NSC statement did not include the word ‘conspiracy’: DG ISPR

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar said on Thursday that the word “conspiracy” was not used in the statement issued after a meeting of the National Security Committee last month.

He was answering a question by a journalist after his press conference. The journalist had asked the army leadership’s stance on Imran Khan’s claim of a foreign conspiracy to oust him and whether the NSC had endorsed such a claim.

“As far as a military response about the NSC meeting is considered, that stance, in that meeting was fully given, and then a statement was issued … which clearly says what was concluded in that meeting.

“The words used are in front of you … as I said … the words used are clear. Is there any word such as conspiracy used in it? I think not.”

Gen Iftikhar said the minutes of the NSC meeting can be declassified if the government decides.

He added that demarches were given, not just on conspiracies, but for many reasons. “It is a diplomatic procedure.”

The SOPs of such a cable, he explained, was that these ciphers were in the domain of the Foreign Office. “These are top secret documents and there is some circulation depending on which institution they’re related to. When institutions get such cables, the FO begins work if there is something on national security in them.”

Meanwhile, in response to a question regarding the army’s role in politics, the ISPR DG revealed that the former prime minister had approached the army chief to help find a solution to the political crisis.

“It is unfortunate that our political leadership was not ready to talk. So the army chief and DG ISI went to the PMO and three scenarios were discussed,” he said, recalling that one was that the no-confidence motion should be held as it was. The other were that the prime minister resigns or the no-confidence motion was retracted and the assemblies were dissolved.

“No option from the establishment was given,” Gen Iftikhar clarified.

He is briefing journalists on the recently held formation commanders conference at the General Headquarters on the recent disinformation campaign against the smear campaign against the military.

The ISPR DG rubbished rumours doing round on social media about the establishment meeting opposition parties. “There is no truth to this,” he asserted.

“I heard these things… Investigative journalism has gone forward a lot. If someone has evidence, bring it forward. There were no such contacts, no deal… For Gods’ sake, there is nothing like this,” he said, further refuting BBC’s story on the army chief meeting Imran Khan on the night of April 9.

“I said it that day too that whatever political process has run, army had no role or interference at any stage.”

The DG ISPR reaffirmed that the “establishment or army had the best of relations with the government” and assured that there was no disagreement between the two institution.

“In fact I’d say that the COAS has very good personal relation with Imran Khan and of mutual respect. It will stay the same… parties and governments change but army meets all of them. There are no issued of problems,” he reiterated.

Gen Iftikhar also pointed out that there were rumours about the army chief’s extension too. “Let me put this to rest. COAS is neither seeking extension nor will he accept it. He will be retiring on time on November 22.

“This is character assassination without evidence,” he added.

Gen Iftikhar continued that the word neutral doesn’t properly describe the army’s stance. He said this in answer to a question. “[The word] apolitical is better. In our constitutional and legal setup, no kind of political affiliation or interference should exist.”

He said that there had always been demands that army shouldn’t have a role in politics. “Today, it is being given a real form.”

The ISPR DG recalled that when the COAS last appeared in the security committee’s meeting, he told all the political leaders that the army wanted to keep itself away from politics.

“In another meeting in GB, when all the political leaders were present, the army chief had reiterated that we [army] wanted to stay away from politics. We don’t have anything to do with politics… I think this is very good decision and it will remain so,” he added.

Gen Iftikhar also clarified that the judiciary was free when a question regarding courts opening Sunday night was asked.

“If something has happened it was their decision… Pakistan’s sustenance relies on democracy and to strengthen it is everyone’s duty.”

The ISPR DG then said “absolutely not” to possibility of a martial law being imposed. “So our external challenges are so much that if our army could tackle those alone it would be a success. It is not fair to blame an institution which is always working for Pakistan’s security.”

Meanwhile, talking about the former premier’s visit to Russia, Gen Iftikhar confirmed that the army was onboard on it and was taken into confidence. “There was institutional input that he should go. It was in no one’s wildest dreams that they [Russia] would announce war when the prime minister was there, which was obviously very embarrassing.”

When a journalist asked him about army bases, the DG ISPR said that the ex-prime minister was asked about giving bases to US in an interview. “If a demand like that would have been made, the army would have had the same stance as the PM.

“But the reality is that they never asked for bases,” he revealed, adding that had they asked, the army would have had the same stance as the PM.

US congratulates Shehbaz on election as prime minister

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Wednesday congratulated newly-elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and vowed to continue its long-standing cooperation with Pakistan’s government.

