• ISPR chief denies Army’s involvement in working of JIT on Panama Papers issue
• Says Jadhav’s appeal has been lying with COAS
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army on Sunday announced a fresh operation in Khyber Agency’s Rajgal Valley to ‘forestall entry’ of the militant Islamic State (IS) group from across the border as the country remained gripped by mounting speculations about coming hearings in the Supreme Court of a case relating to corruption allegations against the ruling family.
“Operation Khyber-IV has been launched in Rajgal which, along with a similar size area in Shawal Valley, is one of the pockets that remain to be cleared,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said at a press conference at the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) office on Sunday.
He said the operation, which would be conducted by a division-size force supported by artillery, aviation and air force, had been planned in the area that was infested with hideouts of the banned Lashkar-i-Islam, the Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
It will be the army’s second operation in Rajgal. In August 2016, a similar operation was conducted and air strikes on militant targets continued in the area this year. It is believed that final reaches of the valley, around the last of the eight passes in the mountainous region, are to be cleared.
Gen Ghafoor said that “expanding footprint of Daesh” — the Aracbic acronym for IS — on the other side of the border had necessitated the operation to prevent its “influence from penetrating this side of the border”.
Rajgal Valley borders Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province where IS has established itself, and it is feared that it may connect with terrorist groups like the TTP and the JuA that sympathise with it. This year’s three attacks in neighbouring Parachinar gave a hint of what could happen if the area is left unattended.
The military spokesman said the arrests made in connection with last month’s Parachinar attack revealed links with terrorists on the other side of the border.
Given the terrain and thick forest cover in the area, it is expected that Khyber-IV would be a tough operation. It will require infantry to clear the area whereas aerial support by aviation and air force will have limited impact. Besides, it is feared that terrorists have heavily mined the area.
The progress is, therefore, expected to be slow. It is feared that any attempt to expedite the operation may lead to heavy military casualty.
“It is the most difficult area in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas,” Gen Ghafoor said as he avoided specifying a timeline for the operation.
He said that after clearing the hideouts, the international border with Afghanistan would be secured.
Pakistan is already building a fence along the border to prevent unauthorised cross-border movement, besides strengthening surveillance of the border with additional check-posts and technical monitoring.
For sustained results, it is believed that Pakistan will have to undertake clearing of neighbouring Aurakzai Agency and sealing of the border in the region, including in Lower Kurram.
Panama Papers case
The press conference about the new operation and progress in Raddul Fasaad operation was dominated by questions about the PML-N’s allegations regarding a ‘conspiracy’ by unidentified elements behind the probe into Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family’s overseas holdings and assets by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) constituted by the Supreme Court.
The JIT report will be taken up by the Supreme Court on Monday. The report has concluded that the ruling family was not open about their overseas assets, revealed through Panama Papers, and their wealth was disproportionate to their known sources of income.
Two of the JIT members belonged to the Military Intelligence and the Inter Services Intelligence.
Gen Ghafoor denied the Army’s link with the JIT.
“Pakistan Army is not directly linked with the issue. The JIT was formed by the Supreme Court. The two members from the MI and the ISI worked under Supreme Court. … The Army had no direct involvement in the working of the JIT,” he said.
Defending the performance of ISI and MI representatives in the JIT, he said they worked “diligently and honestly”.
The corps commanders, during an extraordinary meeting on April 24, while nominating ISI and MI representatives for the JIT, had said: “The institution through its members in the JIT shall play its due role in a legal and transparent manner fulfilling confidence reposed by the apex court.”
Gen Ghafoor cautioned that the issue was sub judice and it was up to the Supreme Court to decide.
Replying different questions, he said the Army was focused on its job of fulfilling the needs of “security and defence” and was only “looking towards peace and stability”.
“Pakistan Army is part of Pakistani nation. It is obligatory on every Pakistani to uphold the supremacy of law and the Constitution. It is responsibility of all of us,” he added.
According to TV reports, the ISPR chief said that the mercy plea of convicted Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav has been submitted to the army chief.
Gen Ghafoor said that the army chief would take a final decision on Jadhav’s appeal at the earliest.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2017