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Pakistan sacks minister accused of sparking rift with army

October 29, 2016

Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday removed a key minister from his cabinet over a media leak that sparked a rift between his government and the powerful army, his office said.

Pervez Rasheed, the information minister, was asked to step down over his alleged role as a source for the report, which said civilian officials had warned the military to stop backing jihadist proxy fighters abroad.

The article, published in the English daily, Dawn, caused an uproar and the journalist who wrote it was briefly hit with a travel ban.

“Evidence available so far points to a lapse on part of Information Minister, who has been directed to step down from office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry,” the statement said.

Sharif’s office reiterated previous denials of the report and termed it a “breach of national security”.

Pakistan has for years been accused of cracking down on only those Islamist groups which have turned their guns inward towards the state, while harbouring those who fight abroad for its strategic ends.

Reporting critical of the military is considered a major red-flag, with journalists at times being detained, beaten and even killed.

The minister’s sacking comes at a sensitive time for the government, as it faces street protests by the opposition over Sharif’s family’s offshore bank accounts which were revealed in the Panama Papers leak.

Pakistan’s military has used the pretext of civil unrest to sweep in and replace elected government three times in the country’s history, and analysts had warned Sharif may need to strike a deal with the army to ensure his surival.

A minister last week told AFP the military would ask the government to sack officials who leaked the damaging report, a prediction that has now been borne out.

Analysts said the military may also try impose its choice over the successor of powerful army chief Raheel Sharif, whose term expires at the end of November, as part of the deal.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.