Army Chief declined extension offer in March: reveals DG ISI

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Rawalpindi: In an unprecedented development, Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum appeared in a press briefing on Thursday along with Director General (DG) Lt General Babar Iftikhar to discuss the tragic death of journalist Arshad Sharif, and former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s confrontational narrative against the military.


Key points

  • Facts behind Arshad Sharif’s death have to be determined
  • Facts behind “cypher” have to be determined
  • Forces did not force Arshad Sharif to leave the country and subsequently leave Dubai too
  • ARY’s Salman Iqbal should be made part of the investigation
  • Holding protests is a democratic right but no one will be allowed to destabilize Pakistan

At the outset of the press briefing, DG ISPR said that the purpose of the briefing was to shed light on the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya and the circumstances surrounding it.

He praised the slain journalist by calling him an “icon of journalism” and expressed sorrow at the death of Arshad Sharif. He noted that members of the late journalist’s family had served in the army, adding that he always felt the pain of martyred officers.

Cypher

On the matter of cypher, Lt Gen. Babar Iftikhar said that Arshad Sharif had a different perspective on the matter since he was an investigative journalist. He did several interviews with the then-prime minister, Imran Khan, as a result of which he was shown meeting minutes and the cypher. He went on to say that the facts behind the cypher and Sharif’s death need to be determined.

Giving further details about it, DG ISPR said that Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had discussed the matter of cypher with then-Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 11. In that meeting, Imran Khan had termed it to be “not a big thing”.

However, he said, it surprised the military when Imran Khan flashed a letter at his rally on March 27 in an effort to give a narrative which was not linked with reality.

Lt Gen Iftikhar said that several facts regarding the cypher have surfaced, so far, which have 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.

He went on to say that the National Security Committee (NSC) was apprised by the ISI in a “very clear and professional way” that it did not find any evidence regarding the conspiracy.

He added that the military wanted these findings to be put before the country and left the job to the then government. But it was not done.

He claimed that at the time, a specific narrative was supplied to Sharif and other media, and an effort was made to malign Pakistan and its institutions abroad.

“In this media trial, ARY News played the role of a spin doctor in targeting the army and creating a false narrative […] the NSC meeting was presented in the improper perspective.”

Arshad Sharif’s death

The purpose of today’s press conference, according to the DG ISPR, was to differentiate facts, fiction, and opinion surrounding the death of Arshad Sharif. He added that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was “specially informed” about the sensitivity of the press conference.

During the briefing, DG ISPR said that there was no threat to Arshad’s life in Pakistan, adding that he had close contacts with the institution as well as the DG ISPR himself.

Salman Iqbal, CEO of ARY, was mentioned repeatedly, the DG ISPR continued. “He should be returned to Pakistan and included in the investigation.”

He claimed that following Sharif’s passing, the army had come under fire. “It needs to be established precisely who benefited from his murder.”

“Now it’s up to you to find out the truth and make it public. We must wait for the inquiry commission’s report. It is not proper to level accusations until the report is made public.

“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 traitor or conspirator. The army is nothing without the people,” he said, adding that now was the time for “unity and discipline”.

Adding to this point, DG ISI Lt General Nadeem Anjum said that Arshad was a “competent, hardworking and able journalist”.

“Some quarters may have differences with his political views but his dedication to work is undeniable,” he added.

Imran’s offer to Army Chief

Without directly taking the name, the DG ISI grilled former Prime Minister Imran Khan over his continuous confrontational stand against the top military brass, mainly the Army Chief.

The ISI chief asked: “how it was possible that the former Prime Minister meets Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in the night and then calls him a “traitor in the day”?

The ISI chief revealed that the military had been under a lot of pressure since March, but they decided to limit themselves to its constitutional role.

He revealed that back in March, COAS General Bajwa was offered a “lucrative offer” for an extension in his tenure, but the COAS turned down the offer.

“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.”

Talking about the officers martyred in Lasbela, he said that they were mocked. Therefore, it is highly condemnable to speak without proof, he said, adding that words like “neutral and janwar” were meant to illustrate that the institution was indulging in sedition.

On PTI’s long march

Responding to a question on the upcoming long march of the PTI, the DG ISPR that protesting was a democratic right. He said that this should not worry anybody as Pakistan faces no threat from it.

He categorically warned that nobody will be allowed to destabilize Pakistan.

The DG ISI said Pakistan Army will extend help to the government to control the situation if it was called under Article 245.

Lieutenant General Babar Iftikhar said all international borders and every inch of Pakistan are secured. He said we are fully cognisant of the threats and have the answer to them.

Journalist Arshad Sharif shot dead in Kenya; confirms wife

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