DAWN LEAKS: Political Narratives

Spearhead Analysis – 12.05.2017

By ShahBano Khan
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

With the publication of a leaked news story last year that ‘compromised’ national security, especially at a time when the country was facing possible international and diplomatic isolation also, the precarious civil-military balance was once again tested out. While the initial breach was seen as a threat to the institutional wellbeing of Pakistan’s armed forces, and with it also the political security of the country; this time, seven months on, a government constituted commission created to investigate the controversial news failed to reach consensus on the subsequent report of the committee, resulting in an uproar in the political establishment.

A notification released by the Prime Minister Office dismissed Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi and also Rao Tehseen from their positions over the Dawn leaks scandal, and according to the recommendation, the role of Daily Dawn, Zafar Abbas and Cyril Almeida shall be referred to All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) for necessary disciplinary action. The government issued notification of Dawn leaks probe triggered severe backlash from the army over its findings. In an ISPR tweet, the army categorically rejected the government notification, calling it ‘incomplete’. The government then proceeded to engage the issue on the back foot, calling the notification informal and preliminary.

What followed was nothing short of a media frenzy; what was thought to be an institutional conversation was suddenly turned into an institutional rift. Speculations on the rift were plenty, and it seemed for a while the civil and the military institutions came to a standstill. In addition, with the political and security situation of the country suffering and international concern mounting up, the incident has nearly reached breaking point. So much so, the army withdrew the controversial tweet which had ‘rejected’ a government notification regarding the Dawn Leaks, saying the issue has been settled after implementation of recommendations in the Inquiry Committee Report. According to the ISPR press release, the 29 April tweet was not aimed at any government office or person. It also reiterated its “firm commitment and continued resolve to uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and supports the democratic processes”. Following the ISPR statement, a document purportedly issued by the Ministry of Interior said that: “Since action on orders of the Prime Minister has already been completed by the respective Ministries and Divisions, the issue of Dawn Leads stands settled.”

While this kind of institutional camaraderie is exactly what a healthy democratic system needs, it is being said that the real issue is either being willfully manipulated in all the ruckus surrounding it, or that the leaks have caused a major power shift for the ruling party, coming on the heels of the Panama verdict. However, the opposition still holds serious reservations about the whole issue, and have rallied behind making the ‘report’ public d presented to the National Assembly as to ascertain the actuality of the situation and deficiencies in the subsequent probe. Ahead are different ideological positions held by opposition parties regarding the Dawn controversy.

PPP: While PPP has no love lost for the army, their position on the issue is simple. While the ‘settlement’ between the military and civil wing of the country is a positive sign, it is also clear that a time when the army is stretched to its limit and fighting a long hard war with terrorism, it is the responsibility of the government, public institutions, and all the political parties not to created unnecessary hurdles for the army. Not only is it dealing with an internal war for security, but is also being cornered by Afghanistan’s aggression on its western borders and India’s animosity on the eastern front. Having said that, in the spirit of being an active opposition, PPP’s political and ideological position is one that is based within constitutional parameters and democratic processes. It has asked the government to not only make the report public but to also present it to the National Assembly. The most dangerous aspect of the leaks according to a PPP politician was that the vacuum of trust created between the civil and the military leadership can be detrimental to the future of the country’s security. In addition, the leaks are being called a ‘security breach’.

PTI: According to PTI, the Dawn Leaks controversy was not a mere institutional problem between the civil and the military counterparts, it was a problem of ‘national security’. Not only did the Dawn Leaks confirm Pakistan’s adversaries’ position on the role of its armed forces but any future cooperation between the two institutions will lack trust, which will reflect badly in other serious issues of national security and institutional harmony, when discussed in the Prime Minister house. PTI has also asked that the report be published in the Parliament, as the issue is one that is on every Pakistani’s mind. The party has also questioned the ‘settlement’ process of the issue, one that couldn’t be settled before the ‘tweet’. Their position is that the real mole of such a sensitive discussion permeating into the media has not been determined.

PML-N: For the ruling party, the institutional misunderstanding was a case of procedural error rather than a full blown out ‘rejection’. It has also stated that the government is being made part of a larger conspiracy to undermine its political position. According to the Interior Minister at a recent press conference, the issue was blown out of proportion and made into a tool by Pakistan’s enemies to exploit this gap. The army and the government are ‘on the same page’ now with many other objections also discussed. PML-N’s stance is: the matter should be laid to rest now.

It is true that both sides have reached an ‘understanding’, but the question remains: Who was the real culprit of the national security breach? And will we ever know?