Powerful army rejects Nawaz Sharif's dismissal of deputy foreign minister over anti-army leak as 'incomplete'
In a move dismissed by the country’s powerful army as “incomplete,” Pakistan’s prime minister Saturday sacked the deputy foreign minister over leaks suggesting army weakness in the face of militant groups.
Nawaz Sharif -- fresh from narrowly surviving a Panama Papers court ruling -- ordered the removal of his special assistant on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatimi, who effectively served as deputy foreign minister, following an inquiry commission report, said a statement from Sharif’s office.
The sacking, part of the government’s notification that it had accepted the report’s recommendations, seemed to be a middle way effort to resolve the issue, but failed to quell the army’s anger.
“Notification on Dawn leaks is incomplete and not in line with the recommendations by the inquiry board,” Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor responded to the news in a tweet, referring to English-language daily Dawn, which carried the leaks.
“Notification is rejected,” he added, stoking speculations about the reaction of the Sharif government, which has had an uneasy relationship with the powerful army in recent years.
Analysts believe the signs of continuing friction with the army could foreshadow more political turmoil.
Rao Tahssen, a senior bureaucrat and principal information officer who was also convicted over a story suggesting army weakness, has also been dismissed from his office.
Sharif’s statement, however, did not elaborate on the charges proved against Fatemi or the others.
Cyrel Almeida, a senior journalist and columnist, reported in English-language daily Dawn last October that the government, during a high-level security meeting, had warned the army to "act against militancy or face international isolation".
The whistleblower story angered the country’s powerful army, which blasted it as “against national security,” and accused some government ministers and officials of leaking misleading and incorrect information to the reporter.
In his statement Saturday, Sharif also recommended that the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, a representative body of newspaper owners, take action against Almeida and his editor Zafar Abbas.
Sharif already sacked his information minister, Perwaiz Rasheed, last month over the leaks.
Quoting unnamed official sources, local broadcaster Dunya TV reported that Fatimi was removed after he refused to resign, claiming he had nothing to with the anti-army story.
Almeida had quoted unnamed sources saying Sharif's brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and other Cabinet ministers had warned army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif to act against “non-state actors” – a reference to banned militant groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Story attacked and defended
The controversial story came as tension remains high between neighbors Pakistan and India, after the latter accused Pakistan of playing a role in an attack last September on an army base in Indian-held Kashmir that killed 19 soldiers.
Though the prime minister's office called Almeida's report inaccurate and misleading, Dawn management stood by the reporter, saying the story was “verified, cross-checked, and fact-checked.”
Analysts and opposition parties see the government’s move as an attempt to satisfy the army, but believe the deputy foreign minister was scapegoated.
“We really don’t know why and for what Tariq Fatemi was removed.
Why was the inquiry commission’s report not being made public? We want to know what charges have been framed and proved against him,” Naeem-ul-Haq, spokesman of the main opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party, told reporters.
The opposition accuses Sharif and his daughter Maryam Sharif of being directly involved in the leaks.
Pakistan has had a long history of tense civil-military relations, with half its history directly ruled by the army since 1947.