DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar, Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military) was commissioned in 6 Lancers in March 1990. He has commanded an Armored Brigade, an Infantry Brigade in North Waziristan, during Operation Zarb-e-Azab, and an Armored Division. He took over as DG ISPR with effect from 1 February, 2020. Managing editor, Najma Minhas, sat with him for an interview after Pakistan submitted irrefutable evidence on Indian state sponsored terrorism in Pakistan to the United Nations, in the form of a dossier.
GVS: You and the Foreign Minister did an excellent job in presenting a detailed dossier with solid facts on Indian sponsorship of terrorism in Pakistan. What is the response been so far from the international community?
DG ISPR: Well, let me start from the 5th of August 2019. Whatever actions Indian government took, the revocation of Article 370, the special status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Ever since then, India has received a lot of negative press, and the issue has been very well supported by the Pakistan Government the way it has been taken up on different International forums.
So, this is an ongoing thing, they were already receiving a lot of flak on this thing, but when this dossier came out, frankly it was a vindication of what Pakistan has been saying for so long. It gave all the proofs, evidence of the Indian government, India as a state, sponsoring terrorism inside Pakistan, and it has been taken very seriously by the international community.
The world has taken note of it, the world is talking about it, and despite India’s best efforts, there has been a lot of objective analysis of what’s been said. I think the objectivity of the debate around this dossier, the contents of the dossier, at the international level is a major plus and we are going to take it forward from here.
GVS: What are your next steps?
DG ISPR: Well, after the presentation of the dossier, the foreign office presented it to the P5. It has been presented to the United Nations Secretary-General, and now you have seen the latest statement from the OIC forum, the FM attended. It has been a very strongly worded statement by the OIC about what is happening in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, so here on, we are going to take it to every possible forum. And a lot of effort has been put into this, and it’s not just a one-off thing. There has been a series of actions that have been taken after that.
GVS: So, one of the things I found the most shocking in this dossier was the anti-CPEC cell which is directly reporting to the prime minister Narendra Modi. Given an initial outlay, according to the dossier, of $500 million and has raised 700 militiamen to disrupt the CPEC corridor. What is the nature of the threat that you are facing here, and how will you ensure the security of the corridor?
DG ISPR: Well Indians see CPEC as a game-changer for the region, and it is a game-changer for the region. Its offering connectivity to the region and with that Pakistan becomes a connectivity hub for this whole region, and I think this is a game-changer, in a sense that this project has the ability, the potential, to bring prosperity to this whole region by connecting with everyone. It’s not just a North-South thing, for Pakistan, it’s an economic project, and that’s what the project’s name also says China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The kind of threat that it is facing from the Indian, obviously they have started with the security threats that we are facing; there is a lot of terrorist activity going on around it. They have also started bringing in some very strange arguments about where it starts from and where it ends, and how Indian’s are not very comfortable with the project passing through certain territories in Pakistan. So, the security threat around the project at different stages of the project has been increasing with time.
Somewhere Indians decided that there is a timeline beyond which this project becomes irreversible, and they feel that the progress of this project must be retarded as much as possible so that it doesn’t cross that timeline and it can be somehow stopped.
GVS: So you are saying that Indians fear this project as a game-changer and that it will bring prosperity to the region. So that I can clearly understand this, are you saying that Indians are against the prosperity of the region? Is that why they are destroying CPEC?
DG ISPR: If they are not willing to let this project progress, then that’s what they are trying to do, over here.
GVS: The dossier also mentions that there are terrorist camps in Afghanistan, have you had conversations with the Afghan leadership over this?
DG ISPR: We keep having these conversations with the Afghan leadership, there is a proper mechanism about it, and frankly, we have always acknowledged that the Afghan government has capacity issues, because of that we never really blamed the Afghan government for what is happening from the Afghan soil. So we keep sharing this information with them.
It’s a regular thing, and similarly, the kind of information we have revealed in this dossier that has also been shared at the appropriate levels and connected to this since this particular zone is also being used to target the CPEC, what we have done to keep this project secure we raised two divisions for the security of this project and other than that we have about 8-9 regular regiments also protecting this corridor, the project, at various locations from wherever it’s passing through, in addition to that there are paramilitary troops which are also deployed.
So, we have taken every possible measure to keep this project secure, and our Chinese partners are also very satisfied with the kind of security measures that we have taken.
