–Maj Gen Ghafoor says Afghan Taliban not excluding Pakistan from peace talks
–Dismisses fears that the US would lose interest in Pakistan once it exited Afghanistan
Chief of Pakistan Army’s media wing Major General Asif Ghafoor has said that the demands of the Pashtun community are genuine and the state is committed to addressing them.
In an interview with Arab News, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) DG said, “Till such time that the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is peaceful and they stick to their genuine demands, which are natural in a post-conflict environment, the state is committed to take care of them.”
He, however, warned that instigating people against state institutions is against the law. “Once we have fulfilled the genuine demands that are already in the overall plan, we will see how to deal with anyone who still tries to exploit [the situation],” he added.
The ISPR DG said that Pakistan’s enemies are exploiting the movement.
“When there are fault lines, enemies will always try to exploit them,” he said. “There is an effort to exploit the PTM, whether it is with their connivance or not.”
Maj Gen Ghafoor also asked India not to use proxies against Pakistan, adding that an unstable Pakistan is not in India’s interest.
“When there are fault lines, then enemies will always try to exploit them. So, there is an effort to exploit PTM, whether with their connivance or not,” he said. “Just as we are concerned that an unstable Afghanistan is not in our interest, India should also know that an unstable Pakistan is not in its interest. They need to change their behaviour.”
Responding to a question about an extension in military courts first set up by the parliament in 2015, and decried for their lack of transparency, he said they were a “national requirement” because the country’s civilian judicial infrastructure was ill-equipped to deal with terrorism cases.
He said verdicts could be appealed at several levels, including in military appellate and civilian courts, and those on death row had the right to file mercy petitions with the army chief and the president of Pakistan.
“Military courts proceed as per law; there is a laid down legal process with full transparency. Courts decide on evidence and not emotions,” the army’s media chief said. “Should parliament decide that military courts are not needed, then they will not be renewed.”
TALIBAN PEACE TALKS:
Maj Gen Ghafoor clarified Taliban are not excluding Pakistan from the peace process. He said, “We are a facilitator. We have done our job of bringing them to the negotiating table. What is discussed and how the process moves forward will depend on progress during every meeting.”
When asked if the Taliban had refused to meet Khalilzad in Islamabad, Ghafoor said: “There are so many factions and stakeholders involved in the process. Coordination takes time. One faction or party gets out of coordination, [which] can result in changes in schedule or place.”
He said Pakistan had pushed for the dialogue to restart but had “no preference for time or place.”
Taliban sources have told media the Doha talks have focused on a roadmap for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and a guarantee the country will not be used for hostile acts against the United States and its allies.
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with the Kabul government, which it views as an illegitimate, foreign-appointed force. Ghafoor said there was as yet no certainty on whether the insurgents could be persuaded to engage with the Afghan government but added that progress from the meetings would determine all outcomes.
He also spoke about abiding fears about how Afghan government forces would withstand the Taliban threat without US military support if US President Donald Trump acted on his desire to bring home half of the 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan should not go into turmoil” when US forces leave, the army’s media chief said: “The US should leave Afghanistan as friends of the region, with a commitment to assist Afghanistan in becoming self-sustaining and help in socio-economic development.”
The military spokesperson said “if there is peace in Afghanistan and greater control of the area by Afghan forces, it will be difficult for TTP to continue their sanctuaries there.”
He dismissed fears that the US would lose interest in Pakistan once it exited Afghanistan, or be free to take harsh actions when it no longer needed Islamabad’s help to end the conflict.
“Pakistan has always remained relevant and will continue to be relevant,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said. “And when the US leave Afghanistan, it will leave acknowledging Pakistan’s role in ending the conflict. Our relationship shall further strengthen.”
Responding to media reports that Pakistan was building military jets, weapons and other hardware with funds received under the CPEC umbrella, he said the corridor was “purely an economic project.”
“We have separate defence cooperation with China but that has nothing to do with CPEC,” the ISPR DG said. “We had F-16 deals with the US That was our requirement. Later we have jointly made the JF-17 Thunder with China. Like any sovereign country, Pakistan takes decisions suiting its national interest.”