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Institutions are supreme, says Army

Updated October 06, 2017

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• ISPR chief insists spy agencies played ‘constitutional’ role in JIT probe
• Acknowledges MML’s right to participate in political process
• Argues ‘silence is also an expression’ with reference to corps commanders’ huddle

ISLAMABAD: The military spokesperson on Thursday stressed the need for all civilian and military institutions to work together to defeat “enemy designs” aimed at dividing the country.

But surprisingly, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor also waded into areas that do not fall into the military’s domain when he addressed subjects ranging from economic instability in the country to the registration of the Milli Muslim League (MML) as a political party.

Addressing a press briefing in Rawalpindi, the ISPR chief said that no individual was more important than an institution, adding that even the army chief was not above the institution he headed. “We should work closely with each other,” he said.

Answering a question about former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s comparison of his ouster with the fall of Dhaka, Maj Gen Ghafoor said one should look forward instead of referring to the past.

Answering a question about Panamagate, he said the army was bound to obey the orders it was given, and added that the role of the intelligence agencies in the Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT) probe was “constitutional”.

He brushed aside the impression that the army was behind a move to impose martial law. “These are things that should not even be spoken of,” he said, scuttling discussion on the subject.

He said that the country’s economic indicators were not satisfactory, adding that the army would continue to give suggestions for improvement.

“Instability, be it political or economic, is not in the country’s interests and should be jointly corrected by all institutions,” he said.

Referring to the removal of the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat declaration from a new draft of the Elections Act, he said that the issue was “linked with the [finality of the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him)]”, adding that the army could not have compromised in the matter.

“The issue stands settled now and the amendment has been reverted,” he said, leading many to wonder whether the armed forces had a behind-the-scenes role in reversing the development.

In response to another question about the registration of the MML — which is considered by many to be a front for the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeJ) — as a political party, the ISPR chief said it was everyone’s right to take part in the political process. He said that although he was not a spokesperson for the government, he was aware that proposals to secure their “constructive contribution” from such organisations were being considered by the government.

Maj Gen Ghafoor also set tongues wagging when, asked why no official statement was issued after a recent special meeting of corps commanders, he said: “Silence is also an expression, right?”

He revealed that a terror alert had been shared with the Foreign Office, which indicated that four hostile agencies were planning a massive terrorist attack in Pakistan.

The ISPR chief said that the deployment of army troops on the western border was not meant to target Afghanistan or Iran, but non-state actors.

He explained that some of the troops deployed on the western border, had been sent back to the cantonments after the situation improved significantly on the Pakistani side of the border.

However, he pointed out that threats emanating from India were perpetual in nature, and that the eastern border was unsafe because of India’s hegemonic designs.

Talking about the army chief’s recent visit to Afghanistan, he said the meeting the Afghan president and Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was held in a pleasant environment. “You can see that no negative statement [was expressed from the Afghan side] after the meeting,” he said, adding that the army chief would shortly visit Iran.

However, he said that Pakistan had to keep troops on its western borders due to strategic reasons, since there was still a threat from non-state actors such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Maintaining that Pakistan did not want war, “if war is imposed, our armed forces have the capability and right to give a telling response.”

“If they fire one bullet, our troops will respond with five,” Maj Ghafoor said, referring to the continuous ceasefire violations committed by India along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary.

He admitted that Pakistan faced several threats and pressures due to its geographical importance in the region and beyond, due to the economic interests of certain powers.

He pointed out that the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were being targeted by an enemy narrative. “There are no other countries like Pakistan, since all other countries that have faced such problems have either collapsed or have ceded control to foreign armies. This is why you will hear the narrative that the Pakistan Army and ISI are not under anyone’s control.”

He claimed that anti-Pakistani forces would obviously target the powers (army and ISI) that were frustrating their designs. “If you understand this enemy narrative, then you will understand how important the armed forces are for the security and independence of a country.”

Maj Gen Ghafoor also expressed his satisfaction with the way Muharram security was handled.

“There was a huge security risk during Muharram, but after many years, the month passed peacefully,” he said. Elaborating further, he said that two suicide bombers and their handler had been arrested from Karachi, while a car bomb was foiled in Quetta.

He also spoke of two events that signalled a return of normalcy to the country: the massive Bohra gathering in Karachi that was attended by over 20,000 foreigners, including 12,000 Indian citizens; and the World XI and Miramshah cricket matches.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2017