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Pakistan minister removed over Dawn report of civil-military rift

Pakistan’s information minister Pervaiz Rashid was sacked on Saturday as the fallout of a report in the Dawn newspaper on a rift between the civil and military leadership over security policies and tackling banned terrorist groups.

Sources said Rashid, a senior leader of the ruling PML-N party considered close to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was removed after a government inquiry found him involved in leaking secret information to Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida that had embarrassed the military’s high command. The sources added Sharif had accepted Rashid’s resignation.

A brief statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said: “Evidence available so far points to a lapse on part of Information Minister, who has been directed to step down from office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry.”

It added that a “planted story” related to meetings of the National Security Council and National Action Plan published in Dawn on October 6 amounted to “a breach of national security”.

The government will form an inquiry committee, including senior officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau, to “clearly apportion blame, identify interests and motives and expose all those responsible for this episode for stern action in the national interest”, the statement said.

The government’s principal information officer Rao Tehsin Ali Khan too was sacked and analysts said more officials could face the axe. They include the principal secretary to the premier, Fawad Hassan Fawad, and Sharif’s special assistant for foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi. Another federal minister could also be shown the door, sources said.

The Pakistani media also reported defence minister Khawaja Asif, another senior leader of the PML-N, had left for Dubai with his family. However, the reason behind his trip could not immediately be ascertained.

Reports said action was taken against Rashid followed a preliminary inquiry by interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. His ouster capped several weeks of fast paced developments after the Dawn reported that foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry had warned a meeting of top civilian and military leaders that Pakistan faced growing international isolation if it failed to act against terrorist groups.

The report “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”, created a storm in Pakistani political circles even though it was denied by the PML-N government. The government ordered a probe as it came under mounting pressure from the powerful military.

The army contended details of the meeting between civilian and military leaders had been “leaked” and demanded a probe as it believed the leak amounted to a breach of national security.

Almeida was briefly barred from travelling out of Pakistan. The Dawn stood by Almeida and his report, with its editor Zaffar Abbas saying the story “was verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”. -ht


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