In an unprecedented move DG ISI Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum and DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar addressed a press conference speaking on the killing of senior journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya.
Firing broadside at PTI Chairman Imran Khan, the military spokesperson said that the purpose of the media talk was to differentiate between “facts, fiction and opinion”.
Deeming the journalist’s death as an ‘unfortunate incident’, DG ISI calling Arshad “an icon of journalism in Pakistan”.
Giving details of Arshad’s death, Major General Babar Iftikhar stated that a threat letter was issued by the K-P government on August 5 claiming that TTP was planning to target the slain journalist, however, added that no further details were given on the source of information.
“This shows the threat alert was issued with the aim to force Arshad to leave the country. There was reports that he (Sharif) did not want to leave the country but he kept being reminded that he was facing a threat to his life,” he said.
He further said that it emerged that ARY CEO Salman Iqbal had asked the ARY News head Ammad Yousuf to send Arshad abroad as soon as possible.
The DG ISPR stated that a manager in the ARY Group booked a ticket for Sharif for Dubai, according to which he was supposed to be back on September 9.
“On Aug 10, he left Peshawar airport thorough PK-637 for Dubai. He was provided complete protocol by the KP government,” he said, adding that the late journalist was escorted by KP officers to the airport.
“Arshad remained in the UAE until he had a valid visa. He left for Kenya when his visa for Dubai expired.”
He said that no one “forced” Arshad to leave Dubai at a government level and questioned who exactly forced him to leave. He also questioned who processed the journalist’s documents in UAE, who looked after his accommodation, who forced him to not return to Pakistan and who assured him that he was safe in Kenya.
He also questioned who was in contact with Ashraf from Pakistan and who was hosting him in Kenya.
“Kenyan police accepted their mistake and it has to be examined whether this is a case of mistaken identity or one of targeted killing. There are several questions that have to be answered,” he said, calling for a “transparent and fair probe”.
Therefore, the government has been requested to form a high-level inquiry commission to probe the incident, he said.
He further said that since fingers were being pointed at the Pakistan Army, an ISI official who was initially made part of the panel was removed from the committee.
DG ISI went on to state that the name of the ARY CEO Salman Iqbal was surfacing again and again and should be brought back to Pakistan and made part of the probe.
“It has to be determined who exactly benefitted from his killing,” he said adding that it was now the media’s responsibility now unearth the facts and bring them to light.
“We have to wait for the report from the inquiry commission. Until the report is released, it is not appropriate to make allegations”.
In response to a question, DG ISI said that there was no danger to the life of Arshad Sharif’s in Pakistan.
“He was in contact with the establishment and my own institution when he was here and even when he went out of the country he maintained contact. In fact, this month, he was in touch and wished to return to the country” added DG ISI Lt Gen Nadeem.
“We are not fully satisfied” with the Kenyan official’s initial claims that “this was an accident that occurred due to mistaken identity,” revealed DG ISI.
Answering a question on possible propaganda against the military in attempts to influence the selection of a new army chief in November, DG ISPR said that “criticism is everyone’s right”.
Referring to the diplomatic cypher which PTI claimed was part of the ‘regime-change’ operation against the then-government of Imran Khan, Gen Babar said Arshad was an investigative journalist and he conducted several shows when on the diplomatic communication when PTI chief Imran Khan claimed it as evidence of a foreign conspiracy.
He added that several meetings were held between Imran and Arshad. “As a result, it was stated that he was shown the meeting minutes and the cypher.”
Reiterating that the facts behind the cypher and Arshad’s death have to be determined, he said the army chief had discussed it with Imran on March 11 and the PTI chief had said it “was not a big thing”.
“It was surprising for us when on March 27 a piece of paper was waved and an attempt was made to build a threat on that was far from reality.”
Terming the cypher “baseless and unfounded”, the military spokesman said the National Security Committee found no proof regarding a conspiracy against the PTI government and neither did the ISI.
“This is all part of the record.”
Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa
For the first time in Pakistan’s history, DG ISI Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum appeared in the press conference said that as the chief of the country’s spy agency he cannot remain silent when they are being targeted for no reason.
“The nation has given me the responsibility to take secrets to the grave but when needed and when necessary, I will bring those facts to light”.
“Last year, the establishment decided that it would restrict itself to its constitutional role. The army had an intense discussion and we reached the conclusion that the country’s benefit lies in us restricting ourselves to our constitutional role and remaining out of politics.”
He said that in March, there was “a lot of pressure” but the institution and the army chief decided to limit the military to its constitutional role.
Lt Gen Anjum revealed that in March, Gen 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.”
In a not-so-veiled reference to former premier Imran, the ISI chief said that while citizens had the right to their opinion, why did “you praise him so much in the past if he was a traitor?”
“If you see him as a traitor, then why do you meet him through the back door? […] 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’s a big contradiction between your words and your actions.”
He further stated that if Gen Bajwa wanted, he could have spent the last few months of his tenure comfortably but he made sacrifices in the country’s best interest.