What they [Indians] are really targeting is the international image of Pakistan when they try and target CPEC. There have been terrorists who are being used to target this project, continuously targeting the Chinese manpower involved, they tried to do that, they are trying to target the local labor who are working for this project, so there are a lot of dimensions to the kind of security threats that this project gains, but Alhamdulillah, the kind of measures that we have taken, they have not been able to retard the progress of this project. They have not been able to dent it, and it’s progressing more every day.
GVS: I would like to bring you to the LOC right now, we are seeing a high level of LOC violations by India, also including use of heavy military equipment which we have never seen happen before. Diplomats are talking about a new grand design. What are your thoughts?
DG ISPR: Well, the design here, to put it simply, is to externalize what’s happening inside India. I won’t go to what’s happening on the mainland the whole world knows about that. As far as Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, India has been continuously trying to tag this indigenous freedom struggle with terrorism.
And whatever measures they are trying to take over there, whatever the kind of increase in intensity and lethality of the ceasefire violation as you see nowadays, well it all started from 2014, and I think 2019-20, these two years have seen the maximum number of ceasefire violations and I believe the maximum number of causalities also.
What they are trying to do here is that, as I said, they are trying to connect this freedom struggle with terrorism and terrorism they are trying to connect with infiltration, so-called infiltration, from Pakistan. We have been taking diplomats and media to the Line of Control, where they have seen it for themselves, there is no way that any infiltration can take place along the line of control. The kind of counter-infiltration grid that they have, because of the kind of deployment that they have along the line of control.
You need to understand that there are about 900,000 Indian soldiers inside Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and look at the kind of deployment that they have on the line of control, so the complete Pakistani Army is around 600,000 and 900,000 people in Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir, soldiers. The local political leadership of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir has said that if everything is hunky-dory, why is it the most militarized region in the world?
So what they are trying to achieve from this ceasefire violations is that they are trying to divert the attention of the world towards Pakistan, and they are trying to claim that whatever is happening inside Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is because of the infiltration; it’s because of the terrorists coming in from this side of the border. Whereas it is absolutely false, and we have said that number of times.
We have a United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). They are always available on Pakistan side. They go everywhere; they (UNMOGIP) are visiting all the places. Last time I took a group of ambassadors to the Line of Control, and I informed them that this particular place that they were on that particular day, it was pointed out by none other than the Indian Military Chief, that it’s supposed to be a launchpad, where maybe 250 odd individuals are waiting to infiltrate inside India.
So, its absolutely propaganda, and the only reason that they are doing it is; one, to externalize their internal issues, second, they understand whether they fire on us or whether we fire back, it’s the Kashmiris who are being hurt on both sides, so it is also an exercise in trying to draw a wedge between Pakistani Army and the population living around the Line of Control.
GVS: There is an increase in violations along the Line of Control as we have just discussed, and we have seen a surge in terrorist activities here in Pakistan as well. You have just recently given this complete dossier on Indian hands in terrorism in Pakistan, yet when the Nagrota incident happened, the Indian government and Indian media still played up that Pakistan must be responsible somehow. What is the pattern you see emerging?
DG ISPR: Well, the pattern, you know we have seen this happening before; it’s a regular pattern in India there is nothing new emerging there. They are always looking for some excuse to raise the temperature; false flag operations are a norm for them; they keep doing that all the time.
GVS: Are you stressing that the Nagrota incident is a false flag incident?
DG ISPR: What is there? What have they found, have they shared anything with the rest of the world? No. This is what I am trying to say, whatever is happening inside in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir, frankly, they are in a state of denial, and that is causing them the kind of trouble that there is.
It is an indigenous freedom struggle; it is totally indigenous, it is not possible to sustain a freedom struggle for more than 70 years, it is not humanly possible for that to happen and that is exactly what is happening. So Pakistan, on the other side, I mean when the present government came in, PM is on record having said that you move one step, and I will take two.
So, we have always been trying to normalize, we need to normalize the situation over here in the region, and everybody understands what the potential of India and Pakistan is. So, the pattern here is, whenever there is a major event coming up in the world, anywhere else, something happens, something that can connect Pakistan to terrorism.
GVS: Interestingly, you mention Indian propaganda as well; on social media, we are seeing right now, there is a massive increase in fake news, misinformation, disinformation about Pakistan, about Pakistani Army, and so on. Recently we saw a hashtag trending on Twitter’ #civil war in Karachi.’ Now you are the head of Pakistan Army’s information services wing. How do you intend to counter this? Can you do anything to counter this?
DG ISPR: Well it is a major challenge, especially what is happening on social media, and again the best way to handle this is transparency, the best way to handle this is not to leave any information voids, the best way to handle this is passing on credible information, and that is exactly what we are trying to do here.
