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ISI presser aimed to differentiate ‘facts from fiction’. But Pakistanis see a deeper meaning

Imran Khan’s attacks on the military have become increasingly vitriolic. He has called the outgoing Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa ‘an animal’ and ‘traitor’.

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New Delhi: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders, political commentators, local media outlets and the general public are still making sense of the unprecedented press conference held by the country’s ISI chief on Thursday. It’s the political nature of the media briefing that has tongues wagging.

Many commentators found it ironic that Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum held a politically-loaded press conference while announcing that the army was restricting itself to its constitutional role and staying away from politics.

Dawn’s Foreign and National Security correspondent Baqir Sajjad pointed out that major media outlets like Dawn, The News and The Express Tribune were excluded from the press conference.

Some Pakistani journalists including GeoTv’s Azaz Syed saw a deeper meaning in the briefing. “#ISI Chief and #DGISPR are actually saying that Army and ISI has withdrawn all support from @ImranKhanPTI… They say that onwards they will remain apolitical,” Syed tweeted.

Salman Masood, Pakistan correspondent for The New York Times also tweeted, “The internal power struggle, fought through proxies, gets messier and messier. Fast moving to a stage when the main players will finally come out in the open themselves”.

Imran reacts

The Pakistani media was quick to get sound bytes from former Prime Minister Imran Khan whom the ISI chief accused of seeking to foment “anarchy in the country” in the press conference.

“Either there should be some issue that concerns them, like security, but they held a political press conference so I don’t understand this. Could the defense or interior minister or prime minister not have done this? What was their [the institutions’] job in holding the press conference?” said Khan in an interview with journalist Amir Mateen that was aired on 92 News.

In recent weeks, Khan’s attacks on the military have become increasingly vitriolic, going so far as to call outgoing Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa ‘an animal’ and ‘traitor’.

Other PTI leaders waded into the debate and also strongly criticised the press conference. “The PTI always respected and defended the institution (the army) and strengthened it. It would be wrong to say that we were against the institution,” said former foreign minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Senior PTI leaders, including Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhry, Hammad Azhar and Shireen Mazari also expressed similar opinions.

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Support for the ISI

The ISI chief’s announcement that the army would stay away from politics was welcomed by several politicians.

Pakistan defence minister Khawaja Asif said that it was much needed change and should be welcomed as the Army had been involved in politics but at least after 75 years, it decided to play only its constitutional role.

Foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, also the chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), tweeted, “Transition of establishment from controversial to constitutional role is vital for Pakistan’s progress & prosperity. PPP has struggled for this for 3 generations”.

Anjum attempted to put to rest allegations that the army had a hand in journalist Arshad Sharif’s mysterious death in Nairobi, which sparked conspiracy theories of a government-sponsored assassination. This press conference aimed to present the facts so that “facts, fiction and opinion can be differentiated,” said the ISI chief.

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