In an unexpected turn of events, President Arif Alvi on Sunday refuted reports that he had signed the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, or the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and accused his staff of having "undermined" his instructions.
A day after he was reported to have granted his approval to the two bills, Alvi came on to social media website X (previously known as Twitter) and denied having signed the critical bills.
President Alvi stated that he did not sign the two bills because he did not agree with them.
As God is my witness, I did not sign Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023 & Pakistan Army Amendment Bill 2023 as I disagreed with these laws. I asked my staff to return the bills unsigned within stipulated time to make them ineffective. I confirmed from them many times that…— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) August 20, 2023
He said, "To render the bills useless, I instructed my staff to return them unsigned within the allotted period. I repeatedly asked them if they had been returned, and I always received a positive response."
"However, today I learned that my staff had undercut my authority and command. Allah would pardon IA because He is all-knowing. But I beg pardon from those who will be impacted," he added.
It is important to note that on August 15, two Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Imran Khan, were booked in a first information report (FIR) filed under the Official Secrets Act, accusing them of divulging the contents of the diplomatic cipher for political advantage. On Saturday evening, however, PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi was arrested under this FIR.
On Sunday, PTI voiced its profound concerns after President Alvi's admissions, stating that his position was unusual, alarming, and unimaginable.
آفیشل سیکریٹ ایکٹ اور آرمی ایکٹ میں ترامیم کے مسوّدوں پر دستخطوں کے معاملے پر صدرِمملکت کی ٹویٹ— PTI (@PTIofficial) August 20, 2023
پاکستان تحریک انصاف کی جانب سے صدرِمملکت کی ٹویٹ پر گہری تشویش کا اظہار
صدرِمملکت کی ٹویٹ ہر لحاظ سے غیرمعمولی، تشویشناک اور ناقابلِ تصوّر ہے،
صدرِمملکت کی ٹویٹ کے بعد پوری قوم… pic.twitter.com/hWnztnte1Q
The PTI said on its official X account that "the president's tweet has exposed to the nation the deadliest infection spreading from top to bottom in the state system."
The statement added that the party spokesman would put out a cogent statement after carefully reading President Alvi's post.
Additionally, political and legal experts have advised President Alvi to initiate legal action against his staff and that an apology was insufficient.
The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023, aims to punish people with a maximum five-year jail sentence for exposing sensitive information about national security or the armed services, was passed by the National Assembly on July 31.
Separately, the Official Secrets Act received approval just a few days prior to the National Assembly's dissolution on August 7.
Law ministry says 'no third option available'
In response to President Alvi's statement on Sunday, the Ministry of Law and Justice issued a statement, expressing grave concern over the President's recent tweet.
"As per Article 75 of the Constitution, when a bill is sent for assent, the President has two options: either give assent or refer the matter to the parliament with specific observations. Article 75 does not provide for any third option," it stated.
It added that in the this matter, neither requirements were fulfilled. Instead, the president purposely delayed granting assent to the laws.
Returning the bills without any observations or assent is not provided for in the Constitution. Such a course of action is against the letter and spirit of the constitution, it stated.
If the President had any observations, he could have returned the bills with his observations, like he did in the recent and distant past. He could have also issued a press release to that effect, it added.
It is a matter of concern that the president has chosen to discredit his own officials. The President should take responsibility for his own actions, it stated.