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What are the ‘Dawn Leaks’? A look into Pakistan’s headline-making news scandal

The news story, highlighting alleged confrontation between the civilian government and the military at a meeting in October 2016, published by Dawn newspaper last year erupted with a storm in national politics and shortly it transformed into a news leak scandal before becoming a mainstream media fodder. 

It all started when the Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida “broke confidential minutes” of a meeting among the government and military officials on ‘national action plan’ in which the civilians reportedly apprised the military of mounting international pressure of more action against armed groups.

The civilian government’s representatives at the meeting gave warning that Pakistan could face international isolation if the security establishment did not take the recommended course of action and what followed suit was the hornet’s nest in the military ranks.

Almeida’s exclusive story came against a backdrop of mounting border tensions between India and Pakistan following a claim by the Indian government of a cross-border “surgical strike” by their on September 18.

 

Here’s how all the events in the news scandal unfolded:

 

Dawn breaks the ‘controversial’ story on civil-military tiff

On Oct 6, Dawn news broke a story that dropped like a bombshell on the government and also it stirred hornet’s nest among the military ranks. The story highlighted alleged differences between the military and the civilian government over fight against terrorists.

The story reported: “The civilian government informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state.

Just hours after publication of the story, a storm erupted in political circles about sensitivity of the issue and it soon led to intense discussions on the media.

 

Govt issues denial after news storm

The Office of the Prime Minister on Oct 7 strongly denied the content of the news calling it fabricated.

The statement issued by the PM Office said, “The published story was clearly violative of universally acknowledged principles of reporting on National Security issues and has risked the vital state interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents which had no relevance to actual discussion and facts”.

“Prime Minister took serious notice of the violation and directed that those responsible should be identified for stern action,” said the statement.

 

PM, army chief declare ‘news leak’ national security breach

On Oct 10, the then chief of Army staff General Raheel Sharif called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss matters pertaining to national and regional security. During the meeting, they termed the “fabricated news story” against the national security.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and DG ISI Lt. General Rizwan Akhtar were also present during the meeting.

The participants were unanimous that the published story was clearly in violation of universally acknowledged principles of reporting on national security issues and has risked the vital state interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading contents which had no relevance to actual discussion and facts.

“It had risked the vital state interests through inclusion of inaccurate and misleading content which had no relevance to actual discussion and facts,” the forum said.

The participants of the meeting said that it was imperative that print and electronic media refrained from speculative reporting, issues of national security and interests of the state.

Dawn news had claimed the civilian government had asked intelligence agencies to refrain from interfering in if the law enforcement agencies acted against militant groups. The meeting reaffirmed that Army and Intelligence Agencies would continue to play a lead role in our fight against terrorism.

 

Dawn reporter Cyril Almeida put on ECL as inquiry ordered

On Oct 11, Cyril Almeida wrote on his Twitter account, “I am told and have been informed and have been shown evidence that I am on the Exit Control List.”

The ECL is a system of border control under the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance. Those who are put on the list are forbidden by law from leaving Pakistan.

Two days after Almeida’s name was put on ECL, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar confirmed the news reasoning that the journalist was planning to leave the country while an inquiry was yet to be carried out to investigate his news story.

He added that anyone who was part of the case under investigation tried to flee the country would find his or her name on the ECL.

He called the news “an attempt to hit our security paradigm in reference to a sensitive security meeting”, hence investigation was imperative.

“The narrative presented by the local English daily reflected of our enemy’s stance,” he said.

 

Top army brass expresses serious concerns on ‘planted story’

On Oct 14, a high-level military leadership at the Corps Commanders Conference discussed the Newsgate scandal. Participants of the meeting expressed serious concern over “feeding of false and fabricated story” of an important security meeting held at PM house and viewed it as breach of national security.

The Corps Commanders had also resolved to continue sustained and focused combing and intelligence-based operations across the length and breadth of the country to uproot terrorism harmonizing it with implementation of NAP to address extremism and other causes of terrorism.

 

Cyril’s name struck off ECL after the press pressure

On Oct 14, the Interior Ministry decided to remove the journalist’s name from ECL after getting assurance that the journalist will help in investigation regarding his ‘fabricated’ story.

The directives came after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar met a delegation of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) who assured that the journalist Cyril Almeida will help authorities in the investigation regarding the story.

“Unverified and speculative news items citing sources on national security issues must be refrained that crosses ethical boundaries of responsible journalism,” said Nisar.

 

Raheel Sharif calls for inquiry into ‘Dawn Leaks’

On Oct 27, Several prominent leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz including Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Ishaq Dar, and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif met the then chief of Army staff.

The PML-N leaders had briefed the Army chief on the progress of investigation and recommendations related to the planted story. The meeting was also attended by Director General ISI General Rizwan Akhtar.

During this time the under-investigation journalist Cyril Almeida had left to visit the United States.

‘Guilty’ Pervez Rasheed loses information ministry portfolio

On Oct 29, the then minister for information and broadcasting, Pervaiz Rasheed was removed from his position as the federal minister.

The federal minister was the biggest casualty of the investigation into the national security breach. Musadiq Malik, the spokesman for the Prime Minister had said that Pervaiz Rasheed was responsible for the Newsgate.

Nisar later admitted former information minister Pervaiz Rasheed failed to stop the controversial news.

Govt constitute inquiry commission

On Nov 7, the government constituted a commission headed by a retired high court judge for investigation into the controversial news.

Former Lahore High Court Judge Amir Raza Khan will head the inquiry commission which will also include Secretary Establishment Tahir Shahbaz, Senior Muhtasib Punjab Najam Saeed and Director Federal Investigation Agency Dr Usman Anwar.

The commission had one representative from each of Inter Services Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence.

The committee failed to complete the inquiry on time, hence it was provided more months to conclude investigation.

 

Nisar hints at conflict within ‘Dawn Leaks’ probe team

In mid of March, the interior minister revealed that there was a conflict in the investigation committee formed over the ‘Dawnleaks’ issue.

He said that he would only hand over the final report to the government when he receives it. He said that even the salient features of the report have also not been agreed upon.

The minister refused to give further details into the nature of the conflict, stating that the committee head would only approve the report after there is a mutual consensus on the report among the committee members.

Inquiry report leaked to the media

Before the Dawn Leaks inquiry report was officially presented to the prime minister, its content was leaked to the media and a number of TV channels aired findings of the probe team.

It was reported that prime minister’s assistance Tariq Fatemi and principal information secretary Rao Tehseen were likely to be shown the door.

PM’s aide Tariq fatemi removed from position

A notification released by the Prime Minister Office dismissed Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi from his position over the Dawn leaks scandal.

The notification dated April 29 signed by the Prime Minister’s secretary Fawad Hussain Fawad stated that Fatemi had been removed and a necessary notification has been issued forthwith.

“Allocation of portfolio of Foreign Affairs to Syed Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, shall be withdrawn,” said the notification.

 Govt issues notification on news leak probe

On April 29, the government issued a notification of Dawn Leaks probe, triggering backlash from the army over its findings.

The notification stated that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved the recommendations of the Dawn Leaks Inquiry Committee and directed the ministries concerned and divisions for implementation.

According to the recommendations, the role of Daily Dawn, Zafar Abbas and Cyril Almeida in the instant matter shall be referred to All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) for necessary disciplinary action.

ISPR categorically rejects govt notification

Pakistan Army rejected the notification on Saturday. Director General Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) Major Gen Asif Ghafoor issued a brief statement in a Tweet and said that recommendation of Pakistan Army were not incorporated.

“Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board,” said the military press wing.

“Notification is rejected,” it stated.

Chaudhary Nisar responds to ISPR

About the military’s rejection of Dawn Leaks inquiry notification, the interior minister said no formal notification has yet been issued in the Dawn Leaks case.

“A formal notification in this regard will be issued in the light of recommendations made and no effort will be made to protect anyone,” said Nisar.

He, however, maintained that tweets are not an appropriate way to address institutions while criticising media for turning a non-issue into a big issue “without any reason”.

Note: The story will be updated accordingly with follow-up developments.
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