Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor on Monday announced the successful completion of Operation Khyber-4, which had been launched on July 15. The army's spokesperson also dismissed the idea of there being a sectarian divide in the country, and dispelled the notion that there is any conflict between civilian institutions and the military.
"We have achieved our ground objectives in the Rajgal and Shawal valleys," Maj Gen Ghafoor said in his televised press conference.
Two soldiers of the Pakistan Army were martyred and 15 injured during the operation, which was targeted at clearing out terrorist hideouts from target areas.
The army's spokesman aired a brief documentary on the operation before detailing the progress of Operation Raddul Fasaad across the country.
Developments in Operation RUF:
- Over 3,300 IBOs since July
- Over 124,000 operations in Pakistan since February 2017
Developments in provinces:
- Punjab: 1,728 IBOs
- Balochistan: Major operation carried out by intelligence agencies on Aug 12 foiled Aug 14 terror bid
- Sindh: 1,467 operations this year; only 1 terror incident in Karachi this year vs 57 in 2013; 34 incidents of target killing in Karachi this year vs 965 in 2013
- KP, Fata: Border management improved by Pakistan unilaterally, 8 cross-border attacks foiled on night before Aug 14
The DG ISPR also briefed the press on development programmes being undertaken in areas that were cleared during counter-insurgency operations. These include various infrastructural development, youth employment and deradicalisation programmes.
'No civil-mil divide'
Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, while responding to a question after the press conference, dismissed the notion that there is a divide between civilian and military institutions.
"There is friction sometimes, but there are no problems between the civilian [government] and the military. It is all part of statesmanship," he said.
"These issues will not disappear overnight, you need to see how much we have improved compared to the last 17 years. We want to — and are moving towards — a Pakistan where there is peace, stability, rule of law and [freedom for] all institutions [to] work."
'No real sectarian conflict'
During his briefing, the DG ISPR denied that there is a deep-rooted sectarian divide in Pakistan.
He recalled the 2013 Raja Bazaar incident in Rawalpindi, when at least eight people were killed and over 80 others injured during an Ashura procession after unknown men snatched guns from policemen and opened fire.
A mosque was also set on fire, and a number of shops were gutted.
"The attack on the Sunni mosque was claimed by a Shia organisation," he said. "However, the people who did this [...] carried out the attack posing as [Shias] to fan the sectarian divide," he said.
He played a video for his audience, asking them to "decide for yourself whether there is a sectarian divide in Pakistan or not".
The video was a taped confession of two suspected terrorists, one named Shahzaib and the other Ajmal. Both were allegedly involved in the 2013 Raja Bazaar attack.
Shahzaib, a 'terrorist commander', narrated that he hailed from Bajaur Agency. In 2013, he and a group of seven others were told to wear black clothes on Ashura and incite chaos in Raja Bazaar with the aim to aggravate the sectarian divide between Shias and Sunnis.
"We set fire at Fuwara Chowk during a Shia procession. After that we left," he said.
Ajmal confessed to his involvement in the same operation, referring to Shahzaib as his 'commander'. He additionally claimed that the team was in contact with a commander based in Kunar, Afghanistan.
The details of his confession appeared to match the claims made by Shahzaib.
Ghafoor claimed the group shared similarities with the network supporting Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, which he said had ties to the Afghan National Directorate of Security and India's Research and Analysis Wing.
"Further investigation is ongoing," he said, adding that since a Shia-Sunni conflict did not exist to the extent that "these people" wanted it, "first they created this faultline and now they are exploiting it."
'Shahbaz Sharif was actual target in Arfa Tower attack'
The DG ISPR said the suicide bomb attack which appeared to target police officials outside Arfa Karim Tower in Lahore was, in fact, a bid to target Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
"We had prior intelligence and a threat warning and it was being worked on," he said. "The target was the CM Punjab: he had an engagement there but his programme was changed at the eleventh hour, so they [the attackers] were instructed to target police."
"More suicide bombers targeting the CM have been arrested," he claimed.
'Don't need a flag to spy on India'
On Aug 14, the DG ISPR said, "flags were raised in parts of Pakistan that people said our country's flag would never fly in."
He also recalled that the army had raised South Asia's tallest flag near Wagah.
"Although the Indians are saying it is fitted with a spying instrument — this is not the case at all," he said.
"We don't need to raise tall flags to acquire intelligence," he quipped. "Our intelligence agencies are more than capable of acquiring the information we need."
'Army doesn't own Musharraf's political statements'
Answering a question regarding former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf's statement that military rule brought the most stability to Pakistan, the DG ISPR said: "He has been retired for nearly 10 years now. It is a different matter if he makes a comment about defence affairs given his past experience as army chief. However, if he gives political statements, it is solely his stance as a political leader, and the army as an institution does not own or comment on statements made by political leaders."
He also said that the Pakistan Army "has nothing to do with the political activities" of parties, and "it is not the case that the army will endorse any NRO" pertaining to the PML-N or PPP.
'US troop deployment in Afghanistan'
Responding to a question regarding the American government's policy on troop deployment in Afghanistan, Maj Gen Ghafoor said any comments on US President Donald Trump's policy will be issued by the Foreign Office.
"Although pressure may increase, Pakistan is a sovereign state and will make decisions in its own interest, and will try to cater to regional interests to the best of its ability."
"Pakistan has contributed a great deal to regional security. We have done what we could [...] We have done more than our capacity and capability," he added.
Regarding the Haqqani network, he said that "no organised infrastructure of any terrorist organisation exists in Pakistan" as all areas had been cleared by the army.
He added that this had been conveyed to visiting top-level American delegations.
"We had a very candid discussion [with the visiting delegations], and we made clear how Pakistan has acted indiscriminately against all terrorists. There are no terrorist hideouts in Pakistan," he said.
"We have operated against all terrorists, including the Haqqani network, and they [the delegations] were given certain evidence. But there is global politics, there is regional politics, India is playing a role," he offered.
"The Indian influence is unfortunate. You can see it in the declaration of the Hizbul Mujahideen as a terrorist group. The US should know this is a legitimate struggle for freedom which even the United Nations has passed a resolution on," he said.
Daesh in Afghanistan
Responding to a question about Islamic State fighters with links to India who were killed by after the US dropped the 'Mother Of All Bombs' in Afghanistan, the DG ISPR said: "We have discussed Indian involvement [in Daesh] and shared evidence as well."
"Eight of the last nine suicide attacks here were of Afghan origin and backed by RAW and NDS. We share all evidence and progress is being made [in investigations]," he said.
"Afghanistan is a sovereign country, and so are we. We have taken action as far as our own self defence goes," he noted in response to a question about Pakistan's actions against attacks allegedly originating from Afghan soil.
"We took action in the border belt area at the cost of certain reservations from Afghanistan; but we cannot take action against terrorist infrastructure deep inside Afghanistan as a responsible country, as it is a sovereign country and has their own force, and the Resolute Support mission is also there."
'No element of terrorism in Kashmir'
The DG ISPR said a question about the alleged presence of a militant network formed by the Jamaatul Ahrar in India-held Kashmir looked at the issue "through an Indian lens".
"They [India] will want the Kashmiri struggle for freedom to be framed as terrorism. We must see that it is not terrorism, and must define terrorism [more clearly]," he said.
"This is a movement for freedom ... There is no element of terrorism there," he said.