After a brief respite of a few months, troubled civil-military relations take center stage in Pakistan once again. On Saturday, a scene was created when the DG ISPR strongly reacted to a notification issued by the Prime Minister’s Office in connection with the recently-concluded Dawngate inquiry report. Calling it ‘incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board’, he out-rightly ‘rejected’ this notification through a tweet. Shortly after this, in rather a tit-for-tat response, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar severely criticised the ‘Twitter-happy’ DG ISPR, after declaring his tweets poisonous for the democratic institutions in the country. He also criticised the way the military presented the recently captured TTP’s spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan before the media.
In fact, Saturday’s episode has badly exposed the miserable state of civil-military relations in the country. Obviously these relations are not as ideal and harmonious as they are generally portrayed. There is a considerable communication gap between the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan. So in the absence of some effective and operational modes of communication between the two, the DG ISPR has chosen to communicate its institutional viewpoint through Twitter while the Interior Minister considered it appropriate to pay in the same coin by instantly holding a press conference. We have long been observing key PML-N leaders like CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali actively playing a role to diffuse civil-military tension by interacting with the senior military leadership. However, disadvantageously, this time the Interior Minister has himself become an instant source of civil-military confrontation.
The controversial notification signed by the Secretary to the Prime Minister Fawad Hassan Fawad was issued apparently in the light of recommendations by the Dawn Leaks Inquiry Committee. Through this notification, Syed Tariq Fatemi, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affair was to be removed while the Principle Information Officer Rao Tahseen Ali was to be proceeded against E&D Rules 1973. On the other hand, the matter of daily Dawn was referred to the All Pakistan News Paper Society (APAS) for ‘necessary disciplinary action’. Reportedly, Tariq Fatemi has already refused to tender his resignations over Dawngate allegations. Now Rao Tahseen Ali is also likely to challenge his removal in the court of law. Certainly, after its rejection by the military, this notification has lost its significance and effectiveness. So now the federal government has hinted at issuing another fresh notification to this effect.
Considering it a ‘breach of national security’, the military has been hyper-sensitive to the Dawngate issue since the publishing of this controversial news story in October last year. Soon after this controversial publication, the top military commanders expressed their serious concerns over “the feeding of this false and fabricated story” during a Corps Commander’s Conference. A few months ago, some junior garrison officers asked COAS General Qamar Bajwa many inquisitorial questions about the Dawn Leak probe during his visit to Lahore Corps Headquarters. The recent tweet by the DG ISPR reflects the military’s strong resolve to logically conclude the Dawngate question.
Federal Government’s Dawngate handling has been anything but satisfactory. It first tried to ignore this issue. Later, in the face of strong pressure from the military, it reluctantly formed an Inquiry Committee. There were raised many questions about the impartiality of the head of this committee who was also dubbed as a PML-N loyalist. This Inquiry Committee took much time to reach a ‘consensus conclusion’. Now as this committee has submitted its report, the government is dilly-dallying over implementing its recommendations in letter and spirit. It is wildly believed that the PML-N government is trying to save the skin of an important member of the ruling family by scapegoating other state functionaries and ministers. Therefore, it first removed the Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid even without any formal inquiry. Now it has scapegoated Tariq Fatemi and Rao Tehseen Ali. The ruling political party also looks reluctant to take serious action against the Dawn newspaper.
We can determine the exact nature and magnitude of Dawngate scandal only if the federal government makes the inquiry report public. The concern is that the controversial news story was more a fabricated story than mere a leaked one. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali has repeatedly been pledging to make the Dawngate inquiry report public. However, now if the federal government does not want this report to be public owing to its obvious skeletons in the cupboard, then it should at least try to adequately address the genuine concerns of the military over this issue.
It is quite an inappropriate or rather a laughable decision made by the federal government to refer the case of Dawn newspaper and its responsible journalists to the APNS for a disciplinary action. In fact, the APNS is the representative body of newspapers’ owners and publishers, to protect their rights and interests. Obviously it has nothing to do with the enforcement of media ethics for working journalists. Therefore, instead of the APNS, the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) is the appropriate regulatory forum to take necessary disciplinary measures against any print media journalist. However, the Dawngate scandal is beyond the ambit of PCP too as it is essentially a probed case involving the breach of national security.
The Dawn newspaper never formally apologised over the publication of this news story. The version of this newspaper’s journalists was that they tried to authenticate or confirm the contents of this news story before publication from the relevant officials and politicians but none of them confirmed it anyway. So one wonders why this newspaper preferred to rely on an un-disclosable source, ignoring altogether the fact of rejection of this story by the concerned responsible individuals.
The civilian leadership is always supposed to protect its security agencies against all sorts of hostile foreign propaganda. It is really regrettable that the people at the helm in Pakistan mostly look towards international power brokers to come into the corridors of power and stay there indefinitely. While doing so, they hardly feel any hesitation in maligning and undermining the armed forces of the country. The 2011 Memogate controversy and the current Dawngate issue essentially indicate the same tendency among our politicos. Observably the federal government is by all means trying to brush the Dawngate issue under the carpet. Now let’s see whether something substantial comes out of the Dawngate or it simply goes the way of the Memogate.