News Analysis |
The Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor held a press conference on 4th June 2018 and addressed some ‘critical’ issues. The DG ISPR mainly spoke about Pakistan-India relations, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, the ongoing inquiry against retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani and social media propaganda.
The army spokesperson also responded to those criticizing the institution for intervening in politics, saying ‘the army has no role in politics’.
DG ISPR on ‘Khalai Makhlooq’
When the DG ISPR was asked to comment on ‘khalai makhlooq’ (celestial beings), a term being used for the Army in Pakistan – The PMl-N leaders and social media users have used the term to malign the armed forces for their alleged role in Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification – The spokesperson refused to comment on it and said “I will comment on a matter that is linked to this. You know the environment prevalent in Pakistan right now: this is an election year. The year 2018 is a year of change. Political parties are fighting for power, and this fight has to be at each other’s’ expense. You should not drag security forces into this.”
The army general also said that that they were happy since every allegation being leveled against them was proving wrong.
“However we, as the forces of Pakistan, are also happy with one thing: that every allegation leveled against us has been proven wrong with time. They said there would be no election in [NA]-120; that there would be no elections for Senate; the elections won’t be announced on time; the government wouldn’t complete its tenure — nobody is happier [than us] that the government completed its tenure,” DG ISPR said.
He also congratulated the Parliament on the completion of its constitutional tenure. “Let me congratulate the ex-Parliament and the people of Pakistan on this: the forces of Pakistan are very happy that the second democratically elected Parliament has completed its tenure and we hope this will continue in the future as well,” said Maj General Asif.
It is interesting to note that the second consecutive democratic government has completed its tenure in Pakistan.
Political experts believe the process of consolidation of democracy has just begun in the country.
Army is Tolerating a Lot
While responding to a journalist’s comment which stated that the army seemed to be “exercising restraint” under Gen Bajwa, Maj Gen Ghafoor responded: “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 persons, but not on our country. I think that should be enough.”
He was referring to recent media campaigns led by PML-N supporters and some Pashtuns from Waziristan.
He also said the conduct of the elections was entirely the Election Commission of Pakistan’s prerogative. “If the ECP is in a position to hold elections tomorrow, let it be. The army has no role in any of this,” he said.
“Should the army is requisitioned for any election related task, that is another matter. Whatever task we are given, we will try to fulfill to the best of our capabilities,” he said. The ECP generally ask for troops to be deployed around polling stations in order to ensure a peaceful environment during the elections.
The army spokesperson also talked about the Pakistan-India relationship and a recent decision between the military commands of both countries to renew a 2003 ceasefire agreement.
The DG ISPR regretted that “the ceasefire violations by Indian troops at the Line of Control had been higher than usual in 2017 and 2018, he recalled that 1,881 incidents in 2017 alone had left 52 dead and 254 injured”.
The number of cross border incidents has similarly climbed north of 1,500 by the first week of June in 2018 alone, he noted.
“The Indian army targeted innocent citizens [on Pakistan’s side], while we responded and targeted [their] forces,” he said. Moreover, the DG ISPR also complimented the Pakistani media on showing responsibility on the matter and not inciting provocation, adding that Pakistan wants to respect the truce agreement.
“We are willing to ignore the first shot that is fired from the Indian side, provided it does not result in a casualty on our side,” he said. However, the second shot will be responded in a similar manner, he said.
“The Indians have to realize and understand where they want to go [in the future],” he said. “We are two nuclear powers and there is no space for war.”
“Pakistan’s desire for peace should not be construed as a weakness,” Maj Gen Ghafoor warned.
Read more: Pakistan prepared for any US action: DG ISPR
Afghanistan and Border Fencing
The DG ISPR also talked about the fencing of the country’s western border. He maintained that fencing will help to stop illegal cross border movement and terrorist infiltration.
“More than 50 percent of the Afghan territory is not in the control of their state,” he noted, saying border fencing will help contain its fallout.
The DG ISPR said that seven Pakistani officers had been martyred in 71 incidents of firing from across the Afghan border since the fencing started, but that it would go on till the end objective is achieved.
He also talked about the United States and peace building efforts in Afghanistan.
The army spokesperson, however, maintained that “we have learned that national interest comes first and we will not compromise on that.”
Some element are not happy to fence the border for their undeclared vested interests. But due to terrorist infiltration across the border, the army has decided to do it.
Read more: Why DG ISPR’s Tweet saves the Army?
The army spokesperson was happy to comment on the FATA-KPK merger and appreciated political leaders for making that possible. “This has been a historical and landmark achievement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the merger of Fata with KP,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said. He credited the merger to the national civilians and military leadership coming on to the same page.
