ISPR discusses security, civil-military relations and regional policy in wide-ranging press conference

Updated October 05, 2017

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DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor addresses a press conference at GHQ in Rawalpindi. ─ DawnNews
DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor addresses a press conference at GHQ in Rawalpindi. ─ DawnNews

The director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, on Thursday conducted a wide-ranging press briefing at the army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to discuss several key issues, including relations with Afghanistan, India and the US, internal security and civil-military relations.

The press conference followed a visit to Kabul by Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Sunday and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif's meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on matters of mutual concern on Wednesday.

During the briefing, Maj Gen Ghafoor discussed the security threats at Pakistan's eastern and western borders, stressing that the important question was "whether the threat is because of a state or non-state actors" and what the country's response to it has been.

"Pakistan is an indispensable reality," he asserted. "When multiple interests collide, it is natural that conflicts arise," he began.

"There has been war in Afghanistan for the past four decades. We fought with the jihadis against the Soviet Union. We have fought well, as a nation, the war that entered our borders after 9/11," he said, apparently underscoring a recent statement made by the foreign minister recalling the US's "wining and dining" of jihadi outfits during the Afghan-Soviet Union war.

"There are no organised bases of any terrorist organisation in the country anymore," Ghafoor stressed. "On the ground, more than 50 per cent of Afghan territory is out of their [Kabul's] control, which is also affecting Pakistan," he said, shifting the focus to the political instability afflicting Pakistan's western neighbour.

"There is a strategic threat that exists on the western front which forces us to keep our army at the borders, because of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other such non-state actors."

"Our [western] border also meets Iran. It is important to mention that our deployment is not against Iran or Afghanistan, but against non-state actors," he explained.

"In the east, we have a border with India which is unsafe because of India's inappropriate actions," he said.

"The ceasefire violations in 2017 are considerably more in number than any other year before this, with 222 civilian casualties along the Line of Control. However, India has also paid a price due to our response [to attacks] and we will continue to do so [respond] if it does not act with restraint," he warned.

"Threats from India are perpetual. We are a peaceful country and we do not want war with them, but we will defend ourselves and have the capability to do so," he asserted.

Returning to relations with Iran, the DG ISPR said Pakistan had ongoing coordination and contact with Tehran.

"The army chief will soon visit Iran to improve relations," he said.

Internal developments

When asked why there had been no press release issued following a special corps commanders conference at GHQ, Maj Gen Ghafoor only offered that "Silence is also an expression."

Responding to a question about the Milli Muslim League, the political wing of the Jamaatud Dawa, and its participation in the political process, he said that, "Every Pakistani has the right to participate in the polling process."

Explaining the issue of Rangers' deployment outside the accountability courts on Monday — which had resulted in considerable controversy — he explained that the Rangers fell under the Ministry of Interior's purview.

"Three wings of Rangers were requisitioned under Article 147 for security in the capital. Once the requisition has been made, coordination is carried out at the local level between the police, the district administration and the Rangers," he explained. "This has been happening since 2014 and [the arrangement] is refreshed every three months."

"Sometimes it happens that the police ask the Rangers for assistance, and they [the Rangers] take action. When the National Accountability Bureau had its first hearing, there was some trouble when the former prime minister was appearing for his hearing," he recalled.

"A letter was subsequently written to the Rangers, and there was some coordination in the night as well, so the Rangers reached the court at 7am [on Monday]," he explained.

"If a soldier is doing his duty and is told not to allow irrelevant people ... [Now] it is possible that someone who is not carrying a [authorised personnel] card is [in fact] a relevant person, but Rangers personnel do not know this. Even if the army chief does not have a [security clearance] card [when he arrives at a venue], he is told by [the posted] personnel that he is not allowed [to pass]."

"We need to appreciate the personnel for their [commitment to their] duty," he said.

"Any type of instability, either political, economic or developmental, cannot be in the country's interest, so [the matter] needs to be resolved."

No question of martial law

"We are a country like any other in the world," Maj Gen Ghafoor said as he began responding to a question about civil-military relations.

