ISLAMABAD: The military spokesperson, along with the intelligence chief of the country, Thursday fully exposed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s conspiracy narrative against the Pakistan Army as well as the country, saying that Imran had offered General Qamar Javed Bajwa extension for an indefinite period of time for helping him fail the opposition parties’ no-confidence motion against him.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General (DG), Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum, said that Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa was offered an extension in his tenure for an indefinite period in March 2022 but the offer was turned down.
In his first lengthy media interaction, along with DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Anjum took a direct jibe at the PTI chief, saying that it was not possible that “you meet army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at night and then call him a traitor in the day.”
“If the commander-in-chief is a traitor, then why did you meet him secretly? Meeting [him] is your right, but it cannot be possible that you meet at night and call [him] a traitor in the day,” added the ISI DG.
Lt-Gen Nadeem Anjum said that the offer to the COAS of an indefinite period extension was given in his presence in an attempt to foil the no-confidence motion. Asked as to who made the offer, he said obviously it was then government, who could give extension in the tenure of army chief and it was done to fail the no-confidence motion.
Lt-Gen Anjum said the military was called “neutral and an animal” as they had committed treason by refusing to be a part of an “illegal” decision. He said it was highly condemnable to call someone Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq and the same was based on a false narrative. “Terms of neutral and apolitical were used as abuse and we were called animals because we refused to act against the Constitution,” he said. He said the refusal to do the “illegal job” was not the decision of a single person or the army chief but of the entire institution.
The ISI chief said that the military had been under a lot of pressure since March, but they decided to limit themselves to their constitutional role. He added that General Bajwa could have spent the last six months of his term in peace, but he took the decision in favour of the country and institution.
“Former government offered the army chief an extension for an indefinite period during his term in order to fail the no-trust motion, but he turned down the offer,” added Lt-Gen Anjum. He also wondered if the commander-in-chief was a traitor, then “why was he praised endlessly in the recent past”.
“If the army chief is a traitor in your eyes, why did you want to give an extension in his term, why do you still meet him secretly?” asked the ISI DG.
“The leaders of the institution debated on the matter for several days and the institution decided after deliberating on every aspect that we will remain restricted to the Constitution,” said the DG ISI. He said that the people who were part of this decision included those who will be leading the army for the next 15 to 20 years.
On his appearance at the press conference, the ISI DG said that he was forced to come in the public after he saw the lies that were being spread conveniently and were becoming acceptable. “I broke the silence when I saw that there was a risk of fitna, fasad in the country and institution just because lies were not being declared lies,” he said.
The DG ISI said that when Arshad Sharif was in Pakistan, he was in contact with the institution and maintained contact even when he travelled abroad. He also shared that he was in contact with his Kenyan counterpart on the matter of his death. “We are not satisfied that is why the government has formed an inquiry team,” said the DG ISI. He added that the members of his agency were deliberately removed from the inquiry committee.
On the same point, Director General ISPR Lieutenant-General Babar Iftikhar said the military had decided not to include the ISI and Military Intelligence officials in the probe as unnecessary fingers were being raised at the institution.
The DG ISPR made the comments during an unprecedented press briefing with DG ISI on the death of senior journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya. Lt-Gen Anjum was invited by the military spokesperson considering the “sensitivity of the matter”. “The purpose of the press conference is to inform you about the death of prominent senior journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya and the circumstances surrounding it,” the DG ISPR said at the start of the press conference.
Lt-Gen Iftikhar said that the press conference is being done at a time when it is “important to present the facts correctly”, so “fact, fiction and opinion” can be differentiated. He also shared that the military’s media wing had informed PM Shehbaz Sharif about the press conference. He said the PM was especially informed about the sensitivity of the press conference.
The head of the military’s media wing said that there was a need to examine the situation “under which a false narrative has been made and people have been misled”. “Institutions, leadership and even the chief of the army staff have been accused without a reason to create an extraordinary chaotic situation,” said the DG ISPR.
Lt-Gen Iftikhar said that Sharif’s death was a “very tragic incident”. He called the senior journalist an icon of Pakistani journalism, a martyr’s son and a martyr’s brother and a serving officer’s brother-in-law. His programmes would be watched as role model for journalists, he added.
“Since Arshad was an investigative journalist, he also looked into the cipher issue when it surfaced,” shared the DG ISPR. He also highlighted that the journalist had also interviewed the-then prime minister Imran Khan on the issue, adding that at the time it was claimed that he was shown the document.
“Facts linked with the cipher and Arshad Sharif’s death need to be found out. So there is no ambiguity left in this regard,” said the DG ISPR.
Lt-Gen Babr Iftikhar said that the army chief discussed the cipher issue with Imran Khan at Kamra when he visited the facility as the prime minister on March 11, and he had said that it was not a big thing. “But it was surprising for us when he [Imran Khan] flashed a piece of paper at the March 27 rally in an effort to give a narrative, which was not linked with the reality in any way and was presented in a dramatic style,” said the DG ISPR.
Lt-Gen Iftikhar said several facts regarding the cipher had surfaced so far, which exposed the “hollow and fabricated story”. He added that the opinion of a Pakistani envoy was used by the former prime minister for his political interests.