And again, even on social media, when we try and dig out where is it coming from, most of the accounts are Indian accounts. Only recently they have unearthed a major effort by the Indians in the form of EU Disinformation lab and the way they’ve been trying to prop up different issues across the world. So, unfortunately, it is a major onslaught and a major part of the fifth-generation warfare. In the case of Pakistan, I think that Pakistan is being subjected to this fifth-generation warfare and hybrid applications in a massive way, and we are aware of that.
GVS: Can you give any incidences, can you share anything?
DG ISPR: When we talk of fifth-generation warfare, my understanding is that you use all elements of national power, within a particular state to concentrate on maybe two or three major spheres. In our case, probably our economy is being targeted, and the other part is the information domain.
In the information domain, pick out one little incident which has anything to do with Pakistan and specifically to do with Pakistan Army and look at how it gets viral. I mean there have been several hashtags in the last six months that were even reported, I mean very trivial news, which were even reported by international news organizations, and they were pushed vehemently by the Indian accounts.
The kind of links that you find on social media of some negative press going for Pakistan, 90% of that is coming from Indian websites, so there are so many examples like you just said “#civilwarinKarachi”, I mean what happened? There was nothing on the ground. And I think by doing this, the Indian media has also lost its credibility to quiet an extent and the whole world is recognizing that.
GVS: When we talk about the fifth-generation warfare, in which particular domain has India been targeting Pakistan?
DG ISPR: Well, to put it simply, I would say in the diplomatic domain, in the information domain, of course, the military engagements on the Line of Control (LOC), in the economic domain, financially and in lawfare. These are the different domains that they are targeting Pakistan in, and you can see this practically unfolding everywhere, may it be, their lobbying before we go into the FATF plenaries, may it be they are trying to use their influence at UN forum and different other forums in the world, it’s everywhere.
Basically, what they are trying to do, is to target Pakistan from different directions, to slow down the kind of progress and the kind of trajectory that Pakistan has for the future.
GVS: The United States and India are developing a close strategic relationship, especially in the Indo-pacific. Recently, they signed the BECA deal, LEMOA has been signed before that. Along with this, Indian military spending is at an all-time high, currently spending 71 billion dollars. India has the world’s third-largest military expenditure after the US and China. What kind of threat perception does this create for you, and how do you intend to tackle it?
DG ISPR: The threat perception in our case is very clear; India is aiming at equipping herself with high-tech material. That’s what these agreements are offering, whether it is weapon systems or whether it is classified information.
So, I believe that if we talk of the region, whenever the conventional balance is disturbed, the balance of power as we call it, it leads to other avenues. So in our case, as far as we are concerned I think the differential of defence spending between India and Pakistan is almost 1:9, but we are absolutely prepared for what we have in front of us, and we are aware of what they are acquiring.
What we want to and what we keep telling the international community, and our friends in the rest of the world, the international community has to understand that any major disturbance in the balance of power in South-Asia will be a major disaster, not only for the region but also for the rest of the world, so this balance of power must be maintained at every level and the more it is disturbed, the more it gets lopsided, the more dangerous it becomes.
GVS: I would like to take you to the Western border now, Pakistan Army has been doing clearing operations there for the past decade, and you have been securing the borders. How far are these initiatives and will they give us long term security?
DG ISPR: Yes, I think we’ve come a long way on that account. As far as the Western border is concerned, our aim has been to ensure better management of this border. So after we were through with the operations that we were doing, right now there is not a single inch of land along the Western border, which is not being manned by our soldiers.
So then we started off with the fencing because it is a very porous border, it was a major, major undertaking, but Alhamdulillah, right now we have fenced about 83% of the Pakistan-Afghan border, so by the end of this month inshaaAllah we would have completed the Pakistani-Afghanistan part of the border, both in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
GVS: Are you going to be going down towards Iran?
DG ISPR: As far as the Pakistan-Iran border is concerned 30% of it has been fenced so far and I believe by December 2021 we will complete that also. Now there are just a few places in between which are snow-clad most of the time, and the terrain over there is really difficult so that those areas will be manned in another way, but we are trying to fence hundred percent of our Western border.
GVS: Is this going to give us the security we are looking for?
DGISPR: Absolutely, it is going to give us security, it is going to stop the smuggling of goods and narcotics; it is a major dividend that we are going to get out of this thing. Then the border terminals that we are making over there, two of the border terminals will be absolutely International standard in Chaman and Torkham.
Right now, five are functioning. So, the passage on both sides is going to be absolutely regularized, formalized, and this is going to be a major breakthrough for us after we have fenced the whole border. It is already paying the dividends; it’s already showing.
