The military’s media wing on Wednesday rubbished claims that former finance minister Shaukat Tarin had been asked by the establishment to leave the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and join the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
On Wednesday morning, journalist Shaheen Sehbai—who is based in the U.S.—posted on Twitter that he was “soon” going to write about why the “Chief Neutral, proved by Shaukat Tarin as Non-Neutral, as he asked Tarin to betray Imran Khan and help Shehbaz, is so sensitive and DEAD SCARED about his remaining four months in office.” He had also alleged that there was “something fishy, intriguing, alarming, unpatriotic” in the situation.
The use of “neutral” in Sehbai’s tweet refers to the descriptive often used by Khan and the PTI for the military, particularly the chief of Army staff. The Army has repeatedly stressed that it is “apolitical” and “neutral” and has no desire to be dragged into politics. By contrast, Khan and his followers have repeatedly accused the military—through the use of “neutral”—of failing to intervene to protect him from a vote of no-confidence, seemingly seeking a more “active” role by the armed forces in politics.
As Sehbai’s tweet started going viral on social media, Tarin issued a rebuttable, denying that anyone had asked him to leave Khan and the PTI. “I categorically deny what has been attributed to me by Shaheen Sehbai,” he wrote on Twitter. “I was never asked by anyone in the establishment to leave Imran Khan and join [the] Shehbaz Sharif government,” he added.
A few hours later, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued its own rejoinder to Sehbai’s commentary, describing it as “baseless propaganda.” In a statement, the military’s media wing said that the “insinuations by Shaheen Sehbai and some others on social media quoting the former finance minister are baseless propaganda.” It noted that Tarin had already “duly rebutted” the reports himself.
“Peddling malicious allegations and blatant lies against the institution and its leadership to promote vested interests is condemnable and institution reserves the right to take legal action against those involved,” it added.
After Tarin and the ISPR had issued their statements, Sehbai responded to the former minister’s denial on Twitter. “News that you were asked to help Shehbaz Sharif government in IMF was broken by you on TV,” he said in a post addressed to Tarin. “I only said it was proved by Mr. Tarin that neutral was non-neutral as he wanted you ‘to betray Imran Khan and help government.’ I didn’t say a word of my next piece. So why such panic using ISPR. All are quoting your words,” he added.
Sehbai also shared an interview of Tarin’s from last month in which he had claimed that the PMLN-led coalition government had sought his expertise to stabilize the economy. In it, Tarin says that he refused to provide any help until a caretaker setup was installed and fresh elections were announced.