The military spokesperson said that the ISI, in a “very clear and professional way”, informed the National Security Committee that they had found no evidence of any type of conspiracy against the government. He said the NSC was briefed that it was the envoy’s personal assessment and the strategy envoy had recommended was the same one recommended to the Foreign Office.
“ISI’s findings related to the cipher did not have any evidence of any type of conspiracy,” he said, adding that all the findings are on record. He added that the military wanted these findings to be put before the nation, but they left the decision to the PTI-led government, but it was not done.
“Instead, more false news and rumours were spread in order to take political benefit and to create a specific narrative that the no-confidence motion was part of regime change operation, instead of a constitutional, political and legal affair,” said the DG ISPR.
“Pakistan’s institutions and especially the army leadership was targeted and it was linked with treason and regime change operation,” said Lt-Gen Iftikhar. He shared that during that time, Arshad Sharif and other senior journalists were fed a specific narrative. He said that Pakistan was a “dignified and independent nation”, urging people to “have belief in your institutions”. “No one wants to be labelled a traitor after serving for 30-40 years. We can be weak, we can make mistakes, but we can never be a traitor or conspirator. The army is nothing without the people,” he said, adding that now was the time for “unity and discipline”.
While mentioning ARY News, the DG ISPR said that during the media trial, the private TV channel acted as a spin doctor in spreading the false narrative against the Pakistan Army and leadership.
“The Pakistan Army was expected of political interference which is against the Constitution. The word ‘neutral’ was made an abuse,” said the DG ISPR. He added that the institution and army chief showed extreme restraint and patience despite all this.
“We made every possible effort that these politicians sit together and solve national issues but it was not possible,” said the DG ISPR. He added that Arshad Sharif, social media activists and others spoke about the cipher and very “serious” things were said about it.
“Arshad had been doing programmes on ARY, doing serious criticism of different institutions since December 27. But despite that, we did not have any negative feelings for him nor do we have it now,” said the DG ISPR. He said that the threat alert seemed like an act to force Sharif to leave the country.
Lt-Gen Iftikhar shared that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government issued a threat alert regarding Arshad on August 5, 2022. He added that this alert was issued on special directives of KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan. He said that the threat alert seemed like an act to force Arshad Sharif to leave the country. “Salman Iqbal told [Senior Executive Vice President ARY News] Ammad Yousuf after Shahbaz Gill’s arrest to send Arshad out of the country,” he said, adding that the ARY CEO should be brought back to Pakistan and made a part of the investigation into the death of the journalist.
“We all should wait for the formation of an inquiry commission. Have confidence in your institutions. We have been removing the stains of mistakes of the past with our blood for the last 20 years. We can make mistakes but we cannot be traitors or conspirators,” added the DG ISPR.
To question, the military spokesperson said that the probe into Arshad Sharif’s death “should be totally unbiased”. He added that unnecessary fingers were being pointed at the institution.
Lt-Gen Iftikhar stated that they had information regarding Arshad Sharif’s death but were not making it public at this point. “Third-party can be involved in Arshad Sharif’s matter. We will assist in every possible way if needed in Arshad Sharif’s case,” he added.
Responding to a question, the DG ISPR said that Arshad was in contact with him and other military officials. He also shared that the journalist never mentioned the threat to him or anyone else.
Lt Gen Iftikhar shared that the military had investigated the threat issued by the KP government, but they could find no evidence related to it.
Asked it was being alleged that some officers were threatening Arshad Sharif, the DG ISI said it was not true. “Arshad used to meet my subordinate officers when he was in Pakistan and was in contact with them when he was abroad,” he said asking if Arshad could leave the country if the establishment wanted to stop him. He told a questioner that it was not correct that still some journalists were receiving threatening calls.
He said he had always been against his personal publicity, but he had to come to address the media for the sake of his institution and to defend officials of his agency, which was the first defence line inside and outside the country. “I am here to defend my agency people, who are being made target of undue and false criticism,” he added.
He said long silence of truth was not correct when false narrative was being spread frequently and there was a danger of chaos and unrest in the country due to that trend. “But we do not make a noise, and we work 24/7 for the defence of the country,” he added.
To another question, the DG ISPR said that the army would come to the help of the civilian government during the PTI long march if called under Article 245. “We respect your opinion, but it should be in national interest. You should not gauge our role in the sense that what we do to serve your political agenda, but you should see that what we do for the country and the nation,” he said.
To a question, the DG ISI said the army chief had rightly said that nobody would be allowed to destabilise the country. “All parties and people have equal right on us,” he said.
He said whichever government is formed, the institution extends support to it as per the Constitution, saying they had no personal enmity with any political party. “In that party (PTI) which you are talking about, there are more personal friends of mine than in any other party,” he said.
About meetings between President Alvi and military leadership, he said the purpose was to see stability in the country, but it could not reach any logical end.
To a question, he said Pakistani journalists were performing their professional duties in difficult circumstances, and he was against calling any of them Lifafa Journalist. “I do not find any journalist whom I call Lifafa journalist,” he added.