In an apparent bid by the federal government to help resolve the issue of a planted story published in a national daily, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday directed Senator Pervez Rashid to step down as minister for information and broadcasting.
“The planted story related to the National Security Committee (NSC) and National Action Plan (NAP) meetings published in Dawn on October 6 was a breach of national security. Evidence available so far points to a lapse on the part of the information minister who has been directed to step down from office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry,” an official handout issued by the PM’s Office said.
The statement added that an inquiry committee, including senior officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB), is being formed by the government of Pakistan to clearly apportion blame, identify interest and motives, and expose all those responsible for this episode for stern action in the national interest.
The formation of the committee is unprecedented in the history for interrogation of the government’s top-notch public office holders and is shaped on the lines of the joint investigation team (JIT). The JIT is normally formed to grill hardened criminals or terrorists. Once the JIT completes quizzing, the state of Pakistan then moves against those who are found involved in heinous crimes.
‘IT’S ONLY THE FIRST STEP’
A well-placed source informed Pakistan Today that the sacking of Senator Pervez Rashid was “just the first step” and the investigation would help unearth the network involved with an ugly campaign to malign the state institutions.
The source added that the JIT had been formed under the Official Secret Act and those involved would be tried under the Army Act for jeopardising the national security.
“The planted story is merely a tip of the iceberg. Actually, this planted story was a part of an organised smear campaign against the state of Pakistan. It is yet to be ascertained who was actually behind the slander campaign. The investigation hasn’t started yet. More big fishes are expected to be netted once the probe concludes,” the source said.
The source added that Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry was already being grilled for his role in the smear drive. The source said that others who are likely to be grilled included Senator Pervez Rashid, Fawad Hassan Fawad, IGP Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhaira and others.
“As a quid-pro-quo, the media cell being run in the PM’s house has been discontinued,” the source added.
Prime Minister’s Spokesman Dr Musaddiq Malik also confirmed the sacking of the information minister, telling the media that the information minister had been asked to step down. He also denied the claim that Maryam Nawaz’s media cell had been disbanded and said that the cell was only to cover the health issues of the country.
He also said that Maryam Nawaz was still heading an informal committee to oversee health and education and some other issues.
“There is no media cell, rather, five or six of us meet once or twice on a cup of coffee to discuss the health and education issues,” he asserted.
Dr Musaddiq Malik said that he had heard the rumours about the sacking of Principal Information Officer (PIO) Rao Tehseen Ali Khan, but could not confirm it.
“I don’t have any such information yet,” he maintained.
THOSE INVOLVED TO BE TRIED UNDER ARMY ACT, SAYS GEN AMJAD SHOAIB
Eminent defence analyst Lt Gen (R) Amjad Shoaib said that the ‘planted story’ in Dawn was a “very serious matter” and a breach of the national security.
“You see that the handout issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) after the recent meeting between federal ministers and the army leadership referred to the leak as a ‘planted story’ which reflects that a national security breach was made.
“The resignation of the minister is just the start. The government would have to hand over those involved to the army for a thorough grilling for the breach. Since the matter is related to the national security, those involved need to be investigated to ascertain whether the leak was made in order to benefit those across the border,” he asserted.
“Since those responsible for the leak are found in the government’s lap, the army leadership would keep insisting for handover of those involved in the leak, so as a legal action would be taken by the army under the Official Secret Act. This is the only way to normalise tensions,” he maintained.
He said those found involved would be tried under the Army Act.
“The army chief, either the present or his successor, would never compromise over this matter until those responsible are tried under the law,” he concluded.
It is pertinent to mention here that analysts and experts have dubbed this move as ‘ill-timed’ because of the developing situation in the country, especially regarding Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s lockdown of the federal capital on November 2.