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In rare public appearance, Pakistan’s spy chief criticizes ex-PM for anti-army campaign
ISLAMABAD: The head of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence on Thursday slammed former prime minister Imran Khan for his criticism of the military, appearing at a rare press conference to challenge questioning the ex-prime minister’s motives behind the anti-army remarks and portraying army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as a “traitor” among his supporters.
It is the first time in Pakistan’s history that the ISI leader addresses a press briefing. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum was appointed ISI chief in October last year and has never made any public appearances or comments since.
The Director General of the ISI is one of the most important and powerful positions in Pakistan, at the intersection of domestic politics, the war on militancy and Pakistan’s external relations.
In remarks to reporters, Anjum, who was dressed in civilian clothes, said he was aware that the media was “surprised by (his) presence” but that he could not remain silent while the army was ” target for no reason”.
The general was referring to criticism from Khan, his party and his supporters of the role of the military in politics.
Khan was ousted as prime minister in April in a vote of no confidence. He and his supporters have since repeatedly expressed disappointment that the army and its army chief did not back him against the ousting and instead helped bring Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government to power.
Pakistan’s military, which has long interfered in national politics, had declared before and since Khan’s ouster that it would remain apolitical. The ex-prime minister and his supporters have been widely critical of the policy, and on social media, where Khan has a huge following, hashtags calling the army chief a traitor and asking him to step down are commonplace.
“If you (Khan) are convinced that the leader of your army is a traitor, then why have you praised him so much just in the recent past?” Anjum said to the presser. “If he really was a traitor from your point of view, then why are you still meeting him behind closed doors?
“Don’t…meet us in the dark of night behind closed doors to express your constitutional and unconstitutional wishes, and then in the light of day call the same person a traitor.”
The ISI director general said the army chief received an offer in March for an “indefinite extension” of service. Khan was then still in government.
“Let me also inform you that in the month of March (2022), the army chief was offered an indefinite extension of his mandate; the offer was made in my presence,” he told reporters. “It was a very interesting offer but he (the army chief) refused it because he had taken the decision to bring the institution out of its controversial era and give it a constitutional role.
“The offer was made because the motion of no confidence was at its peak,” added the general.
Referring to the decision to speak at the press conference, Anjum said he was there to “defend” the country’s institutions:
“I often saw lies being spread and young people accepting them…Those who sacrifice their lives (soldiers) should not have to face these lies. Therefore, remaining silent was morally unacceptable to me now.
The ISI chief said his agency informed him of organized campaigns launched against him on social media in March.
“I told them to contact me when the retweets exceeded eight billion. Before that, I didn’t care about myself.
ARCHAD SHARIF MURDER
During the press conference, military spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar also addressed the murder of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya last Sunday, saying the presenter left Pakistan on the instructions of the CEO of the TV station he worked for and after a threat alert was issued by the provincial administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party of Khan is in power.
Sharif was killed on Sunday evening when the car he was traveling in sped through a checkpoint outside the Kenyan capital and police opened fire. Nairobi Police have expressed regret over the incident, saying it was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ during a search for a car involved in a kidnapping case of child.
A hugely popular talk show host, Sharif recently harshly criticized the current ruling coalition and the military and fled the country in August, citing death threats. He was also widely considered a strong supporter of former Prime Minister Khan and his PTI party. By the time he left Pakistan, he was facing a slew of court cases related to sedition and other charges. He left Pakistan for the United Arab Emirates and had recently traveled to Kenya from the Emirates.
Sharif’s death sparked public and media outrage and numerous calls for a transparent investigation.
“On August 5, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government issued a threat alert regarding FYR presenter Arshad Sharif,” Iftikhar told reporters. “According to our information, the alert was issued on the special instructions of the KP Chief Minister and said that a TTP (Pakistani Taliban) group based in Afghanistan held a meeting in Spin Boldak and decided to target Arshad Sharif in Rawalpindi or its adjacent areas. .”
The PTI government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did not share the information with the federal government or security agencies or specify how it got the information that Sharif was going to be targeted.
The army spokesman said: “The threat alert was issued with a specific plan to convince Arshad Sharif to leave the country.”
Showing screenshots of conversations between ARY’s news director Ammad Yousaf and the channel’s CEO Salman Iqbal, the military spokesman said Sharif’s ticket to Dubai had been officially booked by FYR and that he had left Pakistan from Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, with the facilitation of the government. officials there. The ticket was booked by an FYR official on August 9 through a travel agency in Karachi and the return date on the ticket was September 9. Sharif left for Dubai from Peshawar on August 10 via an Emirates flight, Iftikhar said.
“No state institution has tried in any way to prevent Arshad Sharif from leaving. If the government wanted to do it, they could have done it,” he said, adding that the journalist had traveled to Kenya after his visa for the United Arab Emirates expired.
“Nobody at the state level forced Arshad Sharif to leave Dubai. So who are the people who forced him from there?… Who told him not to return to Pakistan and that his life was safer in a country like Kenya?
“The name of ARY CEO Salman Iqbal keeps coming up,” the military spokesman said. “He should be brought back to Pakistan and be part of the investigation.”
Iqbal has been based in the United Arab Emirates and the United States since at least July this year, when his channel was embroiled in a scandal linked to sedition charges following remarks broadcast on ARY which, according to the media regulator, amounted to inciting mutiny within the army.
“The Kenyan police have accepted their mistake and it must be considered whether (Sharif’s murder) is a case of mistaken identity or targeted killing. There are several questions that need to be answered,” the military spokesman said, calling for a “transparent and fair investigation” and asking the government to form a high-level commission of inquiry.