October 26, 2023
ISLAMABAD – President Dr Arif Alvi on Wednesday said he “stands by” his claim that he did not assent to the amendments to the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act.
The president had triggered a massive controversy in August when he claimed in a post on social media platform X (formerly 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 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 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.
During an interview on Geo News programme ‘Capital Talk’ today, host Hamid Mir asked 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.
Alvi said that he had formed a judgment 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 further.
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’
During the interview, President Alvi was asked about PTI defections after the May 9 riots — when violent protests occurred countrywide following Imran’s first arrest.
“I am extremely disappointed. A lot of people I know are going through this. I am saying once again very emphatically that I have been associated with PTI for years.
“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,” Alvi said.
He recalled that he had condemned the May 9 incident but at the same time wanted the way forward to be “open”.
In response to a question on reports of Imran’s alleged displeasure with Alvi, the president said the PTI chief “keeps an eye on me”.
“When I was on Haj, someone told him that I was taking 27 government employees with me. He sent a message to me through someone [asking] ‘what is going on’. But I went with my wife and kids at our own expense. But he keeps an eye on me as a friend and well-wisher.”
Alvi professed his loyalty for Imran, saying: “Even today, he is my leader.” When asked again, he reaffirmed it.
At one point, 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.
‘Don’t see elections in January’
Talking about elections, Alvi said he did not see general elections being held in January, as announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan. He recalled the various “efforts” he had made for the polls, including writing to the ECP and suggesting an election cut-off date.
But, the president highlighted, the law ministry had told him that it was not his prerogative.
When asked about PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan, Alvi pointed out that Nawaz, in his speech in Lahore on Oct 21, had talked about working together and moving forward and claimed that a Gallup poll a day after the PML-N supremo’s return revealed that the majority agreed that the confrontation should come to an end.
“I believe the PML-N has a historic chance to pick a narrative.”
Alvi further stated that free and fair elections and level playing field were crucial for Pakistan’s progress.