The Pakistan army’s public rejection of action taken by the Nawaz Sharif government against a member of its inner circle over the Dawn Leaks affair has resulted in a standoff between the two institutions, with many fearing that things may worsen in the coming days.
On Saturday, it was announced that Sharif’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi had been sacked due to his alleged role in the leaking of information about a high-level meeting of the civil and military leadership to local newspaper Dawn.
The controversy, known as Dawn Leaks, was triggered after the newspaper’s columnist Cyril Almeida, quoting unnamed sources, wrote that in a high-level meeting on national security held on October 3, 2016, civilian leaders had spoken about Pakistan’s “growing diplomatic isolation” due to its lack of action against some militant groups. The report claimed that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency’s director general was present in the meeting, which was attended by a number of functionaries including Sharif as well as his brother Shahbaz Sharif.
Both the civil government as well as the military high command refuted Almeida’s report. He was then put on the Exit Control List for some time while the government set up an inquiry committee to investigate the matter and find out who had leaked details of the meeting. In November 2016, the interior ministry notified a seven-member committee – headed by retired judge Aamer Raza Khan – to probe the matter. The panel was supposed to submit its report within the next 30 days but was given a one-month extension by the ministry to complete its task.
One member each from the ISI, Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau were included in the panel. Establishment Secretary Tahir Shahbaz, Punjab’s Ombudsman Najam Saeed and the Federal Investigation Agency Director Usman Anwar were also part of the committee.
Based on the recommendations of the report, Sharif’s office issued a letter stating that he had approved the committee’s recommendation to remove Fatemi from his post. The letter, widely shared on social media and a local TV channel on Saturday, said that the allocation of the portfolio of foreign affairs to Fatemi would be withdrawn and the necessary notification in this regard would be issued soon.
Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board. Notification is rejected.— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) April 29, 2017
The letter also said that Sharif directed that the role of Dawn’s editor Zafar Abbas and columnist Cyril Almeida be referred to the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) for “necessary disciplinary action to be taken against them”.
The APNS, the letter said, shall also be asked to develop a Code of Conduct for the print media especially when dealing with issues relating to the security of Pakistan and to ensure that stories on issues of national importance and security are published by abiding with basic journalistic and editorial norms. The letter said that the premier also approved the committee’s recommendation that Rao Tehsin Ali, Principal Information Officer of the Ministry of Information, shall be proceeded against under the E&D Rules 1973 on the charges based on findings in the report.
But within a matter of hours, a war of words between the government and the military began.
Within minutes of the letter being made public, the Pakistan Army rejected the notification from the Prime Minister’s Office , terming it “incomplete and not in line with the inquiry committee’s recommendations”. Sources close to the army say that others identified by the committee for action were ignored by Sharif. In an unusual tweet, DG ISPR Major General Asif Gahfoor said, “Notification on Dawn Leaks is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the inquiry board. Notification is rejected.”
In response, a few hours after the Pakistan Army’s tweet, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar said state institutions responding through tweets did not bode well for the country’s democracy. “It was only a reference issued in lieu of the briefing given to the Prime Minister,” Nisar told reporters at a press conference in Karachi, adding, “A notification is yet to be issued by the interior ministry.”
In a direct attack on the military, Nisar said, “There are several issues of great importance and it’s unfortunate that they are being dealt with through tweets. State institutions don’t communicate with each other through tweets.” Nisar said the interior ministry would issue a notification in line with the recommendations of the inquiry board: “Nobody is being protected in the [Dawn Leaks] inquiry .”