Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar on Wednesday denied that his remarks from a day ago about there being no foreign conspiracy against the previous government were political in nature as he responded to PTI leaders' objection to his rejection of party chairman Imran Khan's claim.
In an interview with anchor Kamran Shahid on Dunya News show On the front on Tuesday, the DG ISPR had, not for the first time, rejected the conspiracy claim made by Imran, who insists he was ousted from the top office through a US-backed manoeuvre with the help of local players.
Regarding the first National Security Committee (NSC) meeting on the diplomatic cable at the centre of the conspiracy allegation that was held during Imran's tenure, the DG ISPR had said it was attended by top military leadership and the participants were "clearly and in detail briefed by agencies that there is no kind of conspiracy or any evidence of it".
His comments had provoked a response from PTI leaders Asad Umar and Shireen Mazari today who said the remarks were akin to wading into political matters and were more an "opinion" than a fact.
A few hours after the press conference, the DG ISPR appeared on Hum News programme Breaking Point with Malick to respond. "I did not give a political statement. It was a clarification on behalf of services chiefs of Pakistan," he said.
The DG ISPR said former interior minister Sheikh Rashid had claimed in a show last week that no services chief, in the NSC meeting on March 31, had said that a conspiracy did not happen.
"He (Rashid) was in a way [trying] to convey that he was talking as their representative," the military spokesperson said. "That is why I felt it necessary to go in the same programme and clarify this on behalf of the services chiefs, since I'm their spokesman. There is nothing political to this."
He reiterated that his explanation about the NSC meeting was a "clarification" and not at all political.
The DG ISPR rejected the notion that his remarks regarding the meeting and its conclusion were "opinion". "On behalf of the services chiefs, I can tell you [that] this [briefing in the NSC meeting and its conclusion] wasn't an opinion. It was intelligence-based information and this input was given by looking at the facts."
This is the reason, he explained, that the subsequent press release about the first NSC meeting had not mentioned any element of a conspiracy despite the PTI being in power at the time. "It can't be said to be an opinion, it was a proper brief."
"I don't think I'll be talking about this [whole matter] again," he said.
The DG ISPR said he had no reservation about the formation of a judicial commission on the conspiracy claim, and the military and intelligence institutions would provide complete assistance to the government in whatever forum it decided to take the matter to its logical conclusion.
PTI leaders question the need for DG ISPR to address 'political matters'
Earlier in the day, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar held a press conference in Islamabad to address the military spokesperson's own remarks from a day ago.
Umar said it was "beyond his understanding" why there was a need to address the issue again from the platform of the DG ISPR.
"The DG ISPR rightly says that the army should be kept away from politics and he appeals to political parties to not involve the army in politics, which is right," he said.
"Now whether this imported government has or hasn't come through interference or conspiracy, let political parties talk to each other about this. But now that he has spoken so it is necessary to give a response."
The PTI leader said he was a part of that first NSC meeting and while the diplomatic letter was being read out, a military representative had called for facts and opinions to be viewed separately. Elaborating on those "facts", Umar said it was written that a "clear threat" was given to Pakistan that if the no-confidence motion against Imran failed then the country would face "isolation and difficulties".
"What I am saying was not once, but twice mentioned in the press release after the NSC meetings [and] words of a 'clear foreign interference' are used and it was said that 'this isn't at all acceptable.'"
"This is a fact on which there are no two opinions," he added.
Umar said the NSC meeting did not have the answer to whether the "foreign interference" was part of a conspiracy or not, adding that the DG ISPR was right that some military officials did not see the evidence of a conspiracy. However, he added that many of the civilian leaders in the NSC meeting had the opinion that a conspiracy was present.
Mentioning the efforts made by the PTI in pursuing the formation of a judicial commission for the 'cablegate' affair, Umar requested the Supreme Court to oblige and added that Imran had decided to again write to Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial to urge him to oversee the matters.
"I repeat that let politicians deal with political matters. If the DG ISPR does not think it necessary to repeatedly explain political matters, then I think it will be better for the army and the country."
PTI leader Shireen Mazari also disagreed with the DG ISPR's version of the events, saying that contrary to his claim, no detailed intelligence report was presented in the NSC meeting.
Umar said he had "great love for the army" along with longstanding familial links with the institution, but he said that did not mean that the army's opinion on constitutional responsibilities of the civilian leadership could be considered the "final word".
Real conspiracy is what PTI is doing, claims information minister
Shortly after, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, in a press press conference of her own, hit back at the PTI leaders. She said Umar and Mazari's remarks were made on the directions of Imran and were meant to take attention away from the PTI's current issues and scandals such as the foreign funding case.
She criticised the PTI for endorsing the first NSC meeting's press release especially when it had differences with its contents and questioned why they had not presented their evidence of a conspiracy.
"The state and government cannot change their official stance because of your false narrative," she said.
Aurangzeb said the DG ISPR had given a "categorical statement" yesterday regarding the conspiracy claim.
"The DG ISPR represents all the armed forces. It is not his opinion but the [military's] official stance. The rejection of the state's official stance — which you are doing — is the real conspiracy."
She said the institutions have adopted a "neutral position" which was their constitutional position and the PTI did not like it. The information minister accused the PTI of attacking institutions whenever its scandals come to the light.
"What lesson are you giving to the institutions that are neutral? You are trying to drag them into your politics. Are you saying Pakistan's premium intelligence agencies did not know a conspiracy was being staged against the country?"