Pakistani PM removes Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pakistani Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid resigned today. He was suspended earlier today by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over allegations he was involved in a leak to media.

File photo of Nawaz Sharif in 2014.
Image: DFID - UK Department for International Development.

Rashid faces an inquiry ordered by Sharif to identify if he is responsible. Shariff's office today called the "planted story" in "breach of national security". Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has already begun preliminary investigations into the leak. The Prime Minister's office indicated "a lapse on part of the Information Minister" to be likely based on evidence to date.

The leak was the basis of an article by Cyril Almeida, published by English-language paper Dawn on October 6. Titled "Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military" it was based on minutes of a meeting between civilian government officials and the military to discuss banned militant groups.

The article claimed the civilians complained the military would arrange the release of members of groups including Jaish-e Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Both have targeted India, with Indian authorities alleging Pakistani military collusion. Pakistani authorities deny this. The article also alleged an angry exchange between Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

"A committee has been formed for the investigation of Dawn's story and investigations have entered the final phase", a spokesman for the Prime Minister told Dawn. Members of the ISI, Pakistan's main intelligence agency, are included. The government calls the article "inaccurate and misleading" while the army said it was "unfounded and planted" but nonetheless demanded an investigation.

Pakistani soldiers, from file. The disputed story alleges military collusion with militants.
Image: United States Air Force.

Dawn have contended their report to be "verified, cross-checked and fact-checked." They have also defended Almeida. The investigative reporter was initially banned from international travel but the Interior Ministry relented, lifting the ban as a "goodwill gesture".

Rao Tehseen, Principal Information Officer to Sharif, is also suspended and placed on 'special duty'. Tehseen has spent the last eight days barred from international travel. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif was today reported to be in Dubai but Asif took to Twitter to state this was for a wedding. Asif said he will return tomorrow. The Interior Ministry is also due to hold a press conference tomorrow.

The government has promised "stern action" against anybody found responsible.

The military wield strong influence in Pakistan, with Sharif among several Prime Ministers forced to leave office by coups. Sharif took power in June 2013, appointing his cabinet including Rashid within days. Sharif did not then appoint ministers for foreign affairs and defence, ministries usually tied closely to the army.