• Reiterates claim he ‘did not assent’ to changes to army act, official secrets law
• Professes loyalty to Imran, says PTI chief keeps ‘eye on him’ as a ‘friend and well-wisher’
KARACHI: President Arif Alvi on Wednesday stirred controversy by raising doubts on the timing of general elections, which are slated to be held in the last week of January as per the Election Commission of Pakistan.
In an interview with Geo News anchorperson Hamid Mir, President Alvi said he did not see polls taking place in January, Dawn.com reported. He recalled he made various “efforts” for polls, including letters to the ECP and suggesting a cut-off date of Nov 6.
According to the president, the law ministry had told him that it was not his prerogative. He stated that free and fair elections and a level playing field were crucial for Pakistan’s progress.
During the interview, he also alluded to the caretaker government being behind the spate of defections from the PTI. “Whatever the caretaker government is doing — what with people disappearing and reappearing with shifted loyalties,” he said.
Speaking about the amendments to the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act, President Alvi said he “stands by” his claim that he did not assent to tweaks made by the PDM government.
It may be noted he had triggered a massive controversy in August this year when he claimed in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that he had not assented to the controversial bills — a day after they were deemed to have become acts of parliament.
“As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill, 2023 and Pakistan Army [Act] Amendment Bill, 2023 as I disagreed with these laws,” the president had said.
He had also claimed that he had asked his staff to return the bills unsigned within the stipulated time to make them “ineffective”, but his staff did not do so and lied that the bills had been returned.
A day after the tweet, the president had sought to replace his principal secretary, Waqar Ahmed, who had denied any wrongdoing. However, senior bureaucrats in the presidency had refused to take up Mr Ahmed’s position in what was described as a “revolt-like situation”.
It must be noted that the Army Act amendment paved the way for the punishment of up to five-year rigorous imprisonment to any person guilty of disclosing any information, acquired in an official capacity that is or may be prejudicial to the security and interest of Pakistan or the armed forces.
Meanwhile, the amendment to the Official Secrets Act created a new offence of unauthorised disclosure of the identities of members of intelligence agencies, informants or sources. Earlier this week, a special court established under the same act indicted PTI chief Imran Khan in the cipher case.
President sticks to his guns
During the interview, Hamid Mir asked President Alvi a question pertaining to PS Ahmed’s stance. “I tweeted what happened and I stand by it. When I removed the principal secretary, I had written that I stand by my statement,” the president replied, adding that no inquiry was conducted into the matter.
President Alvi said that he had formed a judgement based on daily matters and subsequently wrote to the principal secretary. He stated that he had also sent a letter to the establishment and government regarding the same, saying that he stood by his statement.
“Whenever it is seen, it will be very clear,” he added, without elaborating.
In response to a question regarding the elections amendment bill — that grants the caretaker government powers to take actions or decisions regarding existing bilateral or multilateral agreements and projects — the president noted that he was out of the country for Haj when the law was assented to.
“The acting president [Sadiq Sanjrani] had already signed that amendment,” he recalled. “If I was in the President’s House [at that time], I would not have signed the law.”
‘Imran is a patriot’
Asked about PTI defections after the May 9 riots, President Alvi said, “I have always found Imran financially honest. There are very few people who will accuse him of financial dishonesty […] I believe that he is a patriot, I have no doubt about it, ever.” He recalled he had condemned the violence but wanted the way forward to be “open”.
About reports of Mr Khan’s alleged displeasure with him, he said the PTI chief “keeps an eye on me” as a friend and well-wisher. He professed his loyalty to Imran Khan, saying: “Even today, he is my leader.” When asked again, he reaffirmed it.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2023