Pakistan is concerned about India's increasing military spending and defence budget, but it remains "absolutely ready" for any aggression despite New Delhi's recent acquisition of five Rafale fighter jets from France, the chief of the Pakistan Army's media wing said on Thursday.
Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), made the statement during a wide-ranging press conference in which he spoke about various issues concerning internal and external security.
Responding to a question about the threat posed to Pakistan by the Rafale jets purchased by India, the DG ISPR noted that India's military spending is the highest in the world and it is also involved in an arms race.
"The way the journey of the five Rafales from France to India was covered shows the level of their insecurities," he said.
"Nonetheless, whether they receive five [Rafales] or 500, we are fine. We are absolutely ready and we have no doubt on our capability and we have proven this so it's (the jets) not going to make much of a difference.
"But yes, their defence spending and their budget compared to ours is affecting the conventional balance of the region. And when this happens, things go into another domain and the international community should also look at this.
"In Pakistan, many say the defence budget is too much; right now we are at 17 per cent [of the budget] distributed between the army, navy and airforce. And in the past 10 years, Pakistan's defence spending has consistently been going down, not up, and in the past two years, we didn't even keep the inflation cushion in the defence budget.
"But this does not mean that it has affected our preparedness. Even with these resources, we are absolutely ready to take on our enemies.
"So bring the Rafales [or] the S-400 [missile system], bring them on. We have our own preparedness and our own answers to everything."
'India's state terrorism in IOK'
At the start of his press conference, Maj Gen Iftikhar spoke about the Indian repression in occupied Kashmir.
"Azaadi (independence) is a huge blessing," he said. "Ask about the importance of freedom from the mother of an occupied Kashmir resident that buries her son with the Pakistan flag."
"In occupied Kashmir, the inhumane siege has continued for one year. Genocide is being done and human rights are being violated through India's state terrorism in the occupied [region].
"Under a pre-planned, thought-out plan, India by changing the demography of the region is trying to evict the Muslims living there," Maj Gen Iftikhar said.
"There is no atrocity left which the Kashmiris have not witnessed. Youths are being martyred and being buried in unnamed places in the name of counter-terrorism."
He noted that the targeting of Kashmiris with pellet guns by the Indian forces has become the norm while the region's local leadership has been kept in detention for one year.
He said Pakistan has "left no stone unturned" in raising Kashmiris' plight before the world.
"The Government of Pakistan at all regional and international forums has raised awareness on the Kashmir issue and voices against the oppression are reverberating through the world's corridors."
Genocide Watch and international media have unmasked India's actions in the occupied valley while the United Nations secretary general has stressed human rights in Kashmir, the DG ISPR said.
"During the past one year, the issue has been raised in the UN three times and this shows that the issue is of cardinal importance in the eyes of the world. And their (Kashmiris') fight for independence will InshAllah be successful."
'India targeting civilians at LoC'
He said the situation at the Line of Control is linked to the Kashmir issue, adding: "Despite the ceasefire appeal by the UN secretary general during the pandemic, India continued their traditional cowardly actions and targeted innocent people."
He said till now, India has committed 1,927 ceasefire violations and has deliberately targeted peaceful people living along the LoC in Azad Kashmir.
"Sixteen innocent people have been martyred while 158 have been injured. In these ceasefire violations, heavy weapons were used indiscriminately.
"Let me also tell you that the Pakistan Army responds to all the ceasefire violations effectively, but being a professional army we make military targets and target those posts that are carrying out [the firing].
"On July 22, international media toured Azad Kashmir. They were allowed access to the people of AJK; they saw and interacted with the people targeted by the ceasefire violations.
"But on the other hand, in occupied Kashmir, neither international media nor the UN group was allowed to go to the LoC. But we have nothing to hide, that is why we have always allowed international media to go wherever they want in Azad Kashmir.
"The government, in light of India's actions, for the protection of the people, has decided to build shelters in the homes of AJK residents. One thousand shelters have been constructed and more are being made."
"The fire of racism and communal hatred that India has started has spread to the whole country. Their move to externalise their internal failures has put them at such a point that the lava can take the whole region in its wake.
"A UN report highlighted terrorist groups in India; they use these groups against Pakistan and to spread instability in the region. The unsuccessful attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange or money laundering to facilitate terrorists, all the clues lead to India."
He said India had seen an increase in its defence budget and it was involved in an arms race. "India is at the top of the list of countries buying arms. Pakistan is completely aware of India's intentions and capabilities.
"Wars are not fought only through the power of weapons; the people's trust and the nation's resolve are the true assets of the army."
Answering a question about Pakistan's new political map introduced by the government which includes Indian-occupied Kashmir, the DG ISPR said the map "is an assertion of our claim and an expression of our intent. We have made Pakistan's territorial claim clear to the world that this is a disputed region ... so this is Pakistan's political map and just a reassertion of our claims."
'We are all sepoys'
The DG ISPR said elements seeking to sow confusion and hostile intelligence agencies through hybrid warfare "want to shift our attention away from the basic issues"
"We will not let enemy forces create a chasm between the army and the nation. We are living in such an age of information where it is an effective tool and hostile intelligence agencies are using it to spread confusion."
In order to do som, elements of national power especially the diplomatic domain, information, military, economy and hybrid warfare applications are used, he added.
He said on Pakistan's social media landscape "the social fabric and the national and military leaderships are being targeted through fake news and an uncertain situation is being created".
