ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Army’s top brass rejected the Indian army chief’s recent statements on Pakistan as irresponsible, warning they could undermine regional peace.

The statements made by Indian Army Chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane were discussed at a meeting of the corps commanders at the General Headquarters on Tuesday.

“Taking account of repea­ted provocative statements of Indian military leadership regarding aggression against Pakistan, the forum termed it as an irresponsible rhetoric with implications on regional peace and stability,” the military’s public affairs division, the Inter-Services Public Relations, said after the meeting.

Ever since Gen Naravane assumed the command of the Indian Army on Dec 31, he has made a number of aggressive statements, including one on occupying Azad Kashmir and another about the alleged killing of a civilian porter of his army.

He has also spoken about “rebalancing of deployments and resources” in Siachen in view of the possible cooperation between China and Pakistan. In a TV interview, he said that India “reserves the right to pre-emptively strike”.

Pakistan Army had earlier dismissed as “routine rhetoric” Gen Naravane’s statement on Azad Kashmir that he had made at his first press conference and in which he had said his troops could occupy Azad Kashmir in case Indian parliament mandated Indian Army to do so.

Pakistan has on multiple occasions cautioned about the possibility of India undertaking a military misadventure against Pakistan. The threat of such a misstep has increased because of the aggravating domestic situation in India due to widespread and large-scale protests against a controversial citizenship law and the National Register of Citizens.

Moreover, India-held Kashmir remains under curfew ever since its annexation by India on Aug 5. In this situation, it is feared, India may initiate conflict to divert the attention from its internal crisis.

Middle East concerns

A review of the recent Middle East crisis, which began with the assassination of Iranian commander Gen Qassem Soleimani in a US air strike in Baghdad, was also on the agenda of the corps commanders meeting.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had earlier announced that Pakistan would not become part of any war but was ready to play its role for peace. He had directed both Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to deliver this message to the world leaders. FM Qureshi recently visited Riyadh and Tehran and is planning to travel to Washington later this week.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had, meanwhile, spoken to Gen Bajwa soon after Gen Soleimani’s assassination, while US Defence Secretary Mark Esper also spoke to him the night Iran carried out reprisal strikes. Gen Bajwa has met Iran’s new envoy to Pakistan, Ambassador Ali Hosseini.

Gen Bajwa, giving a policy statement at the corps commanders’ conference on the evolving situation in the Middle East, said: “Pakistan is one of the lead participants with significant contributions towards peace and stability efforts in the region. We shall continue to play our responsible and positive role towards this end without compromising national security and defence of the motherland at whatever cost.”

Pakistan’s concern is that any escalation in the Middle East could derail the Afghan peace process, which is being facilitated by the Pakistan government, and take away the internal attention from the uprising in held Kashmir. The other worry is that the conflict could lead to an eruption of sectarian strife in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement issued by the ISPR, Gen Bajwa expressed grief over precious lives lost in avalanches in Azad Kashmir and Balochistan. He directed continued assistance to the civil administration for rescue and relief operation.

Army helicopters have been undertaking operations in snow-hit areas such as Sharda, Sargan, Bakwal and Taobat.

Pakistan Army’s “urban search and rescue teams” are evacuating stranded people, doctors, paramedics, tents, blankets, rations and medicine were also being provided to the affected, further stated the ISPR.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2020