The state bytes back

Published 08 Dec, 2015 07:36pm

Farhatullah Babar measures every word he speaks. His caution, partially at least, results from the burden of being the long-standing spokesperson for Asif Ali Zardari who attracts negative attention like no other political figure has in recent times. Some part of Babar’s restraint has its origin in his stint in the parliament, mostly as an opposition senator. Yet, there is another hazy but very real reason why he seems to weigh his sentences before he utters them: he fears someone maybe listening in on him. “The state agencies continue to invade privacy,” he says.

Sitting in a usable part of an otherwise crumbling old building in Islamabad, Babar looks like a character from a Hollywood detective thriller. “The scope of surveillance has increased recently,” he says, as lights flicker in the empty halls around him which once housed the offices of the Urdu daily Musawat, published by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 1970s. “Many people feel their phones are being intercepted,” he says in his signature low husky voice.

One of his colleagues in the senate, Saleem Mandviwalla who, like Babar, belongs to the PPP, is on record as having complained about such interception. At a meeting of a senate committee in January this year, Mandviwalla waived official documents to claim the federal government had authorised the tapping of his phone and interception of his personal data.

This is an excerpt from Herald's December 2015 cover story. To read more, subscribe to Herald in print.