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ISPR director general Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor.—APP
ISPR director general Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor.—APP

ISLAMABAD: The army on Thursday said that it was a national institution and not associated with any specific party or person.

“The army is the country’s force, which is not linked to any party, person, city or province. We give our input whenever the government of the day asks for our advice. We have done this in the past as well,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said at a media briefing at the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

“Today the PTI is in government, previously another party was in government and before that some other party was in office and the army not only gave its opinion, but also supported the decisions that were subsequently taken,” he said and referred to the operations Zarb-i-Azb and Rah-i-Rast and counterterrorism actions in Karachi as examples of the military backing the decisions of previous governments.

• Maj Gen Ghafoor warns PTM against crossing ‘red line’ • Speaking about accountability within army, says 400 officers penalised for one reason or other in 2017-18

Maj Gen Ghafoor was responding to a question about the controversy that erupted after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s assertion in a recent interview that “the army is standing behind the PTI’s manifesto and we have no problem with the army”.

In a speech at a ceremony at the General Headquarters in Septem­ber, Mr Khan had described the much-talked-about civil-military divide in the country as a myth.

The relationship between PM Khan and the military had been under focus even before the general elections that brought his party to power. The opposition believed that the pre-election situation was made to suit the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Those perceptions have refused to fade away.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said that the critics had just picked up one sentence and were criticising it. The statement rather needed to be seen in its totality, he advised, noting that the prime minister had said it was usual for governments facing security challenges to consult their security establishments.

He asked for taking the statement positively. “It is a good thing we are working together. … This is something to be happy if all stakeholders are pursuing the national objectives,” he maintained.

PTM warned

The military spokesman called for moving beyond the troubled past.

The army warned the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), an ethnic rights group, against crossing the “red line”.

“Their genuine demands have been addressed. But they are now headed in a direction where a stage may come that they could cross the line and in that situation we would be compelled to use our authority. Don’t cross the line where the state has to use force,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said.

This was the sternest warning against the group from the army since the movement began earlier this year with a campaign demanding justice for Naqeebullah Mehsud killed in a police encounter in Karachi. The protest over Naqeeb’s killing provided a fillip to the erstwhile Mehsud Tahaffuz Movement and it transformed itself into the PTM.

The military was initially receptive to PTM’s demands of justice for Naqeebullah, removal of checkposts and mines and recovery of missing persons, but later became critical of the motives of its leadership, especially after the movement got support from Kabul and some other world capitals. These concerns got reinforced when PTM leaders talked about seeking “international guarantees” for redressal of their grievances and taking their issues “to the United Nations” and appealing “to the global society”.

Maj Gen Ghafoor recalled the progress on their original demands and said the number of checkposts had decreased by 29 per cent, 44pc of the area had been cleared of mines and a number of cases of missing persons had been settled. “We didn’t turn blind eye to their problems. … They are our people, they are distressed, they have suffered, and haven’t resorted to violent means, although they have used objectionable language,” he said.

The PTM has been continuing with its mass contact campaign and its leader Manzoor Pashteen was recently in Karachi. Two of the parliamentarians associated with the PTM — Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir — were last week detained at Peshawar airport and stopped from proceeding abroad because of a case registered in Swabi over PTM’s public gathering. However, it wasn’t clear what prompted the military spokesman to fire the warning shot.

Talking about the missing persons, Maj Gen Ghafoor at one point said that for a better post-conflict future, “we would have to stop thinking about the losses in the war against terrorism”. “We have fought a war for nearly 15 years. Many terrorists have been killed, now TTP [Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan] in Afghanistan has 2,000 to 4,000 fighters. How can one prove that missing people are not part of the TTP force there or in some other conflict zone,” he maintained, reminding that nearly 70,000 people had lost their lives due to terrorism.

Accountability within army

The military spokesman also briefly touched on the subject of accountability within the army. He said that only in 2017 and 2018, 400 officers from all ranks had been penalised for one reason or the other. The punishments given to them ranged from a simple censure to reduction in pays and benefits, and jail sentences.

“An officer was sent home just because a charge of corruption of Rs 10,000 was proven against him,” he said, citing the example of accountability within the army.

About the institution of accountability within the army, the spokesman said there was branch headed by a lieutenant general that was dedicated to accountability and discipline within ranks.

Balochistan

Maj Gen Ghafoor said the deployment plan of troops in Balochistan had been changed. Some 65,000 to 70,000 troops are currently deployed in the restive province.

“We have altered deployment in Balochistan and where earlier headquarters and forces were based in Quetta, we have divided the province on the basis of its geography into different sectors and made placements accordingly,” he said.

He said the new deployment plan was more about security of socio-economic development projects, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, than operational purposes. “The deployment has been done in a manner that security of the area has been strengthened,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018

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