The press briefing seemed a deliberate decision to let the army convey its angst to Imran directly, observes Rana Banerji, who headed the Pakistan desk at RA&W, India's external intelligence agency.
In a surprising development, Director General, Inter Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum appeared at a joint press conference in Islamabad, organised by the Director General, Inter Services Public Relations, Lieutenant General Babar Iftikhar, on October 27, just one day before Imran Khan's Long March to Islamabad.
This was an unprecedented -- even historic and first-ever -- appearance by the head of Pakistan's spy agency at a press briefing, rendered all the more ironic as Nadeem had himself professed a desire never to be photographed when he took charge last year, after the delayed transfer of his predecessor, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed.
The aim of the meeting was to unequivocally read out a riot act to Imran Khan and his supporters in the Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI).
The joint briefing related to the death of a fairly well known Pakistani journalist, Arshad Sharif, who used to helm fairly popular programmes on the ARY TV channel supporting Imran Khan's narrative of an unfair ouster, martyrdom and conspiracy.
On October 23, Arshad Sharif was killed, ostensibly by accident, at a road block set up by the Kenyan police in Kajiado, near Nairobi, while travelling in a car which apparently did not stop at the checkpoint.
His body had gunshot wounds in the head and chest, shot from behind.
After Arshad Sharif's death and even as his corpse arrived in Pakistan for a largely attended funeral on October 27, the PTI started making political capital from his death, implying that it was a planned political murder in which the military establishment may have been complicit.
This forced the army's hand to present facts to disrupt this false narrative.
Lieutenant General Iftikhar revealed at the press conference that Arshad Sharif was not keen to leave Pakistan but had been forced to do so, at the instance of ARY CEO Salman Iqbal.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government issued a report in early August, suggesting that there was a life threat to Arshad Sharif, emanating from a faction of the Tehrik e Taliban.
No connected information in this regard was shared with concerned security agencies.
The ARY channel bought his ticket for Dubai and the KP government helped with all protocol formalities to put him on board a flight to Dubai from Peshawar, via Karachi on August 10.
Sharif's visa for Dubai was valid till September 09, 2022.
Why he left for Kenya from there when his visa expired was also not clear.
Appearing at the briefing, Lieutenant General Anjum, DG, ISI, emphasised that he was not here for himself, but for 'his institution and officers sacrificing their lives', 'who were being targeted for no reason'.
Officers martyred recently in Lasbela (in a helicopter accident) 'were mocked', words like 'neutral and janwar' were bandied about, to suggest that the institution (army) was 'indulging in sedition'.
Lieutenant General Anjum said it was condemnable to speak without any proof in this manner, merely because the 'establishment had decided to restrict itself to its constitutional role' and had 'refused to bend' before 'unconstitutional and illegal' demands.
Lieutenant General Anjum further disclosed that Imran had offered General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistan army chief, an open ended extension at a meeting in March, 2022, where he (Anjum) was present, if only the establishment agreed to stave off the threat to his government from the no-confidence motion moved by the combined Opposition.
General Bajwa had rejected this offer outright, as he wanted 'the institution to move forward from a controversial to a constitutional role'.
Without naming Imran, the DG, ISI sharply castigated him for holding 'quiet meetings at night' with the army chief, even while calling him ' a traitor in daylight'.
This was quite unacceptable and he had decided to break his silence, as he was often seeing 'lies' being perpetuated and 'the youth accepting it'.
The DG, ISI clarified that Arshad Sharif was a 'competent, hardworking and able journalist', who was in touch with ISI officers working under him. These were old contacts.
When he went abroad too, he remained in contact.
As per the ISI's reports, he faced no threat in Pakistan and the military establishment 'had no personal enmity' against him.
Lieutenant General Anjum said he is in touch with his Kenyan counterpart regarding the probe into Sharif's death.
The DG, ISPR's admonition was even stronger. He reiterated at the very outset, that Imran's attempt to mislead the public over the cipher issue (from Pakistan's ambassador in the USA about a luncheon meeting with US State Department official Donald Lu) was 'far from reality'.
He also suggested that ARY's CEO Salman Iqbal, currently absconding abroad from Karachi, would have to be brought back and investigated to get to the bottom of the journalist's killing.
Arshad Sharif had been befriended in Kenya by two of Iqbal's ARY associates, Waqar and Khurram Ahmed, Pakistani origin brothers who apparently lived in a farm house owned by Iqbal.
Khurram had been in the car in which Sharif was killed. Reports in the Pakistani media suggest these individuals were reportedly involved in somewhat shady businesses.
Developments relating to Imran's Long March will now be closely watched by those in power in Pakistan.
Though some journalists at Thursday's press conference were of the view that the defence, home and information ministers in the Shahbaz Sharif government should have been present at this briefing, it seemed a deliberate decision to let the army convey its angst to Imran and his colleagues in the PTI directly.
It would also appear that the army leadership has prevailed upon the Shahbaz Sharif government not to be in an unseemly hurry to appoint the new army chief before the impact of the Long March to Islamabad is clearly assessed.
Interesting days lie ahead.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com