Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor on Monday said that the Pakistan Army wanted to make every effort to resolve the issues faced by Pashtuns in tribal areas, but that the manner adopted by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) to voice such grievances would no longer be tolerated.
Addressing a wide-ranging press conference at the General Headquarters in which he talked about the recent tensions with India and issues of national security, the head of the military's media wing also suggested that the PTM had received funding from Afghan and Indian intelligence services.
"We want to do everything for the people [of tribal areas], but those who are playing in the hands of people, their time is up. Their time is up," Maj Gen Ghafoor said, referring to the PTM.
"But the instructions of the army chief will be fully followed. People will not face any sort of problem and neither will any unlawful path be adopted," he said, suggesting possible action against the PTM. "Everything will be done lawfully."
"You have enjoyed all the liberty that you wanted to," he said, addressing the PTM leadership.
PTM is a rights-based alliance that, besides calling for the de-mining of the former tribal areas and greater freedom of movement in the latter, has insisted on an end to the practices of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions, and for their practitioners to be held to account within a truth and reconciliation framework.
The ISPR chief individually responded to the demands made by the PTM at its rallies and meetings.
"When we took action against the TLP (Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan), people asked why action is not taken against PTM as they speak up too much as well.
"The first person to engage with them [PTM] was me. I was told to engage with them by the army chief and I was given one order by the army chief: 'Do not use a harsh hand with them.'
"I met with [PTM leader and MNA] Mohsin Dawar, and they had three demands: They said that mines and unexploded bombs still exist [in tribal areas] [...] Their demand was genuine, we created 48 teams and 45 per cent of these areas were cleared. [As many as] 101 casualties of the Pakistan Army also occurred in those areas while clearing them of those mines. We let those casualties happen as they happened in the line of duty.
"Their [PTM's] next demand was about clearing away checkposts. Pak Army has lost thousands of soldiers at these checkposts.
"[The issue of] missing persons was their third demand [and] they created a list of those missing persons. The list has shortened to 2,500 cases today and the [missing persons] commission is working day and night to resolve those cases.
"These demands were not even their [PTM's] demands, the demands are of the people that live there.
"On the PTM website, they have got a number that states the amount of funds they have collected from Pashtuns around the world. But tell us how much money did you get from the NDS (Afghan National Directorate of Security) to run your campaign? How much money did RAW (India's Research and Analysis Wing) give you for the first dharna in Islamabad?
"[Superintendent of Police] Tahir Dawar is killed in Afghanistan, in what capacity did PTM talk to the Afghan government, and say that the [Pakistani] government should not be handed the body and the body should only be given to the Dawar tribe?
"Why did NDS give you funds for Arman Loni’s funeral and the dharna that followed? If you have these funds, why do you not use these funds for the development?
"When Arman Loni died, funeral prayers were offered for him in Afghanistan. But how is it that when 10 policemen lost their lives trying to protect 800 students giving police entry exams [in Balochistan], you did not go to the namaz-i-janaza for those 10 men. And no namaz-i-janaza was held for those 10 men in Afghanistan.
"When Loni died, the Afghan prime minister gave a statement in his favour and you [PTM] endorsed it.
"Those people who are playing with the people whose issues they have brought forward, I would like to tell them that their time is up. Their time is up.
"I would like to ask the PTM to provide me another list — besides the one of the missing persons — of all the strength of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that exists in Afghanistan, so that I could tally the two to see if any of the missing persons are actually sitting there [in Afghanistan].
He then delivered a message in Pashto to the Pashto-speaking people, urging them to not be provoked by the "anti-state forces".
Translation of ISPR chief's message to Pakhtun people
"My respected Pakhtun brothers, sisters, mothers, elders and youth. First, I pay my salutations to you.
As a representative of the Pakistan armed forces, I want to tell you that the Pakistan armed forces belong to you, just like Pakistan belongs to us all.
We will all — including Pakhtun population — prosper if Pakistan is prosperous and thriving. And if God forbid, some evil befalls Pakistan, it will be a loss for the entire country.
You know that some people — misled by others — want to provoke you against Pakistan and its institutions. I want to say that the state acknowledges your sacrifices and it is working ceaselessly to solve your problems.
Pakistan armed forces will not rest until your issues are resolved. We hope that you will not pay any heed to their rhetoric and instead will stop these anti-state forces and play your role in strengthening Pakistan."
Tensions with India
At the start of the presser, Maj Gen Ghafoor said India had accused Pakistan of being behind the Pulwama attack in occupied Kashmir, but that Pakistan had denied the same.
"We told them we were not involved. India then violated our airspace, we then gave the ultimatum that we will respond when we see fit, just like the PM said.
"Two months have passed since and India has told countless lies on the matter. We have not responded to the lies, not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to retaliate.
"International media came to Pakistan, we told them that they should go to the place and see for themselves what had happened.
"India had said that 300 people had died in their attack [in Balakot]. Then they said that they had used a small-scale missile that bore a tiny hole in the ceiling of the building and then exploded inside. We again offered to show your own [Indian] media the site."
"We downed two Indian planes in the process, the whole world saw their debris and you [India] still claimed that one of the two planes was ours and one of our own pilots died, as we had initially said that two Indian pilots had been captured, and then said that there was only one. You [India] said that we have changed our statement because one pilot was our own.
"We got initial information through the proper channel, then on the ground, I personally found out that only one person had been captured and I sent out the correction myself. How is it that you are ready to accept one of our statement, not the other?"
"We have not retaliated because we want peace [...] we asked you [India] to ask America about our F-16s’ strength. In this day and age, hiding the downing of a plane is impossible. In this time, even if a motorcycle crashes the world finds out.
"We have not talked much about it because we want to find the appropriate time to honour our pilots whose skills had been used to down the Indian planes.
"India says that Pakistan’s attitude needs to change. We say that you have not been able to change our attitude, but maybe you need to look inwards and look at the way you have approached the relationship between the two countries.
"In your [Indian] rhetoric, you keep using nuclear power as a threat. Nuclear powers are not a threat, they are a weapon of deterrence that should not be mentioned lightly."
"Do not test our resolve," he said while addressing India, stressing that the Pakistan Army will fully defend its 207 million people if and when required.
The chief of the military's media wing appreciated the role played by the Pakistani media during the war against terror in the past two years, and during the three-day conflict with India in February. "The media could not have played a better role in the situation and I would like to thank you for it," he told the journalists present.
He said if today's Pakistani media was present during the 1971 Pakistan-India war, it would have "unmasked your [India's] conspiracies, reported on the excesses committed domestically and therefore East Pakistan would not have separated from [West Pakistan]".
Action against proscribed organisations
The head of the military's media wing then shed light on the prevailing security situation in the country.
"Pakistan has a regional importance. We are neighbours with Afghanistan, which has been plagued with war for the last 40 years, first with the Soviet occupation and then with the US army after 9/11.
"Cooperation with Afghanistan has been ongoing throughout this time. This can be seen through the fact that at least 81,000 Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives in these operations to date.
"I can now say with confidence that there is no terrorist organisation in Pakistan anymore. We have proscribed violent extremist organisations and we have been working to curb terrorism in Pakistan.
"The state was busy conducting kinetic operations and every law enforcement agency was busy in that, which is why we were not able to strategise against these [banned] organisations the way we are doing today.
"In 2014, when the National Action Plan was formulated, all political parties had agreed on point number 3, which said that this aspect of bringing these elements into the mainstream will be taken care of now that our kinetic operations are working.
"Earlier, when the army chief spoke on the occasion of Youm-i-Shuhada, he said that the monopoly of violence should rest with the state alone.
"On January 1, a strategy was made on how to bring these people or organisations into the mainstream but no funds were allocated towards this. In February, when the scheme was announced, a fund was also allocated towards it by the government for the first time.
"It was then decided that madressahs and hospitals, which are non-violent and being run under these organisations will be brought under the government’s banner."
Talking about Pakistan's education system, Maj Gen Ghafoor regretted that 25 million children in Pakistan are currently out of schools.
"These children then go to madressahs, 30,000 of which exist in Pakistan at the moment. Out of these, less than 100 were found to be the kind that were pushing children towards extremism.
"So out of 30,000 only 100 are faulty and if these were shut, what will happen to the millions of children who go to these madressahs.
