Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday withdrew the foreign affairs portfolio from Tariq Fatemi a day after appointing him as his special assistant on foreign affairs.
According to a Cabinet Division notification, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Fatemi will continue to serve as a special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) without a portfolio and has been granted the additional status of a minister of state.
"In partial modification of this Division's earlier notification of even number dated April 20, 2022, the prime minister, in terms of rule 4(6) of the Rules of Business, 1973, read with serial number 1A of Schedule V-A of the said Rules, has been please to appoint Syed Tariq Fatemi as 'Special Assistant to the Prime Minister' and grant him the status of minister of state," the notification dated April 20 read.
Fatemi, seen as a close aide of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, was not initially made part of Shehbaz’s cabinet — which took oath on Tuesday after days of deliberations between the premier and his coalition partners.
At the time, a source in the PML-N had told Dawn that there was a divide within the party over the selection of cabinet members and distribution of portfolios among them. According to the source, several of Nawaz's closest aides — including Fatemi — were apparently sidelined.
The next day, Fatemi was inducted in the cabinet as a special assistant and was assigned the portfolio of foreign affairs. But just 24 hours later, the premier withdrew that portfolio from him.
In what seemed like a move to appease the experienced diplomat, the new notification upgraded Fatemi’s status to that of a minister of state but no new portfolio was assigned to him.
Fatemi had served as the SAPM on foreign affairs during the previous PML-N government under Nawaz but was removed in 2017 for his alleged role in 'Dawn leaks' — a story published in Dawn that reported the details of a high-level civil-military meeting discussing the issue of banned outfits operating in Pakistan.
The Prime Minister's Office had initially rejected the story, but the military had mounted pressure to demand a probe into the matter to determine those involved in disclosing the details of the meeting, which it said was related to the country’s national security.
In an Editor's note, published on October 11, 2016, Dawn had clarified its position and stated on the record that the story “was verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”.
A committee was then formed by the government to probe the October 6, 2016, story and to identify the persons responsible for disclosing the details of the meeting to Cyril Almeida, who reported the story.
Nawaz’s information minister, Pervaiz Rasheed, resigned from his role after the PM’s Office said “evidence available so far points to a lapse on part of the information minister, who has been directed to step down from the office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry”.
After the findings, which were not made public, then-PM Nawaz issued directives for the removal of Fatemi as his special assistant on foreign affairs. A senior information ministry official was also removed in line with the recommendations of the committee.
For his part, Fatemi had rejected the allegations levelled against him in a farewell letter and stated that the suggestions were hurtful to someone who had served Pakistan for nearly five decades.
During the entire saga, ties between the PML-N government and the military were visibly strained.
Following the PM Office notification on Fatemi's removal, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had said the Army "rejected" the notification, terming it "incomplete".
"Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board. Notification is rejected," the ISPR had tweeted.
However, the military later "withdrew" the tweet and said it was "not aimed at any government office or person".