ISLAMABAD: The government will finalise on Monday the composition of a “high-powered” inquiry committee tasked with investigating who leaked information regarding a high-level meeting of civilian and military officials, held earlier this month, to Dawn.

At a press conference on Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the composition of the committee, including the addition of more members and the appointment of its head, would be decided in consultation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

He said that PM Sharif would sign off the composition of the committee on Monday (today). A handout released by the PM Office a day earlier had mentioned that the committee would include representatives of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB).

“It will be a full-fledged committee... it’s a big task that can’t be accomplished by the intelligence agencies alone,” the interior minister said, adding that he had refused to head the body himself.

Interior minister says Dawn’s source still not known; information minister removed for not preventing story’s publication

“I would recommend that the inquiry be kept as open as possible so that the whole nation knows who leaked the story,” he said.

Terming the leak a “national security issue”, he said that no one should hide behind the “right to protect their sources”.

The interior minister, who led a preliminary inquiry into the leak, told reporters that it was not yet clear who had “breached security” by providing the “fabricated news item” to the newspaper.

Talking about the decision to remove the information minister from office, Chaudhry Nisar said Pervaiz Rashid had been asked to step down because of his failure to stop the newspaper from printing the report, despite the fact that he knew the story would be published.

The minister said that records indicated that the reporter contacted Mr Rashid for comment on a story about Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the ISI chief and later, met the minister at his office.

According to Chaudhry Nisar, the information minister should have told the reporter that the story was false and that he should not file it “in the greater national interest”.

Failing that, the interior minister said, Mr Rashid should have approached the newspaper’s editor and management, and should have flagged the issue with government colleagues.

“The (information) minister should have realised the implications of such a report,” Chaudhry Nisar said, terming it a “lapse” on Mr Rashid’s part.

The minister said that Pervaiz Rashid had accepted the decision with an open heart, but wanted to present his point of view before submitting his resignation. However, Chaudhry Nisar said he had requested Mr Rashid not to bring the issue before the media and convinced him to present his viewpoint before the inquiry committee.

He was clear that both the military and the prime minister wanted to take the issue to its logical conclusion and asked the media to refrain from speculating on the matter.

When it was pointed out that the reporter in question had left for the US, the minister said that the reporter’s name was removed from the Exit Control List as a goodwill gesture at the request of journalist bodies – the APNS and CPNE.

He said he was assured that the reporter would be available whenever required, adding that if he did not return to the country as promised, he could resort to legal recourse to bring him back.

Talking about the preliminary inquiry, Chaudhry Nisar said he had sought assistance from Law Minister Zahid Hamid, as well as officials of his own ministry, the police, Federal Investigation Agency, intelligence agencies and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

“There are only two ways to get to the bottom of this; technically (ostensibly a reference to intelligence agencies) or through the reporter himself,” he said.

He added that the information which had been garnered ‘technically’ had already been acted upon, an apparent reference to the decision to remove the information minister.

“Since there are no records (of who contacted who), the only source left is the reporter himself,” the minister said.

He said that he had wanted to brief Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the progress of the investigation and his recommendations, but could not do so due to the terrorist attack on a police training centre in Quetta.

In Quetta, he said, the army chief had inquired from the prime minister about progress into the inquiry. Chaudhry Nisar claimed that he had refused to brief the army chief in Quetta, saying that he would do so only after discussing the matter with the prime minister and seeking his approval.

It was after these consultations that he, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had met the army chief and informed him about their recommendations. He claimed that they went to Army House with full protocol and that the meeting was not a secret one.

The bulk of their time, he claimed, was spent deciding the language of the press release that was issued by the PM Office, announcing the removal of the information minister.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2016