"Today, madressahs offer eight years of studies in a Dars-i-Nizami. Then two more years to give them the title of Mufti. But when these children come out of these madressahs, what job opportunities await them?
"Some of these madressahs do offer some contemporary education and thus very few of these children qualify for some basic level jobs, like procuring a commission in the army.
"But 32.5m children do not have these opportunities. That is why we are trying to mainstream madressahs so that children studying there have the opportunity to become doctors and engineers just like the children studying in mainstream schools.
"This means that teachers will have to be employed in these madressahs. [And] this means funding, which was lacking in the past, but now that we are at the end of the war against terror, we will be able to reroute the funds towards this process and initially Rs2 billion will be required to run this programme and then Rs1 billion will be required each year for the programme’s upkeep. We will provide these funds so that these madressahs are mainstreamed and all of our children have equal opportunities.
"The seminaries were earlier functioning under Ministry of Industries. Now the government has brought them under the Ministry of Education. Since there has been a security issue over the past few years, the army chief also engaged with scholars of all sects and talked to the prime minister as well. All the scholars agree that madressahs should be mainstreamed.
"The prime minister has formed a committee with the coordination of interior and education ministries to come up with a syllabus. In the curriculum, religious education will continue as it is but there will be no hate speech.
"When these kids graduate from seminaries tomorrow, they will have the same opportunities as the children who studied from other schools," the ISPR chief said.
'Come to the table'
Maj Gen Ghafoor while discussing Pakistan's engagements with regional countries recalled Islamabad's facilitation of the Afghan peace process, the visits by the army chief and the prime minister to Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the cooperation with China. "Other countries will only understand your narrative when you talk to them," he said.
"The armed forces are playing their role in establishing a security environment in the country that would speed up business and economic activity, as per the policy laid out by the government. When the economic stakes of other countries are in your country, peace will come.
"CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is not only a north-south link. To establish proper economic activity, it is important that an east-west link is also developed so that Pakistan can gain access to Central Asia. The question is, will India understand this? It is important to sort out issues with India and [on the] top of those issues is Kashmir.
"If India is serious about establishing peace in the region it should come to the table and talk to our government. It is up to India if it wants to repeat the February 27 [conflict] or work to eliminate poverty and hunger," he stressed.
Benefits of border fencing
Providing an update on the fencing of the country's western frontier, the ISPR director general revealed that fencing over a distance of 1,000km on the borders of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan has been completed and work on the rest is underway.
He said a total of 823 border forts were planned, out of which 300 have been constructed so far. Work on the remaining posts is underway and will be completed soon.
"Fencing has benefitted us a lot, cross-border attacks, firing and IED (improved explosive device) incidents have reduced remarkably. When I talk about a remarkable decrease, I mean that their [militants'] liberty of action is not the same as before and as we continue to work on fencing, the number of these attacks will continue to decline," he added.
Associated with the PTM, MNA Mohsin Dawar, who was allowed to speak on the floor of the house after a long wait, rejected the allegations levelled by the military spokesman against the PTM and said his party was ready for accountability before the parliament only.
He said the PTM was being targeted for making the army accountable on the issues of "missing persons in tribal areas, extrajudicial killings and targeted killings".
Dawar said the DG ISPR had levelled the same old allegations of traitor and receiving foreign funding against the PTM which were used against those who had questioned the role of the security forces in the past. "Similar allegations were levelled against Bacha Khan and Wali Khan," he added.
He demanded that parliament make the PTM accountable for what the DG ISPR had claimed during his press conference. "We are ready for our accountability, but the other side should also be made accountable for their deeds," Dawar said.
He regretted that PTM leaders were not being allowed even to hold press conferences and take part in TV talk shows.
He said Prime Minister Imran Khan in his recent public meeting in Wana had made similar remarks against the PTM which were only repeated by the DG ISPR. "Now this has proved from where the PM’s remarks came," Dawar said.
The lawmaker said another allegation was levelled against the PTM leaders that where they were when people were being killed in tribal areas. "We want to clarify that PTM members had resisted terrorists and thus became the worst victim of terrorism as some of the party members have lost even their entire family in terrorist attacks," he added.
Dawar said the government should have investigated the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud and PTM member Tahir Dawar.