GVS: Have you done any calculations as to maybe how much terrorism has been reduced by the fencing of the border?
DG ISPR: I think I won’t go into the percentage of it, but the number of incidents has decreased massively, and the number of casualties has decreased. Yes, of late we have seen some surge in activities along the border regions, but it has other connections as I revealed in the dossier that we gave.
There has been a massive effort by the Indian side to create some disturbance inside Pakistan, especially in the border regions. Again, they are also trying to target the fencing over there, the way we are trying to fence the border. We keep sharing whatever little incidents happen along Pak-Afghan border in our frequent press releases. So, I think it has brought down the incidents to a major extent.
One thing that I would like to add about border management, and it actually shows how important it is for this present civil-military leadership of Pakistan, a new Border Management Division has been recently raised, it was announced by the Prime Minister and it will be functioning under the Ministry of Interior.
It will be centrally articulating and managing all the points of entry, whether from sea, airports or land borders and it will be articulating and managing all these points of entry centrally with different agencies working under it. So, the point of reiterating this is that border management is the key to securing Pakistan, better border management, and that is exactly what we are going for.
GVS: What do you see is the future of the Afghan peace process and Pakistan’s role in the process?
DG ISPR: As far as Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process is concerned, it is that of a facilitator. Pakistan has done everything that it can to facilitate the peace process. Well, its future, we are very optimistic about that. As far as what happens next has to be decided by the Afghans, nobody else, but the Afghans, and that is what our endeavor is.
We have tried to facilitate this to every extent that we could, and everybody has acknowledged that the Afghan government, the US government, they all acknowledged that Pakistan has played the most positive role in trying to bring them on the table, try to facilitate the talks and to take this peace process to a logical conclusion, so that is our role in it, and that is what we will continue doing.
GVS: So, military to military engagement exists in every country, it is an important part of diplomacy, defence diplomacy, helps to build regional partnerships and bilateral relationships and so on. How extensively has your current leadership been using this part of diplomacy?
DGISPR: I think that the Chief of the Army Staff General Bajwa’s vision as far as military diplomacy goes it has been ‘we need peace within, and we need peace around us.’ Pakistan’s military leadership has reached out to the military leadership of the countries in the region and beyond. It has really been received very positively, and we have had a number of advantages from this.
Our military engagement with the Chinese, our military engagements with the gulf region, military engagements with the United State, Russia, I think we have gone to explore new venues on this account. It has really helped bring Pakistan’s international image to a new level. So the outreach whether it is for training, whether it is for different other exchanges at the strategic level, and whether it is for defense equipment, buying and selling, I think it’s in all the avenues, it has been very positively received, and brought us a lot of dividends on that account.
GVS: Pakistan is right now going through the second wave of the corona, we’ve seen a very strong institution, the NCOC being created during this period, which has done a fantastic job, been applauded throughout the world on how it has managed this in Pakistan, what has been the Pakistan Army’s role in supporting it?
DG ISPR: Right from day one, Pakistan Army has been part of every effort that has been undertaken by the government, by the people of Pakistan to control this. You’ve talked of NCOC; I am sure you may even have visited the place, it is being manned by military and their civil counterparts.
When we came up with this setup, the idea was to articulate the resources better that the nation has to use. So, it worked really well, we started with the deployment of Pakistan Army soldiers, across Pakistan when we were trying to exercise some smart lockdowns. The information technology part has also been supplemented by the capability that the Army has.
So, at every level, may it be information, may it be information technology or may it be implementation and execution of different instructions being given by the government, Pakistan Army has been in the thick and thin of all these things.
GVS: So, what is Pakistan Army’s role in the second wave of corona?
DG ISPR: As far as the second wave is concerned, I believe, ever since we started fighting this pandemic, there has been a lot of capacity building, and we have been able to enhance our ability to fight this in a better way. So, the second wave as it is coming, we should be tackling it well, and as we go through it, I must acknowledge the role of the front line health workers, who have fought through this, and who are again on the front lines. I would also like to make a special mention of how the media has helped in educating the masses about what this pandemic is all about, and how to keep yourselves safe in these circumstances.
I think ISPR, being the information arm of the NCOC, what we have seen, the way the media has contributed in the kind of campaigns that we have been able to run on different channels, during this pandemic, it goes in billions of rupees and it’s been free of cost. It’s been a very positive role. But I would also like to emphasize here that we need to be extremely careful in this second wave, and we need to help each other. And we need to be more careful than we were before and only then we will be able to come out of it intact, insha’Allah.