IT was, much like many manufactured crises in the country’s history, a case of overweening ambition and untrammeled power. According to part three of an interview that former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa reportedly gave journalist Shahid Maitla, the furore over a Dawn story published in October 2016 was deliberately played up by his predecessor, Gen Raheel Sharif, in an effort to wrangle an extension from then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The ploy did not work, and Gen Sharif retired in November. But it set in motion events that undermined the government, as such schemes are designed to do; unjustly maligned this newspaper, which was simply doing its duty to inform the public accurately and objectively; and put a journalist’s life in peril.

The article in question, published only after the information was verified from multiple sources, was an account of what had transpired at meetings between the PML-N government and the military high command. In an unusually blunt warning, the civilian leadership told the top brass to act against militant outfits or risk the country being isolated internationally.

Instead of discarding the myopic strategy regarding militants, the episode was used to cut ‘down to size’ a civilian leadership that was telling the establishment to change tack, and to humiliate a prime minister refusing to acquiesce to the chief’s desire for an extension.

Buckling under intense pressure from the powers that be, the Prime Minister Office issued denials of the report’s contents and placed the writer, Cyril Almeida, on the ECL. ‘Dawn leaks’, as it came to be known, was also harnessed to attack this paper’s integrity through a vicious social media campaign that accused it of being ‘anti-state’ and peddling ‘fake news’.

But life has a way of coming full circle. Subsequent events, including the placing of Pakistan in 2018 on the FATF’s grey list for allegedly not doing enough to curb terror financing and money laundering, and the crackdown on banned extremist groups that finally began after that, are testament to the veracity of the Dawn story and the paper’s stance on militancy in general.

Since Imran Khan’s ouster, more inconvenient truths have come spilling out as the establishment’s edifice of invincibility (where its political machinations are concerned) develops cracks one could not have foreseen even a year ago. The campaign against Dawn was a clear act of malice and the suspension of its distribution in various cantonments a brazen attempt to damage it financially.

Gen Bajwa shares the blame for this as hearings were conducted by a government-appointed inquiry committee during his tenure, despite him knowing the facts behind the saga, and Dawn was pressured — unsuccessfully — to reveal its sources for the story. One may ask why the committee’s report has not been made public. Perhaps there are more unsavoury facts within its pages.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2023

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