Defense Minister Khawaja Asif on Wednesday reiterated allegations that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), along with some Indian accounts, had been operating an alleged anti-Army social media campaign following the tragic crash of an Army helicopter during flood relief operations in Balochistan.
The crash in Lasbela earlier this month saw a section of social media maligning the armed forces, with some appearing to celebrate the casualties. The alleged campaign drew swift condemnations from a wide array of Pakistanis, including the country’s political leaders and state institutions. The ruling coalition has, from the outset, blamed the PTI’s social media team for the smear campaign, alleging that it was done at the behest of party Chairman Imran Khan. Last week, the government announced it had launched a probe to determine the identity of the culprits.
In a press conference, Asif said that the investigation had found 529 Pakistani accounts; 18 Indian accounts; and 33 accounts from other countries involved in the campaign. Referring to a video that went viral on social media earlier this year, he said Indian channels were celebrating Khan’s divisive rhetoric, as they believed that “even if we [India] had spent billions of dollars, we would not have been able to create the kind of network to safeguard and advance India’s interests in Pakistan as the PTI and its leader are doing.”
“This investigation [into the social media campaign] is reaching its conclusion,” he said, adding action would be taken against those responsible in accordance with the law and Constitution and more details would be issued soon.
Emphasizing that the smear campaign had shamed the entire nation, he regretted that there were individuals in Pakistan who were willing to “fall so low for their political motives.”
Referring to the ongoing sedition case against Khan’s chief of staff, Shahbaz Gill, he derided the PTI’s claims of Gill being tortured in police custody as a “diversion” from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s ruling in the prohibited funding case. Calling for such diversions to be halted “immediately,” he said the PTI, including Khan, had already started to distance themselves from Gill’s comments, as they were not providing them any political benefit.
To a question, the defense minister urged the media to avoid turning the upcoming appointment of the next Army chief into a political debate. “I can assure you that, at the moment, there is no ongoing process regarding the appointment of the Army chief,” he said.