In an unprecedented development, Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Lt General Babar Iftikhar and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum held a joint press conference on Thursday to shed light on the death of senior journalist Arshad Sharif and “tell the truth needed to end lies”. The presser comes as tensions rise in Pakistan, especially after the death of a senior journalist in Kenya raising more questions on political dynamics, and ahead of a long march’ announced by ousted premier Imran Khan.
This is the first time in Pakistan’s history that the head of the country’s spy agency directly addressed the media. The DG ISPR said the briefing was being held to talk about the death of the journalist in Kenya and the circumstances surrounding it, so that “facts, fiction and opinion can be differentiated”. “Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has been specially informed about the sensitivity of the press conference,” he added.
Key points of DG ISI’s press conference
“Narrative of Mir Jafar/ Mir Sadiq is a total lie.”
“COAS Bajwa took decisions in the best interest of the nation.”
“COAS Bajwa was offered an indefinite extension in his service in March 2022.”
“If the COAS is a traitor, then why are backdoor meetings being held with him?”
On Arshad Sharif and the cypher
Lieutenant General Babar Iftikhar said that a particular narrative was being created and people were being misled, adding that the chief of army staff was also targeted and faced criticism. “An attempt was made to create a divide in society,” he said. Talking about the cypher, which Imran Khan had claimed proved there was a foreign conspiracy to oust him from power, the DG ISPR said that the facts behind it and Arshad’s death need to be determined. “Since Arshad was an investigative journalist, he also looked into the cypher issue when it surfaced,” DG ISPR added.
He said that the army chief had discussed it with Imran Khan on March 11 when the latter had termed it to be “not a big thing”, adding that several facts had come to light regarding the cypher revealing the “baseless and unfounded” narrative surrounding it. “The ISPR informed the National Security Committee that no proof was found regarding the conspiracy against the PTI government. The Inter-Services Intelligence also did not find any evidence regarding the conspiracy,” he said. He said they wanted to bring this to the public and left the decision to the-then government PTI. “However, this did not happen and more rumours were spread to gain political mileage,” he said. The DG ISPR added that an attempt was made to defame Pakistan and the country’s institutions across the world.
“The word neutral and apolitical was turned into abuse. Amid this baseless narrative, the army chief and the institution showed restraint and we tried our level best that politicians sit together to resolve their issues.” ‘Arshad left for Kenya when his visa for Dubai expired’ The DG ISPR said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government on August 5 issued a letter on the directives of Chief Minister Mahmood Khan which stated that a Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group was looking to target the journalist.
He further said that the threat alert was issued with the aim to force Arshad to leave the country, adding that there were reports that he did not want to leave the country. “On August 10, Arshad left Peshawar airport for Dubai. He was provided with complete protocol by the KPK government. “Arshad remained in the UAE until he had a valid visa. He left for Kenya when his visa for Dubai expired.”
Arshad Sharif’s murder: Probe body reconstituted
The DG ISPR said that no one forced the journalist to leave Dubai at a government level, questioning who exactly forced him to leave.
Key points of DG ISPR’s press conference:
“Arshad Sharif held meetings with Imran Khan and was possibly shown the minutes of meetings and the cypher.”
“COAS inquired about the cypher from the former PM but Imran replied that it was not a big concern.”
“The letter waved at the rally on March 27 and the narrative are far from reality.”
“Pakistani envoy’s advice was used for political purpose.”
“At the NSC meeting on March 31, ISI stated that there was no evidence of a conspiracy against the then government and this is on record.”
“NSC was told that the narrative was the personal assessment of Pakistani envoy.”
“The line of action recommended by the envoy was conveyed by ISI to the foreign office.”
“We asked the (PTI) government to make public ISI’s findings but that wasn’t done and false narratives were sold to the public for political gains.”
“Allegation that vote of no confidence was part of a conspiracy is baseless.”
“Army leadership was targeted and attempts were made to link everything to treason and regime change operation.”
“This was the time when a false narrative was fed to the media and the lies are now exposed.”
“ARY played the role of the spin doctor.”
“Despite the propaganda, the institution and COAS acted responsibly.”
“Arshad Sharif was targeting institutions since November 2021 but we had and have no negative sentiments for him.”
“Arshad was seemingly coerced into leaving the country after some people highlighted the death threats received by him.”
“KP government transported Arshad to airports and facilitate his exit from Pakistan. The institutions made no attempts to stop him.”
“We recommend the highest level inquiry committee for his killing.”
“It is important to know who is benefiting from Arshad’s death.”
“No one should be blamed until the inquiry report is released.”
“If we made mistakes in the past, we are also washing them with our blood for the past 20 years.”
He also questioned who was in contact with Arshad from Pakistan and who was hosting him in Kenya.
“It has to be examined whether this is a case of mistaken identity or one of a targeted killing. There are several questions that have to be answered,” the Lt Gen said.
He added that the ARY CEO should be brought back to Pakistan and made part of the probe as his name was surfacing again and again. The DG ISPR said that after Arshad’s death, people had started pointing fingers at the army, adding that it has to be determined who exactly benefitted from his killing.
ISI chief makes a public appearance for the first time.
ISI chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum also addressed the press conference — the first time this has ever happened. He said that he was holding the presser as there were many things related to the agency which “only we know so I thought I should come myself and take responsibility for what will be shared”.
“We cannot allow young minds to be induced by any narrative that is far removed from the truth.”
He added that truth needed to be spoken to end lies.
“It is my duty to safeguard secrets and take them with me to the grave that the nation has entrusted me to safeguard.
“But whenever needed, I’ll reveal the secrets to defend my agency, martyred and officers,” said DG ISI.
He said that it is not possible that Imran can meet army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in the night and then call him a “traitor in the day”.
“If the commander-in-chief is a traitor then why did you meet him in hiding?” Don’t do this where you meet quietly at night through the back door and express your unconstitutional wishes but call the army chief a traitor in broad daylight.
That is a big contradiction between your words and your actions.” He further said that it was highly condemnable to speak without proof, adding that words like “neutral and janwar” were meant to illustrate that the institution was indulging in sedition. He said last year, the army had an intense discussion and “reached the conclusion that the country’s benefit lies in us restricting ourselves to our constitutional role and remaining out of politics.”
The chief added that in March, General Bajwa was given a “lucrative offer” for an extension in his tenure. “It was made in front of me. He rejected it because he wanted the institution to move forward from a controversial role to a constitutional role.”
DEATHS DG ISPR ARSHAD SHARIF’S FAMILY LT GEN BABAR IFTIKHAR