In an unprecedented move, the director-generals (DGs) of the ISI and ISPR held a joint press conference to clarify the position of the Army. After the murder of Arshad Sharif in Kenya, many fingers were being pointed at the strongest institution in Pakistan. There were accusations from various circles that it was this institution that was behind sending Sharif out of the country. Later, due to the expiry of his visa, the slain investigative journalist had to fly to Kenya, where he was shot dead. At the presser, the military officials talked about the cypher issue, Imran Khan’s propaganda, TTP’s threat to Arshad Sharif, ARY’s role in maligning the institution of the army, and the Chief of the Army Staff’s lucrative offer of extension in March.
The country’s head of the spy wing came and talked to the media for the first time in the history of this nation. This shows how grave the issues are in the country. Both army officers clarified their institution’s position regarding various matters, starting with the cypher rhetoric that former premier Imran Khan has been using. They reiterated that, according to the intelligence agency, there was no such issue and it was Khan who spun it around and made the cypher a national security issue. According to them, the former prime minister is only doing this to gain political support from the masses and once again become the head of the government. They also linked this to Arshad Sharif, the slain journalist who was one of those who were on the frontlines with Khan and talking about the made up issue more than anyone else. Being an investigative journalist, he was deeply involved in this conspiracy, and this might have led to his untimely demise.
However, the DG ISI clarified that Arshad Sharif was never a target for the agency and he did not face any threat from the establishment. Therefore, pointing fingers at the army was only allowing the real threat to deepen its claws in the country. They also said that had the ISI wanted to keep the journalist in the country, he could never have left. Therefore, no link can be established between the two, and a fair probe will uncover the truth sooner or later.
On the issue of the army’s involvement in politics, the top officials confirmed that the COAS had decided to keep the institution within its constitutional bounds and not overstep. Hence, whatever happens in the political arena has nothing to do with the army. However, this does reveal that the army was, in fact, meddling in politics before COAS Bajwa decided to take a step back.
It is somewhat melancholic that one of the strongest institutions in the country had to clarify its position in front of the whole country because it was being accused of being a threat to the country. Conversely, in a sense, it is also an achievement of the masses that all institutions, no matter their power or size, have to be answerable to the public and have to clarify their stance before the real masters, the citizens.
This conference may have been necessary at this point in time. However, the army must not have such a large role in the political arena that it needs to clarify its position. Similarly, politicians must not involve army in civilian matters. It is wise for the institution of the army to stay away from politics and remain within the bounds of its constitutional duty.