The military yesterday dismissed the possibility of a martial law as a result of the friction between army and civilian authorities, saying “it should not even be talked about”.
In a lengthy media briefing that covered wide ranging issues, military’s media wing chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said hostile foreign agencies were hatching a terror plot in the country by using non-state actors to dent the gains made in the war against terror.
But he said the security forces with the help of the people were effectively countering all the internal and external threats facing the nation, and expressed the hope the country will overcome all the challenges.
The director general of the Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR) called for further strengthening cohesion among the national institutions in order to foil hostile narrative of the enemies of the country.
He was speaking only a day after a stimulating statement from US Secretary of Rex State Tillerson wherein he expressed concern about the future of the government in Pakistan, clearing showing his country’s backing to the civilian setup in its tussle with the army.
“We are a country like any other in the world,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said as he began responding to a question about civil-military relations – which remains troubled since the Panama leaks trial and resulting disqualification of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, who believes he is being routed by the army.
“When in political discussion, allegations are hurled at the army directly or indirectly,” ISPR DG said, apparently in reference to accusations that army was behind Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as well as the graft cases he and his family is facing now in the accountability court.
“We have a role to play constitutionally, and we did. We obeyed whatever the Supreme Court had ordered us to do. Whoever’s domain anything falls in, they will solve it,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said.
The Supreme Court had appointed two members from the ISI and Military Intelligence to the joint investigation team (JIT) that investigated the Sharifs, which was questioned widely by critics, and Nawaz Sharif ran a mass contact camping after his disqualification wherein he openly condemned court decision and kept suggesting that army was behind his political afflictions.
“Whatever order the army receives within the law and the Constitution, we are required to follow it. In the JIT order, ISI and MI being included was a constitutional order and we obeyed it. In that process, there was nothing that the army produced or gave. We were not party — whatever the Supreme Court asked, we did,” ISPR chief clarified.
“But saying that there is going be a martial law should not even be talked about. We are busy in doing our duty as stated in the Constitution,” he stressed.
After a meeting with Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on Wednesday, US Secretary of Rex State Tillerson said, “This is about the importance of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s long-term stability as well. We have concerns about the future of Pakistan’s government too… we want their government to be stable. We want it to be peaceful.”
“Many of the issues they’re struggling with inside Pakistan are American issues,” he further said without elaborating, alarming many in Pakistan as this was probably the first time a US top official had publicly addressed the political conflict in Islamabad, clearly backing the political setup in their apparent tussle with country’s army.
Explaining the issue of Rangers’ deployment outside the accountability courts on Monday which had resulted in a considerable controversy, Maj Gen Ghafoor said that Rangers fell in interior ministry’s purview.
“Three wings of Rangers were requisitioned under Article 147 for security in the capital. Once the requisition has been made, coordination is carried out at the local level between the police, the district administration and the Rangers,” he explained. He said this has been happening since 2014 and the arrangement is refreshed every three months.
“Sometimes it happens that the police ask the Rangers for assistance, and they the Rangers take action. When the National Accountability Bureau had its first hearing, there was some trouble when the former prime minister was appearing for his hearing,” he recalled.
“A letter was subsequently written to the Rangers, and there was some coordination in the night as well, so the Rangers reached the court at 7am on Monday,” he added.
“If a soldier is doing his duty and is told not to allow irrelevant people … [Now] it is possible that someone who is not carrying a [authorised personnel] card is [in fact] a relevant person, but Rangers personnel do not know this. Even if the army chief does not have a [security clearance] card [when he arrives at a venue], he is told by [the posted] personnel that he is not allowed [to pass].”
“We need to appreciate the personnel for their [commitment to their] duty,” he said.
Silence is also an expression!
Army’s chief spokesman said any type of instability political, economic or developmental, cannot be in the country’s interest, so the matter needs to be resolved.”
When asked why there had been no press release issued following a special corps commanders conference at GHQ, Maj Gen Ghafoor only offered that “Silence is also an expression.”
The army chief had convened a special moot of the corps commanders on Tuesday, the very day Nawaz Sharif was re-elected as president of PML-N – thanks to an amendment in the election law only a day before [Monday].
Responding to a question about the Milli Muslim League, the political wing of the Jamaatud Dawa, and its participation in the political process, he said that, “Every Pakistani has the right to participate in the polling process.”
Threats and countermeasures
During the briefing, Maj Gen Asif discussed the security threats at country’s eastern and western borders, stressing that the important question was “whether the threat is because of a state or non-state actors” and what the country’s response to it has been.
“Pakistan is an indispensable reality,” he asserted. “When multiple interests collide, it is natural that conflicts arise,” he began.
