating then it is an extremely condemnable move.