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South Asia

Pakistan Army, ISI Chief Dismiss Allegations by Imran Khan Over Journalist Arshad Sharif’s Killing

Pakistani journalist Sharif was shot dead on October 24 in Nairobi. However, it's not known why he left Pakistan, went to Dubai and then left for Kenya.

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New Delhi: In an unprecedented event, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief and the spokesperson of the armed forces on Thursday, October 27 jointly held a press conference in Rawalpindi to dismiss allegations by former Prime Minister Imran Khan against the military over the death of journalist Arshad Sharif.

This is the first time in Pakistan’s history that the head of the country’s spy agency has directly addressed the media, the Dawn reported.

According to the News International, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Lieutenant General Babar Iftikhar said that it is necessary to assess the facts related to the death of Sharif because baseless accusations were made on institutions, the leadership and the army chief.

Sharif, a former reporter and TV anchor with ARY TV, was shot dead on October 24 in Nairobi under mysterious circumstances, as reported by Kenyan newspaper the Nation.

However, it’s not known why he left Pakistan, went to Dubai and then left for Kenya.

He was an outspoken critic of the Shehbaz Sharif government and was perceived to be close to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party.

‘Allegations against the army’

In a recent speech at a lawyers’ convention in Peshawar on October 25, former Prime Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan had alleged that Sharif was killed in a “targeted attack”.

“He (Sharif) knew his life was in danger. He knew he was repeatedly getting warnings. He didn’t step back. I told him [to back down but] he wasn’t scared and then lastly, this targeted killing. No matter what people say, I know this was targeted killing.”

Additionally, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf member Shireen Mazari had implied that Sharif’s death was a consequence of his opposition to the Sharif government which had allegedly been supported by the military.

You shameless man. It was a targeted murder & it was under your govt that he was driven out of Pakistan then out of UAE. His last tweet was on your hiding in a car boot to go to Army House. He paid with his life for exposing all of you,” she said on Twitter, quoting a tweet by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

At the press conference, Director-General Iftikhar said that the “Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa was also targeted and faced criticism. An attempt was made to create a divide in society.”

The ISI chief, Lieutenant General Anjum, also made the revelation that in March, General Bajwa was given a “lucrative offer” for an extension of his tenure. “It was made in front of me. He rejected it because he wanted the institution to move forward from a controversial role to a constitutional role.”

Seemingly talking about former Prime Minister Khan, the ISI chief said that while citizens had the right to their opinion, why did “you praise him so much in the past if he was a traitor?”

“If you see him as a traitor, then why do you meet him through the back door? […] Don’t do this where 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.”

In response to these allegations, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Asad Umar on Thursday said his party chief never made any unconstitutional demands in “back door talks”, the Dawn reported.

“Imran Khan has discussed them in rallies and press conferences. The demands have been in front of the public since forever,” he said.

The cypher issue

According to the Dawn, Director-General Iftikhar spoke about a ‘cypher’ that was touted by Khan as evidence of a foreign conspiracy to oust his government.

Since Sharif was an investigative journalist, he looked into the cypher issue, the News International reported Director-General Iftikhar as saying.

He further said that the journalist held several meetings with the former prime minister and interviewed him, and at that time, it was claimed, he was shown the document.

He added that the facts linked with the cypher and Sharif’s death need to be found.

However, while talking about the cypher, he said that the army chief had discussed it with Khan on March 11 when the latter had termed it to be “not a big thing”, the Dawn report said.

“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 added.

“ISI’s findings related to the cypher didn’t have any evidence for any type of conspiracy,” he said, adding that all these findings are on record, the News International reported him as saying.

“In this media trial, ARY News played the role of a spin doctor in targeting the army and promoting a false narrative…,” he added.

‘Threat to Arshad Sharif’s life’

While Khan had claimed that Sharif faced threats to his life, and therefore, advised him to leave the country, the ISI chief said that Sharif did not face any threat in Pakistan.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had issued a threat alert for Arshad’s life. It stated that a terrorist group was looking to target Sharif. However, no information was shared with the institutions as to who provided them this information, Director-General Iftikhar said at the press conference.

He added that there were reports that Sharif did not want to leave the country but he kept being reminded that he was facing a threat to his life. He said nobody forced the senior journalist to leave Dubai at a government level, questioning as to who exactly forced him to leave Dubai.

Calling for a “transparent and fair probe”, he added: “The Kenyan police accepted their mistake and it has to be examined whether this is a case of ‘mistaken identity’ or one of ‘targeted killing’. There are several questions that have to be answered.”

Investigation into the death of Arshad Sharif

The ISI chief said that he was in contact with his Kenyan counterpart regarding the probe, adding that initial investigations said it was a case of “mistaken identity”.

“Perhaps we and the government are not fully convinced. That’s why the government has formed a team that will head to Kenya,” he added.

Director-General Iftikhar also added that they have requested the government to form a high-level inquiry commission to investigate the incident.

He also added that ARY chief executive officer Salman Iqbal should be brought back to Pakistan and be investigated, since his name was surfacing again and again.

“It has to be determined who exactly benefitted from his [Sharif’s] killing,” he said, adding that people had started pointing fingers at the army.

“We have to wait for the report from the inquiry commission. Until the report is released, it is not appropriate to make allegations,” the Dawn quoted him as saying.

“No one wants to be labelled a traitor after serving for 30-40 years. We can be weak, we can make mistakes, but we can never be a traitor or conspirator. The army is nothing without the people,” he said.

He further said that a thorough investigation needed to be conducted, especially on why Sharif had to leave Pakistan.