Pakistan’s ISI chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum said on Thursday that Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was given a “lucrative offer” in March by the then government amidst the political turmoil, as the powerful top spy launched a veiled attack on ousted premier Imran Khan at an unprecedented press conference.
“I am aware that you are surprised by my presence,” Lt Gen Anjum told reporters in the first-ever media interaction by any ISI chief in Pakistan’s history.
The press conference came as the country was grappling with different versions about the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya and indirect allegations against the armed forces.
Sharif was shot dead at a police checkpoint at an hour’s distance from Nairobi on Sunday night, creating a storm in the country. The Kenyan police later said it was a case of mistaken identity during a search for a similar car involved in a child abduction case.
“As chief of this agency (Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI), I cannot remain silent when they are targeted for no reason,” he said, nearly seven months after the the government led by cricketer-turned-politician Khan was ousted after a no-confidence motion was passed by the National Assembly amidst political turmoil and allegations of US interference.
Lt Gen Anjum said the nation had given him the responsibility to take secrets to the grave. “But when needed and when necessary, I will bring those facts to light”.
He said the officers, including Quetta Corps commander, killed in Lasbela areas of Balochistan in a helicopter crash were mocked.
He said words like “neutral and janwar” were used against the army to illustrate that the institution was indulging in sedition.
These words were also being used because the institution refused to bend to an “unconstitutional and illegal act”, the ISI chief said in hard hitting words. He, however, didn’t explain the illegal acts.
Lt Gen Anjum said that in March there was “a lot of pressure” but the institution and the army chief Gen Bajwa decided to limit the military to its constitutional role.
In March, Gen Bajwa was given a “lucrative offer” for an indefinite extension in his tenure, he said. “It was made in front of me. He (Gen Bajwa) rejected it because he wanted the institution to move forward from a controversial role to a constitutional role,” the ISI chief said, without naming former premier Khan.
Bajwa, who is on a three-year extension, is set to retire next month.
“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.
Recalling that the army chief was called a traitor and his family was also targeted, the ISI chief asked, “If you see him as a traitor, then why do you meet him through the back door?”
“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 said, in a veiled attack on former prime minister Khan.
He confirmed that slain journalist Sharif was in contact with the military establishment even when he was out of the country and Pakistan was not convinced about the story of his killing.
“Perhaps we and the government are not fully convinced. That’s why the government has formed a team that will head to Kenya, he said.
Sharif, a former reporter and TV anchor with ARY TV, and known for his proximity to former prime minister Khan, had fled to Kenya after he was booked on charges of sedition and peddling anti-state narrative by Pakistan’s security agencies earlier this year.
Khan, who came to power in 2018 with promises to create a Naya Pakistan’, apparently lost support of the powerful Army after he refused to endorse the appointment of the ISI chief last year.
Finally, Khan agreed but it soured his ties with the army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 75 years of existence and has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.
The ISI is Pakistan’s powerful spy agency. In 1950, it was officially given the task of safeguarding Pakistani interests and national security, inside and outside the country.
At the outset of the press conference, Military spokesperson Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar said the purpose of the media interaction was to shed light on the killing of journalist Sharif and the circumstances surrounding it.
He said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was informed of the sensitivity of today’s press conference.
Calling late Sharif as an “icon of journalism”, the spokesperson said that he belonged to a military family whose father and brother served in armed forces of the country. He termed the death of Sharif as an unfortunate incident and said the presser was necessary to distinguish “facts, fiction and opinion .
Maj Gen Iftikhar said that a false narrative was built around the so-called cypher conspiracy when there was none and the army had informed the political leadership about it.
He said that late Sharif had met Khan several times who fed him about the cypher story. “As a result, it was stated that he was shown meeting minutes and the cypher, he said, adding that facts between his death and the cypher story should be determined.
“It was surprising for us when on March 27 a piece of paper was waved and an attempt was made to build a narrative that was far from reality, he said, adding the journalists were given wrong information to defame Pakistan.
Khan was ousted from power in April after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, has talked about a ‘threat letter’ from the US and claimed that it was part of a foreign conspiracy to remove him as he was not acceptable for following an independent foreign policy. The US has bluntly rejected the allegations.