• Asif alleges Imran ‘patronised’ Gill, others to launch ‘derogatory’ social media campaign
• Says process of appointing new army chief hasn’t yet begun

ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has blamed PTI chairman Imran Khan for “patronising” his close aide Shahbaz Gill and others to launch a “derogatory” social media campaign targeting the Lasbela chopper crash martyrs, alleging that it was a joint project of the PTI and India against the Pakistan Army.

“Imran Khan waited for five days (after Shahbaz Gill’s statement on the army) as he hoped to reap the dividends but now he disowned Gill’s statement in the face of a backlash,” the defence min­ister told reporters at a press conference in Islamabad.

“You will see Imran Khan will disown some others in the near future,” he said in reply to a question.

After the military chopper crash during flood relief operations in Balochistan earlier this month, some social media accounts launched a campaign to advance their personal and political malice, drawing a strong reaction from citizens, political leadership and state institutions.

The ruling coalition immediately blamed the PTI’s social media team for launching the smear campaign at the behest of the party chief.

Later, PTI leader Shahbaz Gill during his talk with a TV channel made some comments that were seen as instigating rebellion within the armed forces. He was later arrested and the PTI chief claimed that he was tortured in detention.

During the presser, the defence minister said all these “diversionary tactics” were aimed at removing attention from the verdict in the PTI’s prohibited funding case.

He said all relevant institutions were in action to hold those accountable behind the “anti-army campaign” and in the funding case.

The minister said an investigation into the campaign had found that 529 Pakistani accounts, 18 Indian accounts and 33 accounts from other countries were involved. “The investigation is reaching its conclusion and action would be taken on the results as per the law and the Constitution.”

He said the matter had shamed the entire nation before the martyrs’ families that “there are such people found among us who can stoop so low for their political motives”.

Mr Asif said the data was “confirmed and verified,” and more revelations would be coming soon.

However, he said the government would not make any move against the PTI that would give an impression that it was settling a score. “What happened to us during the PTI regime is a separate issue,” he said.

The defence minister said Imran Khan had talked against the military many times in the past and in the 90s he used to bash the army while sitting in India.

He said the Indian channels were praising Imran Khan these days as they believed they wouldn’t have achieved even after spending billions of dollars what the PTI chief was doing for them.

Army chief’s appointment

Responding to a query about the appointment of new army chief, the defence minister said, “No such process has been started as yet.”

The army chief’s appointment is due in November, with military spokesperson Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar already clarifying that COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa would retire on Nov 29.

Asked about the possible unemployment of the workers of ARY News that has been pulled off air for promoting the “anti-army campaign”, Khawaja Asif said Shahbaz Gill used the TV channel as a medium to promote his agenda against the army and if action was taken against him the channel would also face repercussions.

However, he expressed sympathy for the channel’s employees but said its owners were quite well off and should take care of the workers.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022

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