“We understand there wasn’t 100 percent consensus on the matter and some elders were against it. But we need to understand that the decision has been made, it is a done deal. The army chief has told the pro-merger factions that they now need to take the people who were not entirely sold on the idea on board as they move forward.”
“Fata is now a part of KP, and we need to work together for its development,” he said.
The people of FATA and KPK are happy about the merger since they have a shared history and culture. The merger will also help establish peace and order in FATA.
Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement
The DG ISPR also talked about the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement and its demands. The army officer met the PTM leaders and assured the latter that their demands were genuine and would be addressed, said Ghafoor. But the PTM leaders, despite sending him (DG ISPR) thanking-messages, spoke against the institution and made some uncalled for comments, regretted Maj General Asif.
He further maintained and questioned that when the demands of the PTM were assured to be addressed then; “after that, how did [Manzoor Pashteen’s] name change from Manzoor Ahmed Mehsud to Manzoor Pashteen? How did this campaign start on social media, and how were 5,000 social media accounts set up in a single day in Afghanistan?” Maj Gen Ghafoor asked.
“How did one cap made abroad started being imported into Pakistan? And how did groups of 10 individuals started raising anti-Pakistan slogans? How did articles start appearing in newspapers and how did some foreign media start telecasting their protests live on Facebook and Twitter?” he asked.
He suggested to the PTM that it was the time for some introspection.
“When those who are the enemies of Pakistan start praising you … then one needs to look inside and see if what they are doing is something favorable for the country or not,” he said. The DG ISPR said they were “strictly directed” by the Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to not use force against any PTM gathering.
He recalled reports stating that PTM leaders had claimed they were detained before their gathering in Lahore. According to Maj Gen Ghafoor, the army chief had, upon receipt of these reports, called the authorities in Lahore and asked them to back down, desist from arresting them, and let the PTM activists speak.
“They are Pakistanis too. If they have some grievances, till such time [that] they are genuine and within the four corners of the Constitution, then we are the state and we have to deal with them,” he quoted Gen Bajwa as saying.
“If the state refuses to listen to its people, then who will?” he said.
Ghafoor warned the movement, however, that “inimical forces” were exploiting PTM activists and that they were “letting themselves be exploited”.
He later pointed out that data from the missing persons commission shows the number of missing persons has decreased from 7,000 to 3,000. He also said the removal of unexploded ordnance, one of the PTM’s demands, was a “colossal job” which is being worked on.
The DG ISPR also condemned the campaign being run on social media which alleged that an 8-years old child was also killed in yesterday’s firing at the PTM rally in Wana. There was no child dead, said the army spokesperson.
Read more: Indian Spy Drone Shot Down: ISPR
On the Role of Media
The army spokesperson praised national media for being responsible and cooperative during these critical times. But the DG ISPR was unhappy over what was happening on social media.
“Please give us this due,” he said as he displayed a slide on the rapid rise in the number of social media ‘troll’ accounts operating in Pakistan, “The ISI, a premier intelligence agency, 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.”
The graph showed sharp increases in troll accounts spreading propaganda against the army and against the state over the January-May 2018 period. The spokesperson said 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].”
Read more: Dawn leaks and ISPR’s sensible move
The Spy Chronicles controversy
Addressing the matter of retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani’s controversial book, Maj Gen Ghafoor assured that an inquiry was ongoing and whatever came of it would be shared with the media.
“He retired as a 3-star general, and you know the circumstances of his retirement — it was premature. He’s involved in the Asghar Khan case as well,” he recalled, indicating that the army was clearly unhappy with what the retired officer had done.
“As soon as the book was published, we took action.” He also noted that Durrani’s book referred to incidents that took place after the former DG ISI’s tenure.
Nonetheless, he noted that it was not okay for the retired spy chief to use his experience to comment on matters that happened after his retirement.
“We are all human, we make mistakes. But when you make mistakes, you suffer the consequences. The Pakistan Army has never forgiven any mistake, whether made by a soldier or a general. What will happen to Durrani sb will be in front of you,” he said.
A Message for the Nation, a Warning for the ‘Enemies’
The DG ISPR spoke on a range of matters and assured that the armed forces were not interested to interfere in the political processes. He gave some empirical evidence to ensure the naysayers that the army was not involved in any sort of conspiracy against the civilian government.
This press conference was a message for the nation that the security agencies are fully aware of what is going on across the county and also have the potential to neutralize any threat.
In Pakistan, a perception was being shaped as if Pakistan’s armed forces have been weakened to an extent that they are unable to take any stern action against the anti-state elements. The DG ISPR shattered any such perception.
Furthermore, this press conference was a warning to the anti-state elements to convey to them that there is also a red-line—don’t question the existence of the state. The army has clarified that it has no problem if somebody lambasts at the institution but the army won’t bear if someone goes against the state. It was a clear, loud and well-furnished warning to anyone doing so.