–Says peace committee attacked PTM activists for raising slogans against army
–Army to continue border fencing along Afghan border despite attacks
–Asif Ghafoor says Durrani did not obtain NOC from army before publishing spy book
–Denies asking journalists, media owners to publish selective content
RAWALPINDI: Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Asif Ghafoor on Monday held a press conference addressing a wide range of issues including the recent attack on Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) activists, Pakistan-India relations, former ISI chief’s book and matters with Afghanistan, among others.
Talking about the upcoming polls, Major General Asif Ghafoor said that no one is happier than the military that the government completed its five-year tenure, adding that while 2018 is an election year, this does not mean that the military should be dragged into politics.
Addressing several criticisms of the military, including references to it as the khalai makhlooq (celestial beings) that subvert the democratic process and accusations that it backs or supports militants, the army spokesperson said the military would continue to exercise restraint till the criticism was limited to the institution, but would take action if people started targeting the state.
“We have been tolerating a lot for Pakistan, and we will continue tolerating it for Pakistan. The day we feel the criticism is going to harm Pakistan, there will be no restraint. We can tolerate attacks on our person, but not on our country. I think that should be enough.”
He said that it is the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan to conduct the elections and the military has nothing to do with them. The military, he said, will fulfil the role it has been enshrined under the constitution.
PTM ACTIVISTS ATTACKED FOR RAISING ANTI-ARMY SLOGANS:
On the recent attack on PTM activists by the members of the peace committee, the ISPR chief said that the activists came under attack for raising slogans against Pakistan Army.
Major General Asif Ghafoor told the media that the army met with Manzoor Pashteen and Mohsin Dawar, who shared their concerns regarding the slain Naqeebullah Mehsud, missing persons and border check-post issues. The army assured them of resolving the issues.
Then a social media campaign started, and a topi (hat) made outside began to come into Pakistan. Those people who are not happy with the stability in Pakistan, if they join you and start praising you, then we have to see what is actually happening, the ISPR DG said.
In response to a question about the PTM’s demands about missing persons, the ISPR DG stated that war is “not a fair game”.
Military operations can be lacking, he said, adding that sacrifices have to be given during wars by people on a national and military level as well as by the residents of the area where a war takes place.
But “everybody who is not at home is not picked up by the forces,” he said, and added while referencing the PTM, “And everybody who is picked up is not Pashtun and every terrorist is not Pashtun.”
On Saturday, dozens of PTM supporters were injured and at least three were killed as a result of an attack on PTM leader Ali Wazir by the “pro-government militants”, also known as Peace Committee.
INDIA’S CEASEFIRE VIOLATIONS WILL NOT GO UNRESPONDED:
Major General Asif Ghafoor shared that India has carried out 1,077 ceasefire violations since the start of 2018 to date. He added that Pakistan’s desire for peace should not be mistaken for weakness, as he briefed media on ceasefire violations by India.
Referring to a special hotline contact established between the Director-Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of Pakistan and India last week, Major General Ghafoor said that what was agreed upon in the contact should be implemented. But India violated the ceasefire agreement after May 29, he pointed out.
The ISPR DG further said India mostly targets innocent civilians. “If India fires the first bullet and no harm is incurred, we will not respond. If India fires the second bullet, then we will give a befitting response,” he warned.
“Our defence, our desire for peace, should not be mistaken for weakness,” he said, adding that Pakistan wants to abide by the ceasefire agreement.
Sharing new details about a book controversy surrounding former ISI chief Lt General (r) Asad Durrani, he said the ex-ISI chief did not obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Pakistan army.
Durrani, who served as the chief of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency from August 1990 till March 1992, co-authored a book with former Indian spy chief AS Dulat, titled ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace’.
He said that the institution itself took notice of the book controversy, and confirmed that an inquiry has been initiated against Durrani.
FENCING ALONG AFGHAN BORDER:
Major General Asif Ghafoor further said that Pakistan will continue with its ongoing pace to erect the fence and establish forts along Afghan border for preventing illegal movements despite the cross-border fire and physical attacks on fencing parties.