“There has been war in Afghanistan for the past four decades. We fought with the jihadis against the Soviet Union. We have fought well, as a nation, the war that entered our borders after 9/11,” he said, apparently underscoring a recent statement made by the foreign minister recalling the US’s “wining and dining” of jihadi outfits during the Afghan-Soviet Union war.
“There are no organised bases of any terrorist organisation in the country anymore,” Ghafoor stressed. “On the ground, more than 50 per cent of Afghan territory is out of their [Kabul’s] control, which is also affecting Pakistan,” he said, shifting the focus to the political instability afflicting Pakistan’s western neighbour.
“There is a strategic threat that exists on the western front which forces us to keep our army at the borders, because of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other such non-state actors.”
“Our [western] border also meets Iran. It is important to mention that our deployment is not against Iran or Afghanistan, but against non-state actors,” he explained.
“In the east, we have a border with India which is unsafe because of India’s inappropriate actions,” he said.
“The ceasefire violations in 2017 are considerably more in number than any other year before this, with 222 civilian casualties along the Line of Control. However, India has also paid a price due to our response [to attacks] and we will continue to do so [respond] if it does not act with restraint,” he warned.
“Threats from India are perpetual. We are a peaceful country and we do not want war with them, but we will defend ourselves and have the capability to do so,” he asserted.
Returning to relations with Iran, the DG ISPR said Pakistan had ongoing coordination and contact with Tehran. “The army chief will soon visit Iran to improve relations,” he said.
Afghanistan visit of COAS
“There has been a lot of blame game, bombings in Kabul and on our side as well,” the ISPR DG said as he began discussing the army chief’s recent overtures to the Afghan government.
He said: “There was some discomfort in security and civil quarters, but it was a great initiative taken by the army chief. In a one-and-a-half hour meeting in a cordial, reassuring environment, our point of view was presented with logic.
“The good thing that no negative thing has come out of it. If the Afghan government has not understood [in the past], it is prepared to understand what Pakistan has done. It is doing a good job in its capacity.
“You know that 50 per cent of their territory is not under their control. We have sent them a lot of offers. The army chief has even offered that we can make fences [on their side of the border] like our own.”
“There are no sanctuaries. Some things are part of a narrative and others are realities. Three million Afghans are in Pakistan — who knows who is what kind? When coordination improves, mistrust will die down and things will get better.”
Responding to a question about alleged links between the ISI and militants, he said: “Having links is different from supporting. Name any intelligence agency which does not have links. Links can be positive, and he [US Defence Secretary James Mattis] did not say there was support, so the narrative [against Pakistan’s army and intelligence agencies] that I talked about is relevant here as well. We should not be a part of it. We have our own narrative.”
Overview of security conditions
Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor provided a bird’s eye view of the security situation in the country. “Operation Raddul Fasaad is ongoing. Operation Khyber 4 is in the ground-clearing phase,” he said.
Recalling that Muharram observations remained peaceful despite emergent threats in Balochistan and Karachi, he also spoke of the Bohra community’s Ashura commemorations which saw 21,000 foreigners, including 12,000 Indian citizens, visit the country to be in the company of their spiritual leader during the month.
“Other smaller events also took place,” he added, naming the World XI tournament, the Miranshah cricket match against foreign players, and an international hockey match in Karachi.
“Show me a single country which was facing such threats in 2008 and 2009 [and stands where Pakistan does now]. There are no countries like this, because all other countries who faced such problems have either collapsed or had to have foreign armies take control.”
“If a foreign team is ready to play in Miranshah on one phone call, it means that they know what the situation there is. It takes time to get results,” he said, “especially when you have spent 15 years fixing what the world wanted to destroy.”
“We have to take this war to its logical end. If we end bilateral contact, things can be reverted. But if we are resolute, then nothing can happen to Pakistan. Even right now, we have about four intelligence agencies working against us.”
Tying this to the strengthening rhetoric against the army and its intelligence arms, the spokesperson said: “This is why you will hear the narrative that the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are not in anyone’s control.”
“We have travelled a long way. We are moving towards our destiny, which is a peaceful Pakistan. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) could never have succeeded without us,” he asserted.
Indian aggression at LoC
Responding to repeated incidents of cross-border firing along the Line of Control in Kashmir, Asif Ghafoor said: “Unlike India, we cannot fire indiscriminately [in response] as there are Kashmiri brothers on the other side as well. So when there are casualties on that side, it is [Indian] soldiers and infrastructure. Nonetheless, war is not a solution, so we are talking to them [Indian officials] at all levels to stop this [ceasefire violations].”