Shehbaz was elected the 23rd prime minister of Pakistan on Monday after his predecessor, Imran Khan, was removed from office through a no-confidence vote last week.

In a statement issued last night, Blinken expressed that Pakistan had been an important partner on wide-ranging mutual interests for nearly 75 years and the US valued their relationship.

“The United States views a strong, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan as essential for the interests of both countries,” he added.

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Responding to the statement, the Prime Minister’s Office reaffirmed the need for cooperation with United States. “The new government wishes to constructively and positively engage with the US to promote shared goals of peace, security and development in the region,” it tweeted.

The PMO also highlighted the need for deepening the relationship on the principles of equality, mutual interest and mutual benefit.

Blinken’s comments come a day after Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the US had a “healthy military-to-military relationship with Pakistani armed forces”, adding that “we have every expectation that will be able to continue to be the case”.

“We recognize that Pakistan plays a key role in the region. We recognize that Pakistan and the Pakistani people are, themselves, victims of terrorist attacks inside their own country,” he added.

In response to a question on allegations of the ousted premier against the US for its role in regime change, Kirby had declined to comment and said that US would not talk about Pakistan’s domestic politics.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington touched a new low after former prime minister Imran Khan accused the US of conspiring to dislodge his government. He based his allegation on a diplomatic cable in which it was reportedly said that a State Department official had warned of consequences for bilateral ties if the no-confidence motion against then PM Imran Khan failed.

Washington had denied the allegation.

Ties with the US came particularly were already under stress since February when former PM Imran Khan went ahead with his planned trip to Moscow, which coincided with Russia’s military onslaught of Ukraine.

Later, Pakistan abstained from voting on a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s actions and demanding its immediate withdrawal from Ukraine even though the US and its European allies had urged Islamabad to support the resolution.

Mending fences with the US would be one of the top foreign policy priorities for the new government.

Conservative MPs hold Johnson’s political fate in their hands

LONDON: Boris Johnson has survived the initial fallout from becoming the first British prime minister to be fined for breaking the law, but his long-term position remains precarious, analysts said on Wednesday.

The embattled UK leader offered a “full apology” on Tuesday after being penalised for breaching Covid lockdown laws by attending a brief celebration of his birthday in 2020, but defied calls to resign.

However, the so-called “partygate” scandal shows little sign of abating.

Johnson faces further possible fines as police continue their probe into numerous rules-breaching events in Downing Street, while his ruling Conservatives look set to be punished in local elections next month.

And once the police have concluded their investigation, a senior civil servant’s detailed report on the scandal will be published in full, which seems likely to increase the political pressure.

Once-mutinous Conservative MPs have in recent weeks rallied around their leader as the war in Ukraine and the growing cost-of-living crisis diverted attention away from the furor.

But commentators are questioning whether Johnson, 57, can maintain that support if he is repeatedly fined, his party fares poorly in the May 5 nationwide polls and further lurid details of parties emerge.

“A lot more fines and a lot more headlines might change the view of more voters and that in turn might change the mind of Conservative MPs if they do very badly in the elections,” Anand Menon, a politics professor at King’s College London, said.

“He’s clearly willing and able to brazen some things out in a way other, earlier prime ministers probably weren’t… I don’t think he’s superhuman, though.”

Johnson’s position was hanging by a thread earlier this year following a stream of controversies since last summer that culminated in “party gate” and an increasingly rebellious mood among his MPs.

Several Conservative lawmakers publicly withdrew their support for his leadership, with more reportedly writing letters of no-confidence in him to the party’s 1922 Committee.

If the grouping of backbenchers receives at least 54 such letters from Johnson’s 360 MPs, it would spark a confidence vote and his possible removal as leader.

“Boris Johnson will remain PM so long as he… retains the confidence of the Conservative group of MPs,” Robert Hazell, of University College London’s Constitution Unit, explained.

“It is they who will decide his fate.” Johnson is expected to face lawmakers when they return from their Easter break next week to explain why he repeatedly insisted in the House of Commons that no lockdown rules had been broken. Knowingly misleading parliament is a breach of government ministers’ code of conduct, which states they should resign as a result.

Hannah White, of the Institute for Government think tank, told the BBC that Johnson’s refusal to do so “puts us in a very difficult situation”.

“If it is now henceforth precedent that if you break the law as a minister, you don’t automatically have to resign, that’s… quite a difficult precedent to have been set,” she said.

White noted that Johnson was hoping voters’ anger over “partygate” had dissipated.

But Britons across the country made huge sacrifices during the pandemic, including not being able to attend loved one’s funerals. Opinion polls suggest that many remain furious at the behavior in Downing Street.