"And through this, they are trying to impose on the decision-making process," Maj Gen Iftikhar said, adding that such elements rely on misinformation, disinformation and half-truths to mislead the people through different platforms under a "thought-out campaign".
He stressed the need to create awareness among the masses to counter such misinformation.
"The way the Pakistani media has foiled the propaganda of the Indian media and the way our youth has countered hostile intelligence agencies on digital platforms shows that when it comes to Pakistan, we are all sepoys."
Hopes for Afghan peace
Speaking about the Afghan peace talks, Maj Gen Iftikhar said Pakistan played its part for peace in Afghanistan. "We hope that attempts for the reconciliation process are soon successful," he added.
"Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan [and] peace along our western borders. So if there is anyone who wants peace in Afghanistan after Afghans, it is Pakistan.
"And the way the peace process is going forward, it is also time for a gradual, time-bound and adequately resourced refugee return programme for dignified repatriation of Afghan refugees within the earliest possible time-frame facilitated duly by all stakeholders."
Ehsanullah Ehsan's claims 'baseless'
The DG ISPR was also asked to comment on an audiotape reportedly released by former Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan in which he reportedly claimed that he was asked to lead a death squad by Pakistani authorities while he was in their custody. Maj Gen Iftikhar termed the claims made in the alleged audio as "absolutely baseless".
Confirming the information given by the interior minister, the DG ISPR said: "We were using him (Ehsan) during an operation and he escaped and we greatly benefitted from the information he gave us especially in dismantling some terrorist organisations that he had belonged to."
He said disciplinary action is being taken against the persons responsible for his escape.
"I will leave it to your best judgement why he is claiming all that and making those allegations so that should be it," the ISPR chief told reporters.
'No need to raise questions on Pak-Saudi ties'
Answering a question about reported tensions between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over raising a voice for Indian-occupied Kashmir, the DG ISPR said "nobody can doubt the centrality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Islamic world" and the two countries' ties are and will remain historic.
"The hearts of the Pakistani people beat with the Saudi people, so there is no need to raise questions on the relations," he added.
He said the upcoming visit of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to Saudi Arabia was already planned and it is related to the two countries' military-to-military relations.
"There is no need to read too much into it. Everything is fine," he said.
Gains of operation Radd-ul-Fasaad
Sharing statistics from operation Radd-ul-Fasaad during the presser, the DG ISPR said: "the war against terrorism is a hard-earned success."
"46,000 murabba kilometre [of land] has been evacuated from terrorists. More than 18,000 terrorists were killed and 400 tonnes of explosive material was seized," he told the press conference.
Under the operation, more than 194,000 intelligence-based operations were carried out and more than 70,000 weapons and five million ammunition that was in the use of militants were recovered, he added.
Border management bringing crimes down
The DG ISPR said measures are being taken at the Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders as part of border management, which includes border terminals, scanner biometric system, border posts, forts and fencing.
He stressed that people on both sides of the frontier will benefit and terrorism can be stopped through managing the border.
"The capacity enhancement of Front Corps KP and Balochistan is being done for effective border management.
"On the Pak-Afghan border, fencing on more than 1,700km has been completed. In KP, 730km and in Balochistan, 980km have been fenced."
As part of the fencing work, Maj Gen Iftikhar revealed, more than 70 improvised explosive devices were defused under one project.
"Work is also ongoing on Pak-Iran border fencing and this will be completed by 2021. Further, more than 1,000 border posts and forts are also being built; 400 have been completed and the rest are being set up.
"Due to improvement in fencing and border management, IED explosions, illegal movement and smuggling have reduced.
"Through different operations under border management, peace has been brought in tribal areas where the civil administration is now working on the development of these areas. All this would not have been possible without the media; the media played an excellent role in the war against terrorists.
"As far as Balochistan is concerned, some enemy forces have been trying to disrupt the situation. Pakistan Army is working day and night to foil these attempts and some important progress has been made which will be shared with you at the right time.
"Pakistan's civil and military leadership along with the peace of Balochistan is also busy with socio-economic uplift. Balochistan's development is Pakistan's development and a prosperous Balochistan is the guarantee of a stable Pakistan."
According to Maj Gen Iftikhar, the Pakistan Army with assistance from the government and friendly nations is assisting in projects for providing the people with health facilities and education.
"This includes the state-of-the-art cardiac centre in Quetta and a hospital in Gwadar. Also nine cadet colleges, the establishment of the Nust campus and the dates processing plant in Panjgur will prove to be a milestone for development.
"From Balochistan, more than 25,000 soldiers and 1,200 officers are serving in the army while 200 cadets are receiving education from the military."
'Threat of Covid-19 has not gone away'
Speaking about the coronavirus situation, the DG ISPR said Pakistanis battled the virus "as a nation" and country's efforts to contain the disease have been recognised by international leaders.
"There is a reduction is corona positive cases and deaths but we can't stop taking precautions; we need to take them more than ever.
"The people by following measures [to contain Covid-19] showed responsibility but the threat has not gone away. This virus is surging in some countries. Face masks and social distancing are effective steps against the virus and we should follow them."
He said a national emergency was declared to deal with the desert locust attacks situation and due to authorities' steps, locust swarms have been reduced from 61 districts to one district.
The Pakistan Army is also assisting the civil administration in polio campaigns to help reach the goal of making Pakistan polio-free, Maj Gen Iftikhar said.
He said the flood situation is being monitored and all preparations are complete to deal with an adverse scenario.