Facing the storm unleashed by the leaking of the Cyril Almeida story, “Act Against Militants or Face International Isolation, Civilians Tell Military,” the Nawaz Sharif government labelled it as being ‘fabricated and planted.” The PM Office’s initial statement about DawnLeaks that “evidence available so far points to a lapse on part of the Information Minister, who has been directed to step down from office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry” was dismissed vehemently as ‘fiction’. Sacrificial lamb Pervaiz Rasheed has now come out of enforced hibernation to confirm this.
Headed by retired judge Aamer Raza Khan, a seven-member Committee was supposed to submit their findings within 30 days, what should have taken not more than 72 hours has taken six months. This cemented the public perception of an attempted “cover-up” to absolve “someone” really close to the PM. As disclosed, at least uptill now, the report submitted to the PM on May 23 by Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan does not indict those universally believed to have done the dirty work fabricating the false story and then leaking it. A notification surfaced from the PM’s Office “de-notifying” Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to the PM for Foreign Affairs (SAPM). Received with disbelief, the matter becoming even less credible because the de-notifying “notification” was issued by someone suspected for being in the DawnLeaks chain himself, the PM’s Principal Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad. PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira echoed the mass public perception about the govt “protecting someone” and that no sane individual would believe these “Findings”.
Maryam Nawaz’s Trump-like tweets notwithstanding, the government seems to have started faltering finding scapegoats in continuing to filibuster punishing the real culprits. Tariq Fatemi refused to fall on his sword. Vehemently rejecting the allegations in a farewell missive to his colleagues in the Foreign Office on leaving his post, the former SAPM followed the Sufi saying, “read between the lines, it tires the eyes less”. He pointedly failed to even once make any mention whatsoever about his beloved mentor whom he slavishly served day and night for years. This profound silence about Mian Nawaz Sharif was deafening! This reinforced the PTI leaders querying whether the PM, his daughter Maryam and Fawad were interrogated. The persistent attempt at cover-up by the government reinforces the public perception of someone important responsible for the treasonable act being protected.
For the first time since the present COAS took over in late Nov 2016 bad vibes in the hitherto good civil-military equation surfaced with some vehemence. To quote DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, “Notification on Dawn Leaks is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the inquiry board. Notification is rejected”. Maybe we could have done without the “notification is rejected” bit, the overkill representing rather tough language with possible consequences. Since Ghafoor obviously knows the facts, why play mind games? Why not make public the “Findings” about the subversion and sedition under the “Official Secret Act”? The Army has the authority to try such people even though they not be subject to the Pakistan Army Act. What to talk of a major general, as a “first class gazette officer” even the junior-most subaltern of the Army is entitled to arrest an “enemy of the state”.
To quote my article “The Davos Challenge”, “The deliberate anti-Pakistan Army agenda set by certain motivated elements within the PML (N) hierarchy is condemnable. Such malafide acts of individuals unfortunately only deepens the misunderstanding between the govt and the Army, this inadvertently creates bad blood for no reason whatsoever. Not punishing the culprits was a major mistake, they should have been taken to task immediately”, unquote. The gentlemanly Raheel Shareef balked in the face of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s crocodile tears and unfairly left the mess for Qamar Jawed Bajwa to clean up. The delay in closure will damage civil-military relations.
Billions of rupees of government/semi-government advertisements are used to influence the print and electronic media by the Federal Information Ministry, supposedly to propagate a good image for the country and its institutions, particularly the national security entities. In fact all this money actually supports the government in power only and smears opponents. One did not expect former Principal Information Officer (PIO) Rao Tehsin Ali to fall on his sword either even though there is prima facie evidence of his involvement because of this consummate “deep state” bureaucrat being the official conduit from the government to the media. A cursory audit will confirm the vast sums funneled to those media houses openly attacking the Army at will. Was this virulent hatred for the Army inculcated by Tehsin as Private Secretary to the then Defense Minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal in the early 2000s? His insider working knowledge gives him a potential “Sword of Damocles” for blackmail.
Take for example the Federal Information Ministry paying for a 30-35 member cell headed by the PM’s daughter Maryam. Embedded in the PM’s House engaged in driving the social media denigrating PML (N) opponents, they eulogize the PM and mouth what he wants to but cannot say himself. Consider her un-ladylike tweet recently bashing the “Panama Papers” as “crap”. Both the principal investigative journalists Bastian Obermayer and Frederick Obermaier collaborating with the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) responded within hours to set the record straight. Surprise, surprise, defending the PM’s PanamaGate position more often than not on primetime TV, so did local ICIJ collaborator Umar Cheema! Given deep suspicions about her culpability in both PanamaGate and the DawnLeaks affair, Maryam should learn to leave well enough alone or does she believe “the best defence is offence”? One admires her courage and she certainly has a lot going for her, intelligence and political ambition to go with good looks and her father’s strong vote bank to boot (and that in the circumstances is a pun). Impulsiveness should not put these into jeopardy for the crap her tweet on “Panama Papers” was.
That Pervaiz Rasheed’s anti-Armed Forces agenda dovetailed with the virulent propaganda by the Indians was no coincidence. Emanating from the PM’s House, can the country afford that the culprits escape accountability? Can national security issues be discussed in such an environment? Does the person in sync with Modi’s slander against our Army have the moral courage to take responsibility for the fabrication of the story and the planting thereof, or will we continue searching for more human sacrifice for the blatant cover-up? Maybe “Born Again” Tariq Fatemi will come clean and put this country out of its misery?
The writer is a defense and security analyst.