"When in political discussion, allegations are hurled at the army directly or indirectly," he continued. "We have a role to play constitutionally, and we did. We obeyed whatever the Supreme Court had ordered us to do. Whoever's domain anything falls in, they will solve it," he said, apparently in reference to accusations of ISI's interference in the Panama Papers case.

The Supreme Court had appointed two members from the ISI and Military Intelligence to the joint investigation team (JIT) that investigated the Sharifs, which was questioned widely by critics.

"Whatever order the army receives within the law and the Constitution, we are required to follow it. In the JIT order, ISI and MI being included was a constitutional order and we obeyed it. In that process, there was nothing that the army produced or gave. We were not party — whatever the Supreme Court asked, we did," he stressed.

"But saying that there is going be a martial law should not even be talked about. We are busy in doing our duty as stated in the Constitution," he concluded.

Army chief's Afghanistan visit

"There has been a lot of blame game, bombings in Kabul and on our side as well," Maj Gen Ghafoor said as he began discussing the army chief's recent overtures to the Afghan government.

"There was some discomfort in security and civil quarters, but it was a great initiative taken by the army chief. In a one-and-a-half hour meeting in a cordial, reassuring environment, our point of view was presented with logic."

"The good thing that no negative thing has come out of it. If the Afghan government has not understood [in the past], it is prepared to understand what Pakistan has done. It is doing a good job in its capacity."

"You know that 50 per cent of their territory is not under their control. We have sent them a lot of offers. The army chief has even offered that we can make fences [on their side of the border] like our own."

"There are no sanctuaries. Some things are part of a narrative and others are realities. Three million Afghans are in Pakistan — who knows who is what kind? When coordination improves, mistrust will die down and things will get better," he said.

Links to militants

Responding to a question about alleged links between the ISI and militants, he said: "Having links is different from supporting. Name any intelligence agency which does not have links. Links can be positive, and he [US Defence Secretary James Mattis] did not say there was support, so the narrative [against Pakistan's army and intelligence agencies] that I talked about is relevant here as well. We should not be a part of it. We have our own narrative."

Snapshot of security conditions

Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor also provided a bird's eye view of the security situation in the country.

"Operation Raddul Fasaad is ongoing. Operation Khyber 4 is in the ground-clearing phase," he said.

Recalling that Muharram observations remained peaceful despite emergent threats in Balochistan and Karachi, he also spoke of the Bohra community's Ashura commemorations which saw 21,000 foreigners, including 12,000 Indian citizens, visit the country to be in the company of their spiritual leader during the month.

"Other smaller events also took place," he added, naming the World XI tournament, the Miranshah cricket match against foreign players, and an international hockey match in Karachi.

"Show me a single country which was facing such threats in 2008 and 2009 [and stands where Pakistan does now]. There are no countries like this, because all other countries who faced such problems have either collapsed or had to have foreign armies take control."

"If a foreign team is ready to play in Miranshah on one phone call, it means that they know what the situation there is. It takes time to get results," he said, "especially when you have spent 15 years fixing what the world wanted to destroy."

"We have to take this war to its logical end. If we end bilateral contact, things can be reverted. But if we are resolute, then nothing can happen to Pakistan. Even right now, we have about four intelligence agencies working against us."

Tying this to the strengthening rhetoric against the army and its intelligence arms, the spokesperson said: "This is why you will hear the narrative that the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are not in anyone's control."

"We have travelled a long way. We are moving towards our destiny, which is a peaceful Pakistan. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) could never have succeeded without us," he asserted.

Kashmir conflict

Responding to repeated incidents of cross-border firing along the Line of Control in Kashmir, Ghafoor said: "Unlike India, we cannot fire indiscriminately [in response] as there are Kashmiri brothers on the other side as well. So when there are casualties on that side, it is [Indian] soldiers and infrastructure. Nonetheless, war is not a solution, so we are talking to them [Indian officials] at all levels to stop this [ceasefire violations]."