–Pakistani military’s spokesman says ‘silence is also an expression’ when asked why no press release was issued after seven-hour-long special meeting of army top brass
–Says ‘there’s no question of martial law’; Rangers’ deployment at accountability courts, involvement in Panama Papers enquiry was constitutional
–Says having links with terror outfits is different from supporting them
RAWALPINDI: “Silence is also an expression,” said Major General Asif Ghafoor, the chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, when he was asked at a presser on Thursday why no press release had been issued following a special corps commanders’ conference at Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters that continued for over seven hours on Tuesday.
The statement comes in wake of the controversy surrounding the deployment of the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers at the accountability courts during the hearing of corruption references filed by the accountability watchdog against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his children.
On Monday Oct 2, Rangers personnel deputed at the accountability court refused to allow ministers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), lawyers and journalists to attend the court’s proceedings.
Among the ministers stopped at the gate was Federal Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal, who was visibly taken aback when he found out that the force, which is administered by his ministry, had been deployed there without his knowledge.
Iqbal later ordered a “high-level enquiry” into the matter to determine “who challenged the writ of the government”.
He also threatened to resign if the rule didn’t become clear about what the writ of the state and the civil administration is.
“I cannot be a puppet interior minister,” he said.
He further questioned whose orders the paramilitary force was following when the ministry he [Iqbal] heads did not issue the orders the force was enforcing.
“There will be one law here and one government… two states cannot function within one state,” he claimed.
On Thursday, Rangers deployed for security of the Parliament House were replaced by the Frontier Constabulary on the orders of the interior minister.
‘RANGERS DEPLOYED AS PER ARRANGEMENT’:
Explaining the issue of Rangers’ deployment outside the accountability courts on Monday, Maj Gen Ghafoor explained that the Rangers fell under the Ministry of Interior’s purview.
“Three wings of Rangers were requisitioned under Article 147 for security in the federal capital. Once the requisition has been made, coordination is carried out at the local level between the police, district administration and Rangers,” he said, adding that 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 said.
“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],” said the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
“We need to appreciate the personnel for their [commitment to their] duty,” he said. “Any type of instability, either political, economic or developmental, cannot be in the country’s interest, so [the matter] needs to be resolved.”
‘NO QUESTION OF MARTIAL LAW’:
“We are a country like any other in the world,” Ghafoor said as he began responding to a question about civil-military relations.
“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,” he said, apparently in reference to accusations of the interference of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Panama Papers case.
The top 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.
“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 SC asked, we did,” he stressed.
“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 concluded.
‘EVERY PAKISTANI HAS RIGHT TO BE POLITICAL’:
Responding to a question about the Milli Muslim League, the political wing of the Jamaatud Dawa, and its participation in the political process, Maj Gen Ghafoor said that, “Every Pakistani has the right to participate in the polling process.”
During the briefing, the ISPR DG discussed the security threats at Pakistan’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.
The press conference followed a visit to Kabul by Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Sunday and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on matters of mutual concern on Wednesday.
“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 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-e-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.
‘ARMY’S CHIEF’S VISIT TO KABUL’:
“There has been a lot of blame game, bombings in Kabul and on our side as well,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said as he began discussing the army chief’s recent overtures to the Afghan government.
“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,” he said.
ISI’S LINKS WIH TERROR OUTFITS:
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.”
Maj Gen Ghafoor also 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.
Responding to repeated incidents of cross-border firing along the Line of Control in Kashmir, 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].”
The ISPR director general concluded his presser with a message from the army chief: “We the Pakistanis have travelled a long way amid threats and challenges. We have waded through the difficult times. We are moving towards a destiny which is a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan. While doing all this, we have contributed beyond our capacity to the regional and world peace. ISAF could never have defeated AQ (al-Qaeda) without our support. We have done our part, shall continue to contribute and assist in their part for Afghanistan and beyond, but cannot take blame for lack of doing elsewhere by others. As regards India, let it be known that no amount of threat or coercion can deter resolve of Pakistan. There can be differences within, that is part of life and its construct. It happens everywhere. But when it comes to external threat, let it be known that we all are one, irrespective of individual identity, cast, creed, language, province or anything else that is the spirit of Pakistan.”