The military’s media wing on Friday condemned a social media campaign that had emerged after the crash of a Pakistan Army helicopter in Balochistan, resulting in the martyrdom of six military personnel who were participating in flood relief efforts.
“The regretful social media after unfortunate helicopter crash on Aug. 1 has caused deep anguish and distress among shuhada families and rank and file of the armed forces,” read a brief statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). Noting that the entire nation had stood with the Army during this difficult time, the statement regretted that certain “insensitive” quarters had resorted to hurtful and derogatory commentary on social media that was “unacceptable and highly condemnable.”
In a subsequent appearance on private broadcaster Geo News, ISPR Director-General Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar said the entire armed forces had been distressed since the Aug. 1 accident. “The propaganda has caused immense pain, particularly to the families of the martyrs,” he said, stressing that this should not happen and the entire nation should unite in rejecting elements that spread negative propaganda and rumors. “Insensitive behavior is unacceptable and should be condemned on every platform,” he said, adding the Pakistan Army is grateful for the nation that stands by them and martyrs.
To another question, he said he did not feel it appropriate to comment on reports that President Arif Alvi had been advised to not attend the funeral prayers of the martyrs due to anger of the families of martyrs over the social media campaign.
While the ISPR spokesman did not single out any group for the social media campaign, a former office bearer of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s student branch, Muhammad Muneeb Kiyani, released a video statement in which he admitted to running a smear campaign against Pakistan Army soldiers on social media.
Stressing he was ashamed and apologetic for his actions, he claimed that he had been acting under the influence of “certain people”—PTI supporter Sabeena Kiyani and anchor Imran Riaz Khan. Explaining that he had served as the senior deputy convener of the Insaf Union Federation (ISF) for two years, he said he had sent out two tweets maligning the armed forces on Thursday, authoring one himself and copy-pasting another.
“There was no truth in the tweets I generated and it was a big mistake. I also did not verify them,” he said. In the same video, Kiyani’s father—Farhat Naeem Kiyani—admitted that his son’s tweets had been offensive, adding that he accepted responsibility for not checking his child’s online activity. Vowing that this mistake would not be repeated in future, he said his family were patriots who appreciated the Pakistan Army. “I accept responsibility for him not doing it again,” he said. “Pakistan Army Zindabad,” he added.
In his appearance on Geo News, Maj. Gen. Iftikhar also commented on speculation that Pakistan’s airspace had been used by the U.S. to stage a drone strike in Kabul that had killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, stressing there was “no question on the use of Pakistani soil in Zawahiri’s killing.”
Referring to an earlier statement of the Foreign Ministry, he said such reports had already been clearly denied. “It is impossible that Pakistan’s soil has been used for this,” he said, adding that irrelevant comments were made without any evidence. While he did not specify any culprits, PTI leaders Chaudhry Fawad Hussain and Shireen Mazari have both been propagating the reports by “questioning” if Pakistan’s airspace had been used of the drone strike.
To another question, the ISPR spokesman said the Pakistan Army stood with the people of Kashmir on the third anniversary of India’s unilateral abrogation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status. “The issue of Kashmir must be resolved and we will work toward it at every platform,” he said.