Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sacked Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid for the “lapse” on his part to stop a “false” report on a rift between the government and the powerful army from being published in national interest, a senior minister said on Sunday.
Addressing a press conference a day after Rashid was fired by Sharif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said: “Pervez Rashid should have told the journalist concerned that the story is incorrect, and should not be published in national interest…Upon resistance he could have asked the editor of the newspaper, not to run the story.”
Buckling under pressure from the army, Sharif sent his information minister packing after preliminary investigations established a “lapse” on his part.
The Dawn newspaper had published a report on October 6 about a rift between the civilian and military leaderships on support to banned terror groups in the country.
Nisar said, “Some documented and undocumented records involving Pervaiz Rashid say the reporter contacted him for comments about a story regarding (Punjab Chief Minister) Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI chief.”
“Pervaiz Rashid called the reporter into his office. Through my entire investigation… I reached the conclusion that Pervaiz Rashid should have told the reporter that this story is wrong, ‘Do not publish this story in view of national interest’,” Nisar was quoted as saying by the Dawn.
“He should have spoken to (Dawn Editor) Zaffar Abbas, Dawn’s management or the government. So there is a lapse. He had a duty as information minister when these decisions (his resignation) were made… He should have understood the implications of the story and stopped it.”
Nisar maintained that all information given to Dawn about an altercation between Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI chief, or the foreign secretary’s comments that Pakistan stands isolated in the world are all false.
The Dawn has stood by the story, saying it was “verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”.
The report of the high-profile security meeting has forced the government to initiate an inquiry to identify the person responsible for its leak.
Nisar said that Prime Minister Sharif and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif were briefed regarding a probe into the story when all three met in Quetta a day after the police academy attack, where the interior minister shared details regarding the probe. “I shared with him (the PM) the details and recommendations. The PM asked me some questions and in principle approved the recommendations. He asked me to share them with the COAS. Ishaq Dar was also there in the meeting, so was Shahbaz Sharif.”
“We made a call and went to Army House. Not in secret. It was no late-night clandestine meeting,” Nisar clarified. “As usual, the meeting with COAS was very pleasant. There were reports of it being strained and tense.”
“Because this is a high-profile probe, senior officials have to initiate this. A legal team, led by our law minister, was also complying. The Federal Investigation Agency and Islamabad police are all complying,” he said.
A high-level inquiry committee comprising intelligence officials and other senior officials will be finalised by the prime minister.
“The story says there was a bitter exchange between the ISI chief and CM Shahbaz. This is not true. There was no such meeting… Where the foreign secretary made a briefing. The next day, there was a meeting and I was in the meeting. The foreign secretary gave a briefing in this meeting, but there was no bitterness,” he emphasised.
“When it comes to non-state actors, there has been no contradiction. There has always been consensus,” Nisar claimed.
“The foreign secretary is a competent person. He did say India is trying to isolate Pakistan, but never said Pakistan is isolated. His words were distorted and broadcast to the whole world. The country’s national interest has been compromised,” Nisar said.
“I told the PM, whoever is responsible,I will get to the bottom of it. I agree there should be an inquiry, but I am not cut out to be an investigator.”
“There is a unanimous agreement: whoever has leaked this false news should be brought in front of the nation. Who has leaked this story? Who fabricated this? Pakistan’s national narrative is being compromised by a false report,” he claimed.
“Do not politicise this case. The hand behind this story should be exposed,” he said.
A travel ban on Cyril Almeida, the journalist who wrote the story, had sparked massive criticism of the government and the military from media houses, journalist associations and civil society.
Almeida’s name was put on the Exit Control List but the ban was later lifted after the backlash against the government.