Former special assistant to the prime minister on overseas Pakistanis, Zulfi Bukhari, on Monday once again denied reports that he had travelled to Israel covertly.
This is the second time that Bukhari has denied reports about travelling to Israel. He had dispelled similar reports last year in December, claiming that he had been with the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner at the time of the alleged visit in November.
According to Geo News, the rumours at the time had started after a news report claimed an adviser of Prime Minister Imran Khan had met Israeli officials at the Tel Aviv airport in November 2020 after getting approval for the visit from the US.
The report had claimed that an unnamed adviser with a British passport was taken to the “foreign ministry of Israel where he met several political officials and diplomats and delivered the message of the Pakistani premier”.
Since Bukhari is also a UK national, many on social media speculated that the reports referred to him.
The issue resurfaced again today after a Hebrew newspaper, Israel Hayom, published a news report regarding the alleged visit, quoting an unnamed source in Islamabad.
Avi Scarf of Israel's Haaretz newspaper said that according to the report, Bukhari travelled to Israel to meet Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen. He stated that the news report had been attributed to a "source in Islamabad", adding that it was published after permission from the Israeli military censor.
Rubbishing the claims, Bukhari said: "Funny bit is Pakistani paper says I went to Israel based on 'Israeli news source' and Israeli paper says I went to Israel based on a 'Pakistani source' — wonder who this imaginative Pakistani source is.
"Apparently, I’m the only one who was kept out of the loop," he added.
In addition to Bukhari, Prime Minister's Focal Person on Digital Media Arslan Khalid also dispelled the claims. "Bukhari had clarified last year that he was never sent by the government to Israel. This Israel-India-Pak fake news peddlers network is getting so boring and predictable," he said.
He also called on the media to "show a little maturity and not promote fake news".
"The last time when the same propaganda was run, not only did Bukhari deny and sent a legal notice but the Middle East Monitor, who reported it, also had to apologise," he said.
Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri also termed the reports "baseless and misleading".
"No such visit to Israel has been undertaken," he said, recalling that the FO had rebutted similar reports in December.
"There is no change in Pakistan’s principled position. Pakistan has consistently called for a two-state solution, with pre-1967 borders and Al-Quds Sharif as the capital of [the] Palestinian state," he added.
'Something is fishy'
Despite the rebuttals, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called on the government to bring "all the facts" about Bukhari's reported visit to Israel before the public.
Speaking to reporters in the parliament, he said it would be "very easy" for the government to make public the flight manifest and flight path of the airplane that allegedly carried Bukhari to Israel during those dates.
"If the [airplane] did not pick up Zulfi Bukhari then who was taken on board?" he added, saying he felt that "something is fishy."
He asked the media to also investigate whether Bukhari had travelled to Israel via other countries on the plane that he said reportedly stayed in Israel for 10 hours.
Bilawal also claimed that he had information about another meeting involving National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf — with Israeli officials, apparently — on which he said the PPP had "serious questions" to which it sought answers.
"We have no objections; whatever the government's policy is, it should at least make it public. We have serious concerns about doing such things in the dark of the night," the PPP leader added.
Additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui.