Director General (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor on Sunday announced the launch of Operation Khyber-4 under Radd-ul-Fasaad (RuF) to "wipe out terrorists" in the Rajgal Valley area of Khyber Agency.
"An operation to wipe out terrorists has been launched in Rajgal valley in Khyber Agency," Maj Gen Ghafoor said.
Khyber 4 seeks to target terrorist hideouts in what the DG ISPR called "the most critical area in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata)".
There is no timeline for the operation as yet, Ghafoor said in response to a question.
The army had informed Afghan forces ahead of the launch of the Khyber-4 operation in Rajgal, he said, which the Afghan army would be able to support on their side of the border if they wished.
"No other force will have boots on the ground in our country. All operations are conducted by Pakistani security forces," he asserted.
The army's spokesman observed that reports of a joint border operation with Afghan forces had surfaced during a visit made by a top-level United States Congressional delegation.
Clarifying the reports, Ghafoor said, "The true meaning of this [joint operation] is when both forces conduct operations at the same time. There is a coordinated and complementary operation on their respective sides of the border."
Information would be shared with Kabul if the Afghan leadership wished to conduct supporting operations and coordination in this regard is ongoing, he elaborated.
'No direct army involvement in JIT'
Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, in response to queries about speculation regarding the army's involvement in the Supreme Court-sanctioned joint investigation team (JIT) probing the Sharif family's wealth in the Panamagate case, said there is "no direct army involvement".
"Every person has freedom of opinion," the DG ISPR said. People who believe that the army is doing its best for the country are not part of a campaign to discredit the institution on social media, he said, adding that those who believe otherwise "are under foreign influence".
"The JIT was made by the Supreme Court. Two of its members belong to the Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence. It is a subjudice case, and it will go to court."
"There is no direct army involvement in the JIT," he asserted, adding that the "Pakistan Army will continue playing its role for the security of Pakistan with other institutions."
"Political talk is in the political domain."
Fencing of Afghan border
"Under Operation RuF, we will strengthen our border. We will be able to check cross-border movement of terrorists, and our coordination with Afghanistan in this regard is ongoing," he said, as is the fencing of the border which is in its first phase.
"The shared border with Afghanistan and Iran are being fenced," Ghafoor said.
It will be physically and technically monitored, with either forts or a checkpost every 1.5 kilometres, he said. Alongside the border fencing, Pakistan and Afghanistan will maintain an open-door policy for cooperation and discussion on bilateral issues, particularly in order to remove what he said was "a trust deficit" on the Afghan side.
"If the Afghan army were as capable as the Pakistan Army, then maybe the issue [of terrorism] would be resolved sooner," Ghafoor said.
"No one wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan," the DG ISPR said, adding, "We need to bring peace in our country first."
Daesh presence in Pakistan
Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor rejected claims that Daesh ─ or the militant Islamic State (IS) group ─ has any organised infrastructure in Pakistan.
"We will not allow them to establish themselves. In Afghanistan, yes, it is getting stronger, but we don't believe it is the same as the Daesh in the Middle East," he elaborated.
"In Pakistan, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has shown an alliance with Daesh ... Daesh as an organisation does not exist, but if splinter groups of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other terror groups try to jump on the Daesh bandwagon, we are already taking care of them through other means, like in the Khyber-4 operation," he said.
The situation along the Line of Control (LoC) has been "especially tense", Ghafoor said, with 580 ceasefire violations in this year alone.
There were 382 in 2016, 248 in 2015 and 315 in 2014, he said.
Current ceasefire violations have resulted in the highest number of civilian casualties than in the past, the DG ISPR said.
The LoC violations appeared to be spurred by the heated political struggle for freedom in India-held Kashmir, Ghafoor said, adding that the intensification of cross-border firing, particularly in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, showed that India is "scared" and trying to divert attention away from the Kashmir struggle.
"India targets civilians in ceasefire violations," Ghafoor said. "The Pakistan Army doesn't think this is a good method. We fire towards bunkers where we think the firing is coming from. We try to keep civilian casualties to a minimum," he added.
When questioned about the case of convicted Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, the DG ISPR said that the Research and Analysis Wing agent's mercy appeal is pending before the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa.
"All evidence and case proceedings are being examined by the army chief, and he will make a decision on the basis of merit and justice," he said.
Terrorism in Pakistan
Incidents of terrorism in Pakistan have shown a drop over the three-year period from 2014-2017, he said.
Since the launch of Operation RuF, the army has launched 46 major operations in the country and over 9,000 intelligence-based operations (IBOs).
About 1,760 joint checkposts have been established in coordination with police and other law enforcement agencies.
- 13 major operations
There has been a decreasing trend in sectarian attacks, the DG ISPR said. In 2013, there were 201 sectarian attacks, which have now fallen to "only two sectarian attacks" this year.
Law enforcement personnel and 'soft targets' have become the new targets for militants, he added.
In Sindh, 522 terrorists have "willingly surrendered" under RuF, he said, adding that 15 terrorists had been killed in operations in the province.
- Terror incidents: 98pc decrease
- Target killing: 97pc reduction
- Extortion: 96pc reduction
- Kidnapping: 96pc reduction
"In the coming days, we are hopeful the Karachi situation will see more improvement," Ghafoor said.
Karachi has other issues, however, like water, the DG ISPR explained.
There have been six major operations conducted in the province with coordination with the police and Counter-Terrorism Department.
Over 7,000 IBOs have been conducted, and 22 terrorists killed in these operations, the DG ISPR said.
There have been 27 major operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 817 IBOs, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said.
There is no way to tell what the exact number of terrorists or terror groups in the country is, the DG ISPR said in response to a question.
"That's why this war is difficult. It is not written on anyone's face whether they are a terrorist, a facilitator or an abettor. However, we have to a large extent identified and targeted them. We are working brick by brick to bring normalcy back to Pakistan with the support and in support of other institutions," he elaborated.
Terming the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as "very critical for the progress of Pakistan", the DG ISPR said the armed forces would "give it complete security and will not let it fail at any cost".
"The entire country, the state's institutions, are all one on CPEC," he assured.
Army chief's message
The DG ISPR read out a message from Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa during the press conference: "We are building peace in our country brick by brick and moving from relative stability towards enduring peace. For this, the army should continue to perform its role with support of all other state institutions."