Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum in an unexpected press conference, joined Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) DG Major General Babar Iftikhar, held in Islamabad on Thursday.
DG ISI spoke about journalist Arshad Sharif’s killing and former prime minister and PTI chairman Imran Khan’s confrontational narrative against the military.
The DG ISI unveiled the information in a press conference flanked by DG ISPR.
At the outset of the press conference, DG ISPR Gen Iftikhar informed that the purpose of today’s media talk was to shed light on the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya and the circumstances surrounding it.
“This press conference is being held in the context of presenting facts so that facts, fiction, and opinion can be differentiated”, he said, adding that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had been specially informed about the sensitivity of the press conference.
As it was for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the head of the national intelligence agency directly addressed the media, DG ISI said, “I am aware that you are surprised by my presence.”
He added that he had appeared for his institution and the officers who were sacrificing their lives.
“As chief of this agency, I cannot remain silent when they are targeted for no reason,” he maintained.
Lt Gen Anjum maintained that 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”.
Lt Gen Anjum said that the military was called “neutral and an animal” as they had committed treason by refusing to be part of an “illegal” decision.
He said that the refusal to do the “illegal job” was not the decision of a single person or army chief but of the entire institution.
The ISI chief said that the military has been under a lot of pressure since March but they decided to limit themselves to its constitutional role.
He said that General Bajwa could have spent the last six months of his term in peace but he took the decision in favour of the country and institution.
“Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was also targeted and faced criticism. An attempt was made to create a divide in society.”
“Former government offered army chief an extension for an indefinite period in his term in order to fail the no-trust motion but he turned down the offer,” said Lt Gen Anjum.
“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,” he said.
“If the commander-in-chief was a traitor then why was he praised endlessly in the recent past”.
“If the army chief is a traitor in your eyes, why did you want to give an extension in his term, why do you still meet him secretly,” asked the DG ISI.
“The leaders of the institutions debated on the matter for several days and the institution decided after deliberating on every aspect that we will remain restricted to the constitution,” said the DG ISI.
Talking about Arshad Sharif’s death, He said that it was an “unfortunate incident”.
DG ISI called him an “icon of journalism in Pakistan”.
The ISI chief said he was a “competent, hardworking and able journalist”. “Some quarters may have differences with his political views but his dedication to work is undeniable.”
He noted that members of the late journalist’s family had served in the army, adding that he always felt the pain of martyred officers.
DG ISI stated that as per his reports, Sharif did not face any threat in Pakistan. Lt Gen Anjum said that members of Arshad Sharif’s family were martyred officers and the journalist had contacts with the establishment.
“When he went abroad, he was still in contact [with the establishment].”
The DG ISI added 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.”
DG ISI said that intelligence officers had been removed from the probe teams so that a “fair probe” could be conducted.
“Whatever conclusion is reached, the DG ISPR will inform you about it,” he added.
Responding to a question about the journalist receiving threats from the ISI, Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum reiterated that Arshad Sharif had “good contacts” with his subordinates.
He also said that if the establishment did not want the journalist to leave the country, he would not be able to do so.
“We had no personal enmity with him. He had old contacts with our officers. Other journalists also say they receive calls. This is a lie,” he said, adding that there were apps that allowed the caller to conceal their identity.
Talking about the officers martyred in Lasbela, he said that they were mocked. Therefore, it is highly condemnable to speak without proof, he said,
“If the commander-in-chief is a traitor then why did you meet him in hiding? Meeting [him] is your right but it cannot be possible that you meet at night and call [him] a traitor in the day,” questioned the DG ISI.
Decision to appear at the presser
Talking about the decision to appear during today’s presser, DG ISI Lt Gen Anjum stated that it was in defence of the country’s institutions.
“I would often see that lies [were being perpetuated] and the youth was accepting it. I did not make an appearance for personal reasons. I saw the way the country and institutions were facing threats due to lies which is why I broke my silence.”
Later during the presser, he said that he was not there for personal reasons.
“There were campaigns against me in March on social media. I got a call from the agency that a campaign was underway against me. I told them to get in touch when the retweets exceed eight thousand million. Before that, I don’t care about myself”
He said that he would have addressed the media earlier if it was for personal reasons.
“The sacrificing their lives should not have to face these lies. Hence, remaining silent was morally unacceptable to me,” he said.