Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations(ISPR), Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor has confirmed again that the army is a national institution, where every Pakistani can serve irrespective of his or her religion. He made this assertion in an interview with a private television channel on Thursday. This came a couple of days after PML-N leader, Captain Safdar launched a tirade in Parliament against the Ahmadi community wanting a ban on their induction into the armed forces.
“We have heard about that retired Capt Mohammad Safdar’s demand.“Let me tell you that the Pakistan Army is a national army… It’s not true that army can be joined only by Muslims because we are a Muslim country… We proudly say that the army is an institution, which is the best example of national integration,” the two-star general said while responding to a question in a television interview with anchorperson Kamran Khan on Dunya TV.
Maj Gen Ghafoor who is in-charge of the all-important media wing of the Pakistan Army said, that there is no room for any kind of bias in the army based on religious and ethnic grounds.“When we put on the uniform we are a Pakistani soldier only, irrespective of our religion, irrespective of our province and irrespective of our clan.” He added “Right now, we have Christians, Sikhs, and Ahmadis. So if someone says ban them… Well, I would say that there is a lawmaking body. And if it brings any such law then this point should be discussed.”
Captain Safdar in his cavalier hot-headed fashion berated the minority community and vowed to put forth a resolution banning the induction of Ahmadis in the armed forces, claiming them to be a threat to the country. The vitriolic remarks have received criticism from various quarters; most politicians initially remained quiet during the controversy, but later Ahsan Iqbal and then the PM Shahid Khaqab Abbasi have disowned the statement.
Captain Safdar’s comments have done a disservice to all those from the Ahmediyya community who fought for the creation of Pakistan and led it during the first troubled decades of its existence, including Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry, the Chief of Air Staff, who was later the founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. General Iftikhar Janjua was the only Army General martyred during war duty in 1971. Sir Chaudhry Zafar Ullah Khan who was the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and was known to be a loyal companion of Quaid-e-Azam.
Maj Gen Ghafoor reminded Captain Safdar of the undertaking which all Muslims inductees give upon joining the Army. “Every Muslim officer recruited in the army files a certificate in which he declares that he’s not an Ahmadi and believes in Khatm-i-Nubuwwat.” He also reminded Captain Safdar- who he said might have forgotten – that he would have given a similar undertaking when he joined the army.
Safdar’s comments have, according to political commentators harmed PML-N’s attempts to portray itself a progressive and liberal party; the continued quietness from the Sharif family is compelling analysts to term it as a political move on their part to put pressure on the army and simultaneously appease its majority conservative voters.
For many of those who couch all statements by the army on politics in terms of ‘civil-military’ tussle will no doubt portray this rejoinder by Gen Ghafoor in the overall context of tensions between the two bastions of power. But given that the minority groups have served in the armed forces since independence, the statement from DG ISPR will most likely be deemed as nothing more than a depiction of reality.