No deal with opposition or Nawaz Sharif — Pakistani interior minister

Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Brigadier (r) Ijaz Ahmed Shah, speaks Arab News during an interview at his office in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sept. 2, 2019. (AN photo)
Updated 03 September 2019

No deal with opposition or Nawaz Sharif — Pakistani interior minister

  • Shah says prerogative of National Accountability Bureau to offer a plea bargain to Sharif
  • Says tensions in Kashmir will make US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan difficult

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Brigadier (r) Ijaz Ahmed Shah said this week the government was not negotiating any kind of amnesty deal with jailed opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif is currently serving a seven-year sentence imposed last year for failing to disclose the source of income that allowed him to acquire the Al-Azizia Steel Mills in Saudi Arabia.
As part of an anti-graft crusade promoted by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, there have been swathes of arrests of other opposition politicians also, including former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ex-president Asif Ali Zardari.
Rejecting rumors of negotiations between the government and opposition parties, particularly for the release of Sharif, the Pakistani interior minister said on Monday that no such deal was in the offing.
“If there is any deal, the government would do it through the interior ministry but we are not doing any such thing,” Shah told Arab News in an interview.
He said Sharif had been investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and was sentenced by an accountability court: “This [deal] is the prerogative of NAB as plea bargain is a part of their law. If NAB is proceeding on something, I am not aware of it.”
Speaking about the conflict in the disputed Kashmir region, sparked last month by New Delhi’s move to revoke the special status of the region, Shah said the situation would make the withdrawal of United States’ troops from Afghanistan difficult.
Tension remains high in Kashmir, where security forces have used tear gas against stone-throwing protesters and the valley remains under lockdown after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw special rights for the Muslim-majority state on August 5.
By stripping Indian-administered Kashmir of its special status, New Delhi blocked the region’s right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there. Delhi says the change would help Kashmir’s development, but the move has angered many residents of the region and been strongly condemned by Pakistan.
In the background, Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born US diplomat, has led nine rounds of talks with Taliban leaders to try to reach a peace deal to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s western neighbor.
Shah said the ongoing conflict in Indian-administered Kashmir would harm US interests in the region, “especially their plan of withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
“If they want to leave Afghanistan and the Kashmir issue remains hot like this, then their withdrawal will not be smooth,” Shah said. “If they want to leave Afghanistan with ease then Kashmir should not be like this.”
The interior minister credited Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan with taking a “clear stance” on Kashmir, referring to Khan’s announcement before the Azad Kashmir parliament that “he would be the envoy of the Kashmiri people.”
“No other Prime Minister has ever raised their voice for the Kashmir issue like Imran Khan,” Shah said. The PM would also raise the Kashmir issue at the United Nations General Assembly session in New York on September 22 and 23 also, the minister said.
“You will see it is going to be a very big success,” Shah said. “The prime minister will try to shake the conscience of the world community.”
So far, the minister said, the reaction of the international community to the ongoing Kashmir crisis was lukewarm.
“The world community is reacting but their reaction is not up to the gravity of the situation. It should have been much more than this,” Shah lamented.
Speaking about an upcoming review by the global watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), into whether Islamabad had implemented an agreed upon action plan to counter-terrorism financing, Shah said much of what the watchdog wanted Pakistan to do was in Pakistan’s favor.
“There are certain things, almost more than fifty percent things, which Pakistan should have done 20 to 25 years back,” he said.
On a recent crackdown against banned groups and charities and organizations linked to them, Shah said the government’s writ would be established at all costs: “There is only one writ, that is the writ of the government. We have taken actions against most of the banned organizations. If some are left we will act against them.”


Won’t push partisan 'agendas' through Pakistan digital media wing, its chief says

Updated 06 August 2020

Won’t push partisan 'agendas' through Pakistan digital media wing, its chief says

  • Imran Ghazali is one of the founding members of the social media team of PM Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party
  • Digital Media Wing was set up in February “to effectively counter fake and libellous news and highlight development agenda of government”

ISLAMABAD: A longtime aide to Prime Minister Imran Khan and the newly appointed chief of Pakistan’s Digital Media Wing (DMW) said this week he would not allow official social media channels to be used to push “personal or party” agendas.
The cabinet of PM Khan approved the new digital unit in February this year, and appointed Imran Ghazali as its general manager on August 3. Ghazali, a longtime media executive, is one of the founding members of the social media team of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the political party founded and headed by PM Khan.
The DMW, which has a 22-member team of content writers, graphic designers, video editors and videographers, has received funding of Rs42.791 million, or $256,000, from the government to kickstart its work.
“Our sole mandate is to provide the public with genuine official information on social media platforms,” Ghazali told Arab News in an interview. “Let me assure our critics that we won’t be pushing any personal or party agenda through official digital channels.”
Responding to criticism that he has been hired because of his closeness to the prime minister, Ghazali said: “I’m hired for the job based on my years of industry experience, and through a rigorous official process.”
Ghazali has previously worked as head social media consultant at DFID’s family planning project DAFPAK, led digital strategy for UNICEF for the Clean Green Pakistan initiative and worked as a consultant for the World Bank, among many other senior positions in the media industry.
APP, Pakistan’s state news agency, reported on February 4 that the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet had approved the creation of a new digital media unit in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
“The purpose of the wing would be to effectively counter the fake and libellous news and highlight the development agenda of the government,” the APP said.
The creation of the new digital media unit has raised concerns the government is taking yet another step to curb press freedoms.
Last month, Pakistan’s interior minister said the government planned to introduce new laws to curb coronavirus misinformation on social media platforms in a move that has stoked fears authorities will use the additional powers to suppress criticism of government policies. The government denies this.
The National Command and Operation Center, a top federal body set up to oversee the government’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, has also set up a committee under the chairmanship of the interior minister to prepare a legal framework to help the government deal with “fake news” on social media platforms.
In February, the government approved, and then rolled back, new rules to regulate cyberspace after opponents said they could be used to stifle dissent. Social media companies have also largely shunned obliging to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful.
Last year, the government’s plans to launch specialist media courts also sparked a furious backlash from media and rights advocates amid complaints of growing pressure on broadcasters and newspapers to avoid covering critics of the ruling administration, which the administration denies.
But Ghazali said the new digital wing was only meant to release informative videos and data-driven content to improve Pakistan’s image abroad and counter ‘propaganda’ against the country.
“We need to show the world through digital platforms that Pakistan is a peaceful and peace loving country, and we’ll be doing this to attract foreign tourists and investment,” he said.
Ghazali said his team’s first task would be to create official social media accounts of all government ministries, as only ten to twelve departments currently had a digital presence.
“This is the age of Internet and social media, so we have to boost our presence to connect with the public,” he said, adding: “We won’t be working for ministers or any government functionary, instead our role is to strengthen the overall digital media presence of the state.”
Nighat Dad, executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation, said it would be a challenge for the new digital media unit to be an impartial body that provided reliable news and didn’t push the government’s agenda.
“Its [the wing’s] TORs [terms of reference] should be made public as people deserve to know what their mandate is and what they are doing,” she said. “The officials of the digital media wing should be neutral, transparent and there must be an independent accountability system, so taxpayers money is not squandered.”