‘Conspiracy not mentioned’, demarche was given on ‘interference’, says DG ISPR about Lettergate

ISLAMABAD: Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar has categorically said that the word ‘conspiracy’ was not mentioned in the communiqué issued following the meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) last month.

“As far as the military’s response about the NSC meeting, the stance was fully given and a statement was issued which clearly shows what was concluded in that meeting,” the chief military spokesperson said at a press briefing on Thursday.

He was responding to a question related to ousted PM Imran Khan’s claim that foreign conspiracy was hatched to topple his government.

“The words are in front of you, the words are clear. Was there any word such as conspiracy used? I do not think so,” Gen Babar said and added that the government can declassify the minutes of the NSC meeting if it so desires.

However, he added that the demarche was issued to the foreign country over the use of undiplomatic language which tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.

Major General Babar also stated that Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa is not seeking an extension and will neither accept one.

He added that the chief will complete his tenure in November this year.

“Let me put this to rest. The chief of army staff is neither seeking an extension nor will he accept an extension. No matter what, he will be retiring on the 29th of November 2022.”

Talking about the role of the armed forces in the country’s politics, Babar said the army has “nothing to do with politics” and said the institution has decided to remain apolitical in the future as well.

“A better word than neutral is apolitical for describing our role,” said the army spokesperson.”

The briefing to the journalist comes on the heels of the recent Formation Commanders’ Conference during which the military’s top brass assured that the “Pakistan Army is aware of its responsibilities and shall continue to defend territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan against all internal and external threats under all circumstances”.

“This decision was not taken to harm or benefit anyone. This is the constitutional role of armed forces which we are trying to fulfill.”

“Whatever happened during the last few days, is not part of the constitutional process? It is not the army’s place to offer someone an NRO.”

Gen Babar also dismissed rumours of the establishment meeting opposition parties before the vote of no confidence against Imran. “There is no truth to this,” he said and added there were no such contacts and “no deal” was done.

Reaffirming that the army or the establishment had the “best relations with the government”, the head of the military’s media wing assured there was no disagreement between the institutions.

“I would say that the army chief has very good personal relations with Imran Khan and mutual respect and it will stay the same. Parties and governments change but the army meets them all and there are no issues or problems.”

When asked about the events on the night of April 9 and rumours of an impending martial law, Gen Babar said there was no such thing happening at the time.

“Do you have any evidence of it? Are courts under the Army? Our courts are free and if something happened at the courts, it was their own action.”

“It is the duty of everyone to strengthen democracy and the strength of our democracy are our national institutions. Whether it’s the parliament, the Supreme Court or the armed forces. Pakistan will progress with democracy.”

“There will never be another martial law in Pakistan,” said the military spokesperson.

Dispelling another rumour regarding the army chief’s absence from the oath-taking ceremony of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the army spokesperson said Gen Bajwa was “not well”.

“He was not well that day and had not even come to the office. That is a simple explanation and there is nothing more to it.”

Referring to former premier Imran’s visit to Russia, Gen Babar said the army was on board with the decision to go to Moscow and said there was “institutional input” that he should go. “It was not in anyone’s wildest dreams that they [Russia] would start the war when the prime minister was there and it was obviously very embarrassing”.

Answering a question regarding the United States asking for operational bases within Pakistani territory and former premier Imran Khan’s reply of “absolutely not”, the military spokesperson clarified that if bases were asked for, the “army would have the same stance”.

“And in reality, they did not even ask for bases and there was no mention of it on any level.”

During the media briefing, the DG ISPR also said that rallies were a part of democracy and the army has “provided an enabling environment to the people by risking its lives”.

“There is nothing wrong with people coming out and expressing their thoughts,” he added and further said that some stability was returning to the country but it would take time to keep it sustainable.

“Political stability drives everything. National security rests on it.”

In regards to the ‘malicious’ social media campaign against the armed forces, when the spokesperson was asked what the military was doing to curtail the activity, Gen Babar said it is the responsibility of the government to take measures according to law as the military does not have the power to do so.

The briefing coincides with an attempt by Imran Khan, who was ousted from the office of prime minister over the weekend through a contentious vote on no-confidence, to build an anti-West narrative around the developments by blaming an American plot for the toppling of his government.

Among the reasons that led Khan to believe the Joe Biden administration was not pleased with him was his blunt response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s subsequent refusal to provide bases for further operations inside Afghanistan.

“In discussions between American and Pakistani officials, the Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the CIA or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan,” a New York Times report said in August last year.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William J. Burns “made an unannounced visit in recent weeks to Islamabad, to meet with the chief of the military and the head of the directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence”, the report added.

It also revealed Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has had frequent calls with the Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa about getting Islamabad’s help for future US operations in Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the report was refuted neither by the government nor the military which is usually quick to respond in such scenarios as demonstrated by its response to a recent BBC story.

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