–Maj Gen Ghafoor says country should learn lessons from its past, time to move in the right direction
–Says govt draws confidence from the masses, not the military
–Warns Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement against ‘crossing the line’
–Hopes India will reciprocate peace gesture, expresses concerns over ceasefire violations
–Says Pakistan will play positive role in fostering Afghan peace dialogue
–No individual, institution above law, says army chief Gen Bajwa
RAWALPINDI: Pakistan Army’s chief spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor on Thursday said that “after decades of weak economy, lack of governance, flaws in judicial and education systems, and religious extremism” Pakistan was now standing at a turning point in history, from where it could be turned towards the right direction.
Addressing a press conference here, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general recollected that Pakistan has passed through tough times — it lost East Pakistan, suffered economic crises and faced terrorism, but over the past few years, it has been moving towards betterment.
“The country is at a watershed of history from where it could be turned towards the right direction,” Gen Ghafoor said as he reflected on the “internal and external fault lines” used by the ‘hostile forces’ to undermine stability.
“Lessons should be learnt from the past as Pakistan had internal and external fault lines which were exploited by our enemies,” he said as he called upon the media, the “fourth pillar of the state”, to project a positive image of Pakistan.
“The media has a front-line role to play in the fifth generation and hybrid war imposed upon Pakistan,” he said.
The army spokesman also sought to clear the air regarding Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement during a recent television interview in which he had said that the army backed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) manifesto.
“The PM’s statement was taken out of context,” he said, adding that he had listened to PM Imran’s interview thrice.
“The government draws its confidence from the masses, not the army,” he asserted, adding that a new government could be voted into power by the people if the incumbent rulers fail to perform according to public aspirations.
‘INDIA SHOULD BEHAVE’:
Speaking about ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary by Indian forces, Gen Ghafoor said that “India was deliberately targeting civilians”.
At least 55 civilians have been martyred due to Indian cross-border aggression this year — the highest in history, he said.
The military spokesman underscored various peace initiatives taken by Pakistan towards building Indo-Pak peace, opening of the Kartarpur corridor being the latest one. He, however, regretted that the initiative was negatively presented in India and hoped that India will “positively respond to this goodwill gesture”.
He informed the audience that the corridor will be constructed in six months after which 4,000 Sikh pilgrims will be able to visit the Kartarpur daily. “It will be a one-way corridor from the Indian side to Kartarpur, and the Sikh pilgrims will remain restricted to Kartarpur,” he said.
Responding to a recent statement by the Indian army chief in which he said talks could not be held until Pakistan became a secular state, the ISPR DG said: “We are a Muslim state. They [India] do not need to tell us what kind of country we should be. Are they secular? Look what is happening to the 200 million Muslims there. We have opened Kartarpur in respect for another religion. We provide security to temples and churches in Pakistan. What happened at the Babri Masjid there? I think he needs to look inward to become secular first and tolerate us the way we are.” ”
US PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN:
Referring to US President Donald Trump’s letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Gen Ghafoor said that the issue could be resolved through political reconciliation.
“Pakistan will take measures to ensure success in the matter,” he said, hoping that the US will leave Afghanistan as a friend of the region and not a failure.
He also explicitly stated that Pakistan will not fight anyone else’s war, adding that the war was “imposed on the country”.
LAW AND ORDER:
Speaking on security, the army spokesperson said that terror incidents have significantly reduced across the country. “In 2013, there were 7-8 terrorist incidents monthly on an average. In 2018, this average has decreased and [we] hope for the day when there are no terrorist incidents in Pakistan,” he said.
In a particular mention to Balochistan, erstwhile FATA and Karachi, he said the areas have witnessed a decrease in incidents of terrorism and other crimes like abduction and extortion.
Mentioning the restive southwestern province, he claimed that at least 2,000 pararis (a term used for Baloch separatists] have renounced militancy in the last three years and terror incidents were reduced to mere 18 this year.
Law and order situation in Karachi has also improved, the ISPR chief said, adding that only two terror incidents were recorded in 2018. He gave Sindh Rangers the credit for “revival of peace” in the port city.
The ISPR spokesperson asserted that the war on terror has been mostly fought in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, adding that at least 200,000 troops were deployed in the tribal districts that make up for only three per cent of the geographic area of the country. However, the troops cannot be called back until there is some surety from Afghanistan, he added.
“This isn’t something we are in a position of doing because of the threats. The fencing will be completed by next year which will lead to a decrease in cross-border attacks.”
The military spokesman added that the army undertook 44 major operations across the country under operation Raddul Fasaad; however, more needs in terms of de-weaponisation. Adding that operations were not enough to end the war, he stressed the importance of economic development in enforcing peace in the erstwhile FATA region.
‘PTM MUSTN’T CROSS THE LINE’:
The military spokesperson also warned the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)—that emerged following the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud and later morphed into a countrywide movement for Pashtuns rights.
Warning the leadership of the Pashtun movement, Ghafoor said that the state won’t shy away from the use of force if “lines” are crossed.
He said that the rights movement had three demands — removal of checkpoints, clearing of landmines and the recovery of missing persons. In compliance with these demands, the armed forces have decreased the number of checkpoints in the area, he claimed.
Referring to the second demand, the ISPR DG added that landmines were being cleared. He added that troops have suffered losses because of the mines, however they will all be cleared gradually.
The cases of the missing persons are also being resolved, he said.
“There were around 7,000 cases in 2010-11 which the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan had been hearing on a daily basis,” he said, claiming that over 4,000 cases had been settled while over 3,000 cases were under process.
When asked why the army has not reacted against the ‘strong’ criticism levelled by PTM, the military’s spokesperson said, “We have engaged with them politely because we understand that they are our Pakistani brothers who have suffered a lot from terrorism and then faced a lot of administrative inconvenience during the subsequent military operation.”
“They are our people, they are hurt and have suffered losses, but still they haven’t resorted to violence till now, therefore we have dealt with them politely,” said Ghafoor.
“But now they are heading in a direction where the situation might arise that they cross a ‘line’ […] we request them not to cross that line where the State is compelled to use authority to control them [PTM]”.
Speaking about the hard-line religio-political Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Gen Ghafoor said that TLP had challenged the State and now action was being taken against its leadership according to the laws of the land.
‘ARMY IS ALSO ACCOUNTABLE’:
Maj Gen Ghafoor also asserted that the army is not beyond accountability and there is a chain of command for regularisation as well as a branch tasked with discipline and accountability.
“If rules are violated despite measures in place, a punishment is given. In 2017-18, around 400 officers have received punishments ranging from a warning to dismissals and even jail.”
‘NO INDIVIDUAL, INSTITUTION ABOVE LAW’:
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday said that no person or institution is above the law.
ISPR DG Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor also read out the army chief’s message while addressing the media persons. “We will reconstruct Pakistan brick-by-brick to have a normalised Pakistan… the country will run as per the Constitution,” the army’s spokesperson quoted the COAS as saying.
According to Gen Qamar, prerogative of violence rests with the state alone.