“Ever since we have started fencing the border, we faced 71 cross-border fire or physical attacks in March, as many as 60 in April and 55 in May. Due to this, the fencing and forts construction parties’ seven personnel were martyred and 39 injured. But even at that cost, Pakistan is not slowing its efforts of fencing and forts’ construction because a secure border is in the interest of not only Pakistan but Afghanistan also,” he said.
The army spokesperson shared that the recent meeting between Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Afghan delegation was positive, and it was agreed upon that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are indispensable to each other. He added that the visiting delegation was informed about Pakistan’s efforts of fencing and forts construction along Pak-Afghan border to stop illegal cross-border movements.
“We understand that Afghan security forces have a capacity issue and it has ungoverned spaces. According to a report more than 50 per cent Afghan territory is not under control of Afghan forces,” he added.
He said that no one had much desire for peaceful Afghanistan than Pakistan, adding “We want that foreign forces should come out of Afghanistan with a notion of victory and success, and not to leave it [Afghanistan] in turmoil as they did in the ’80s.”
Major General Asif Ghafoor also said that the two sides also held a detailed discussion on Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Stability (APAPPAS) under which five forums including military working group, politico-diplomatic group, intelligence, Afghan refugees and economy groups would be set up for peace and stability in the area.
He expressed confidence that through these forums both the countries would be able to get required results of peace and prosperity in the region.
He went on to say that the country’s relations with the United States are strained, but the Pakistani stance was that the army with the help of the public has fought terrorism and done what no other armed force in the world could manage.
“We have learned that national interest comes first, we will not compromise on that.”
He said that there was no stable presence of the Haqqani network but that their residual strength remains. “Prior to Zarb-e-Azb military operation, it was a question of capacity, not resolve,” he said.
The military desires respectable repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, after which the army can target all remaining terrorist networks, he said.
Major General Asif Ghafoor also hailed the merger of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, calling it a “great success”.
He said that security forces should not be dragged into accusations, and with time all accusations have proven to be false.
SOCIAL MEDIA PROPAGANDA
Turning to the propaganda being carried out on social media, the ISPR chief displayed a slide showing a rapid rise in the number of social media ‘troll’ accounts operating in Pakistan. He said, “The ISI has checked all enemy designs. This really irks them enemy forces. We have the capability to monitor social media and see who’s doing what.”
About the graph, which showed sharp increases in troll accounts spreading propaganda against the army and against the state over the January-May 2018 period, the spokesperson said that such accounts now numbered 10,000.
“This will give you an idea about how social media is creating ripples among you. If we do not deal with this situation and start responding to it…” he said, before cutting off to remark: “Actually, these social media cells set up by whoever’s operating them, they’re just playing between themselves. A lot of Pakistanis may not have even seen these accounts, yet they display unnaturally high activity.”
He then moved to a graphic that showed what seemed to be an individual’s Twitter activity. The person was someone “who tweets against the forces and the state. But who’s retweeting them?” Maj Gen Ghafoor asked, bringing attention to several blank boxes which said only “Political Figure”.
“Till these tweets concern us [the army], we tolerate them. But when it comes to the state, we share these with the relevant authorities and we work on those cases too,” he said.
“But what do we do about these blank spaces? They’re using their own handles to retweet, praise and spread anti-state propaganda,” the spokesperson said. “If we ourselves aren’t careful about our use of social media, then we do not even need to get into the 10,000 accounts I just told you about.”
“This social media is not a threat as of now, but a lot of countries have controlled it through mechanisms. The first is to create awareness,” he warned.
“And we are grown-ups, but this is a more lethal threat for children,” he added.
He also revealed that the army had reported many ‘pro-army’ accounts to the FIA for political posts “with a heavy heart”.
The ISPR DG further said, “I must thank the media for their willing cooperation being a responsible media.” He added that he had interaction with media house owners and journalists, but “I never asked them to say this and not to say this, if we have sent any such requirement please do speak in your shows.”
He said that when he talked to the owners and journalists, he told them that the present situation of the country demanded unity and there was a need to project progress achieved on different fronts.