ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday termed the audio leaks a “serious lapse” which has “put the country’s prestige at stake” and announced that a high-powered committee will thoroughly investigate the matter.

The prime minister, upon his return from the UN General Assembly session, spoke at length at a news conference about his interaction with world leaders on the sidelines of the UNGA session in New York and the current political situation, as well as, the country’s economy about which he stated that “we are in a “state of war” to bring the economy back on the right track.”

Responding to a question about the audio leaks featuring him and other senior government officials, the prime minister said that it is a “serious lapse” and such security breaches leave a “big question mark”. “Who will come to meet the prime minister at the PM House [PMH] now? Be it a sympathiser or a friend, they will think 100 times before talking. This is about the respect of 220 million people of the country…this is not about me, but about the prime minister of Pakistan whomever he might be at the office,” he said, adding that the breach has put the country’s prestige at stake.

The prime minister said that he has taken notice of the audio leaks and that a high-powered committee will be formed to reach the depth of the matter.

Further defending his conversation in one of the audios, Prime Minister Shehbaz said that Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Nawaz Sharif, had never talked to him about any favours for her son-in-law, Raheel.

“[It’s] Dr Tauqeer (the PM’s principal secretary) who spoke to me about it and said half of the machinery was imported during the PTI tenure. I don’t know what amount was spent and how much loss they will have to bear if half of the machinery is left. Dr Tauqeer told me that the provision is banned and it will have to be taken to the ECC (the Economic Coordination Committee)… I didn’t find it appropriate to take the matter to the cabinet. I said, I will convey this to her (Maryam). Now tell me what is wrong with this?” the prime minister posed a question, while referring to one of the audio leaks.

In the leaked audio, Prime Minister Shehbaz was discussing with an unidentified official the possibility of facilitating the import of Indian machinery for a power project that was a concern of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, Raheel.

The prime minister pointed out that several audios had surfaced in the past related to the former prime minister and PTI chairman, Imran Khan, “but no questions were raised”. “Have you heard the conversation about diamonds? About the piece of land that was given to them as a gift. You don’t talk about it but you are discussing this matter,” he asked the journalists.

He said that he had told Dr Tauqeer Shah, his principal secretary that he himself would speak to Maryam that it was not possible to import the remaining part of the plant following India’s illegal actions of August 5, 2019.

“Now, you tell me. Did I amend the policy? There is no question about it. You must do justice. I will apologise to the whole nation if I did something wrong,” he said, adding, on the other hand, Imran Khan had leaked audios in which one can hear conversations about the diamonds and gold, as well as, his case with regard to the Toshakhana in which he sold out the gifted watches.

“I wish an audio too surfaces divulging as to how and why the sugar prices went up when Imran Khan was the prime minister,” he said, adding that the former premier had promised to constitute a commission and punish those responsible. “Where is the action,” he further asked and also referred to the purported incident of a lady who was allegedly kept in the PM House after she complained about her alleged harassment by the former chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

He also alleged that Imran Khan had brutally misused the state machinery and its force to target opponents. “He called Bashir Memon (former FIA chief) to his office and asked him to file cases against his rivals. This is on the record,” he added.

On appointment of the next army chief, the prime minister ruled out possibility of any consultations with Imran Khan and questioned as to whether he had consulted the opposition while giving extension to the incumbent army chief.

He said that the law and Constitution would be followed in the appointment of the next army chief and “everyone is going to follow it”.

In response to Imran Khan’s criticism over the alleged consultation of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif with PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif in London about the appointment of the army chief, Shehbaz said that he did not see anything wrong in consulting Nawaz. “What’s the point of criticising my talk with Nawaz Sharif? He is my leader and I discuss Pakistan’s issues with him,” he added.

About the return of Ishaq Dar and taking over as the finance minister, the prime minister said that Dar is an “experienced and hardworking” person and hoped that he would work with dedication to bring the economy back on track. “We are in a state of war to bring the economy back on the right track. We are working hard and we will bring it back on the right track. We will not leave it this way,” he vowed.

About the fuel prices, the prime minister said that the oil prices have decreased in the global market and expressed the hope that it will have some impact on the POL prices in Pakistan in the coming 15 days. However, he pointed out that the dollar’s price was high in the previous days and it will have an impact on fuel adjustment. He also asked the nation to pray that the dollar once again come down to Rs100.

To another question, the prime minister also ruled out possibility of early elections, saying that the current government would complete its tenure. He also defended the decision to take the government after ouster of the PTI government, saying that it was his responsibility to present his services to save the country from further damage caused by the previous government.

He criticised the PTI chief and alleged that he wanted Pakistan to default like Sri Lanka did. “He (Imran Khan) is a liar and there is no one as corrupt as him,” he maintained.

In response to a query about Imran Khan’s criticism of him for “begging” the international community to get money, Prime Minister Shehbaz mentioned that he had stated that whenever he spoke to foreign leaders they think that he will speak about assistance. “If I go abroad for begging for money, you tell me whether he (Imran Khan) goes abroad to distribute money?... I would rather advice Imran Khan to see his own face in the mirror,” he added.

“For God’s sake; have some mercy on this nation. Who pressed the FBR to issue the SRO for his sister? He (Imran Khan) himself asked the FBR to issue the SRO,” he maintained.

When his comments were sought on the PTI’s chairman statement in which he had linked re-joining the parliament with investigation into the diplomatic cypher, the prime minister said that the cypher has already been probed and the Supreme Court has also stated that no one was involved in any alleged conspiracy. “He (Imran Khan) hadn’t consulted us before tendering resignations, if he wants to re-join the parliament, he should come,” he added.

Responding to another query about the expense during his UNGA trip, Shehbaz maintained that since 1997 until now, he had footed all the expense of his foreign trips.

About the proposed donors’ conference to raise funds for the floods victims, he said that during his conversations with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and other world leaders in New York, they had promised their full support. He said that preparations were under way and the conference would be held soon.

The prime minister stated that his meetings with the presidents of France and Russia were “positive and constructive” and they extended their solidarity and full support to Pakistan.

Asked to comment on an alleged meeting at Aiwan-e-Sadr, the prime minister declined to comment, saying it was not in his knowledge. “Do you also want an audio leaked of that meeting?” he remarked in a lighter vein.

About any possibility of Nawaz’s return, he said that he would return as soon as his doctors allowed him to travel.