August 22, 2023
ISLAMABAD – A day after President Dr Arif Alvi’s allegation that his staff “undermined his will and command” regarding his assent to the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act, the President’s Secretariat said the services of Secretary to President Waqar Ahmed were “no more required” and sought a replacement.
“In view of the definite statement of yesterday, President’s Secretariat has written a letter to Principal Secretary to Prime Minister that the services of Mr Waqar Ahmed, Secretary to President, are no more required and are surrendered to the Establishment Division, immediately,” said a statement posted on the President of Pakistan’s official account on X (formerly Twitter).
“It has also been desired that Ms Humaira Ahmed, a BPS-22 officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service, may be posted as Secretary to the President,” the statement added.
In view of the definite statement of yesterday, President’s Secretariat has written a letter to Principal Secretary to Prime Minister that the services of Mr. Waqar Ahmed, Secretary to President, are no more required and are surrendered to the Establishment Division, immediately.
— The President of Pakistan (@PresOfPakistan) August 21, 2023
President Alvi had on Sunday stirred controversy by asserting that he had not personally signed two disputed pieces of legislation, namely the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill 2023 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2023 — a day after they were deemed to have become acts of parliament.
Both the bills were approved by the Senate and National Assembly and sent to the president for his approval amid criticism by opposition lawmakers a few weeks ago.
On Saturday, reports surfaced that the president had given his assent to both the bill, only for him to claim the next day that he had not signed the bills and that his staff “undermined” his directives.
Waqar denies wrongdoing in letter to Alvi
Later in the day, a letter emerged from Waqar to Alvi saying that the president seeking his replacement conveyed a message to the public and the media that “perhaps secretary to the president is responsible for any irregularity in connection with processing of the subject bills”.
Waqar said the army act bill was received on Aug 2 by the presidency and moved to the president’s office from the secretary’s office on Aug 3 with a note saying that the time of 10 days for giving assent or sending the bill back would be completed on Aug 11.
“The honourable president neither assented the bill nor gave written permission for returning the bill for reconsideration by the Parliament,” he said, adding that the file had still not been returned to the secretary’s office.
Similarly, he said, the secrets act bill was received on Aug 8 by the presidency and sent to the president’s office from the secretary’s office on Aug 9 with a note saying that Alvi had 10 days to assent to the bill or return it.
Waqar added that Alvi exercised neither of the two options and the bill still had not been returned to the secretary’s office.
He said the above facts “clearly indicate that I neither delayed above two mentioned two bills nor committed any irregularity or negligence”, adding that the files were still lying in the president’s office as of Aug 21, [and] therefore, Alvi’s decision to surrender his services was “not based on justice”.
He requested the president to order an inquiry by the Federal Investigation Agency or any other agency to determine the facts and fix responsibility for any lapse, if committed by any officer or official.
“If Supreme Court or any court calls me for clarification on the subject bills, I will present record to prove my innocence,” Waqar said.
He added that Alvi was aware of all the facts he had mentioned and reiterated that the “reality is I am neither responsible for delay nor undermined the office of the honourable president”, adding that he could give his statement on oath.
Waqar requested that the letter regarding the surrender of his services as secretary to the president be withdrawn.
Babar Awan urges CJP to take suo motu notice of Alvi’s claims
Separately, PTI leader Babar Awan requested Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial to take suo motu notice of Alvi’s startling claims.
In a video posted on PTI’s account on social media platform X, Awan said the president of the country was the head of state, a part of Parliament and the supreme commander of the armed forces while the country’s agreements were also made using his name.
— PTI (@PTIofficial) August 21, 2023
“So what the president has said is trustworthy and credible,” Awan said. “The Constitution did not give anyone working under the president, be it the secretary or the peon, the right to either stop the implementation of a law or interfere or sabotage it.
“A very serious crime has taken place,” he said, adding that this amounted to “constitutional insubordination” which would fall under Article 6 (high treason).
The PTI leader said that under Article 186 of the Constitution, the president could send the matter to the apex court. Referring to the president’s claims, Awan said it was the “biggest tweet in Pakistan’s 76-year-long history”.
He said that the entire world had gotten the opportunity to see what goes on in the country. “That is why it is very important for the CJP to take notice. That is my request to him,” he said.
The unprecedented claims made by the president opened the floodgates of claims and counter-claims, prompting a weekend presser by the caretaker ministers for law and information, as well as a barrage of recriminations from the former ruling party, PTI.
In a tweet on X, President Alvi had pointed the finger at his staff, saying he was duped by the presidency staff who did not return the said “unsigned” bills despite repeated directives.
“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 in his tweet.
As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 as I disagreed with these laws. I asked my staff to return the bills unsigned within stipulated time to make them ineffective. I confirmed from them many times that…
— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) August 20, 2023
He claimed 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.
“I confirmed from them many times whether they [the bills] have been returned and was assured that they were. However, I have found out today that my staff undermined my will and command. As Allah knows all, He will forgive Insha’Allah. But I ask forgiveness from those who will be affected,” the president had written on X.
Hours after President Alvi’s statement, a gazette notification issued by the Senate Secretariat surfaced, stating that the two bills were “deemed to have been assented by the president”.
According to the notification, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 was deemed to have been approved by the president with effect from August 17 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023 from August 11.
Section 6-A of the secrets act creates a new offence of unauthorised disclosure of the identities of members of intelligence agencies, informants or sources. The offence would be punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of up to Rs10 million.
The Army Act paves 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.
One of the amendments in the act accords more powers to the army chief and barred ex-servicemen from engaging in politics as well as taking up ventures, which could come into conflict with the army’s interest. It also proposed imprisonment for defamation of the army.
The new law also forbids any person subject to the army act from engaging in any kind of political activity for two years from the date of their “retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service.
The president’s statement on Sunday came a day after PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi was picked up in connection with a first information report registered on Aug 15 under the Official Secrets Act against the former foreign minister and PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
The case was registered after an American news outlet The Intercept recently published what was claimed to be the diplomatic cable which had reportedly gone missing from Imran’s possession.
Imran, who was interrogated by Federal Investigation Agency a few days ago in the cipher case in Attock jail where he was lodged after his conviction in the Toshakhana case, claimed he was ousted from office last year under a “US conspiracy”. The PTI alleges that the cipher contained a threat from the United States to oust Imran from power.
Last week, the president had returned over a dozen bills for reconsideration by Parliament. The returned bills had been passed by both houses of parliament at the fag end of the PML-N-led government’s term, and their fate will be decided after general elections when a new National Assembly is in place.