Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor addressing a press conference at the General Headquarters on Monday.—INP
Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor addressing a press conference at the General Headquarters on Monday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: The Army on Monday read out a charge sheet against Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), accusing the Pashtun ethnic rights movement of receiving funds from foreign intelligence agencies and hinted at a possible action against it.

“Those playing in others’ hands, their time is up. Their time is up,” said director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor in reference to the PTM while speaking at a media briefing.

This was one of the most hard-hitting statements against the PTM by the military to date, though in the past there had been warnings to the group against crossing the proverbial ‘red line’.

The spokesman did not mention what action, if any, was being contemplated against the PTM, but maintained that his statement should not be construed as a “declaration of war” against the group. He said neither anything “illegal would be done” nor would inconvenience be caused to ordinary Pashtuns who were being incited by PTM leaders.

He repeatedly asserted that the army chief had directed the military against getting harsh with PTM activists due to the sufferings the people of the tribal areas had endured during the fight against terrorism.

Military spokesman says time is up for Pashtun Tahafuz Movement leaders, hints at action

“We would do everything for the people of that area, for addressing their grievances, in whose name the PTM was working. I have already told you what progress has been made in that direction,” said Maj Gen Ghafoor.

Three key demands met

Recalling that 45 per cent of the mined area had been cleared at the cost of 101 military casualties and number of checkpoints decreased, he said the number of missing persons had also dropped to 2,500.

All these three issues had remained the core demands of the PTM since the launch of their activities following the extra-judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi last year.

Over a week ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan told a rally in Orakzai that PTM’s demands were genuine, but criticised their tone as ‘inappropriate’.

The head of military’s public relations wing put a few questions to PTM leaders. He first pointed out discrepancy in the donations declared by PTM on its website and the actual amount collected by it.

“We have the details, how much collected and from where it came,” he said and went on to claim that Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies NDS and RAW had on multiple occasions transferred amounts to the PTM. He specifically mentioned the events for which funds had been allegedly given to the group.

The military spokesman also asked about the funds that were allegedly given to the PTM from the Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad in April and May 2018 and the hawala and hundi transfers from Dubai.

“Why did NDS give you funds for Arman Loni’s funeral and subsequent dharna?”

Other questions pertained to the PTM’s relations with some overseas anti-Pakistan elements such as Mashal Khan Takkar and others; interactions with anti-army elements; assassination of pro-military figures; connection with the “Larr-o-Barr” slogan; TTP inclination towards PTM and the similarities in their narratives; claiming of slain SP Dawar’s body from Afghanistan while the government was seeking its repatriation; not offering the funeral of security personnel martyred in an attack on a police recruitment centre in Loralai; and relations with Baloch separatists.

He asked the PTM to arrange lists of TTP fighters who had relocated to Afghanistan. This, he maintained, could help them in locating some of the missing persons.

“We will get answers to these questions through legal means,” he maintained.

Separately, he said, “Everything will be done for [national] security.”

Responding to another question about missing persons, an issue that has been agitated by other segments of society as well, the military spokesman reminisced about the security situation through which the country passed and said: “We don’t want anyone to be missing, but war is ruthless. Everything is fair in love and war”.

Maj Gen Ghafoor also took a jibe at the Pakistan Peoples Party, saying a political party was supporting the PTM, but police official Rao Anwar, accused of killing Naqeebullah Mehsud, was their ‘kid’. He appeared to be referring to one of the statements of former president Asif Zardari in which he had described the police officer as a ‘brave kid’.

30,000 seminaries

The ISPR DG said there was a firm resolve to end violent extremism in the country. To achieve this goal, a decision had been taken to mainstream the 30,000 seminaries (madressahs) in the country and put them under the control of the education ministry, he said.

He said the mainstreaming of the seminaries would be completed in three stages for which necessary legislation would be introduced in the parliament within the next four to six weeks. In the second phase, he said, syllabi of the seminaries would be revamped and teachers would be recruited. In the final phase, mainstreaming would be done, he added.

This whole exercise, he said, would cost the government around Rs2 billion while Rs1 billion would be required every year in this regard.

Gen Ghafoor, based on Army Chief Gen Bajwa’s interactions with religious leaders, said the clergy had a consensus on bringing seminaries in mainstream by including the teaching of contemporary subjects alongside the religious studies.

About madressah syllabus reforms, he said hate speech against other faiths would be removed.

PTM’s response

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”.

Mr Dawar said the ISPR DG 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 ISPR DG had claimed during his press conference. “We are ready for our accountability, but the other side should also be made accountable for their deeds,” Mr 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 PM Khan in his recent public meeting in Wana had made similar remarks against the PTM which were only repeated by the ISPR DG. “Now this has proved from where the PM’s remarks came,” Mr 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.

Mr Dawar said the government should have investigated the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud and PTM member Tahir Dawar.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2019