ISLAMABAD: Military spokesman Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar on Thursday said that there should be no doubt about the health of Pakistan’s ties with Saudi Arabia and emphasised the kingdom’s primacy in the Muslim world.

He was speaking at a media briefing in the offices of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) during which he, in addition to the Pak-Saudi relations, touched upon a number of issues, including threats from India’s expansionist designs, aggravating situation in occupied Kashmir, ceasefire violations along the Line of Control, efforts for peace in Afghanistan, fencing of borders with Iran and Afghanistan, internal security situation and the hybrid warfare, especially the role of social media.

“There is no need to raise questions about these (Pak-Saudi) ties,” the spokesman said, adding that there could be “no doubt about the centrality of KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in the Muslim world”.

The comments come ahead of Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia from Sunday. The visit is happening in the midst of a controversy resulting from Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s comments in a TV talk show in which he asked Saudi-dominated Organisa­tion of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to stop dragging its feet on convening of its Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Kashmir.

Military spokesman says hostile intelligence agencies are using information warfare to try to destabilise the country

Mr Qureshi had threatened to convene a meeting of Muslim countries even outside the OIC irrespective of how many countries would attend it.

The spokesman clarified that Gen Bajwa’s visit was planned long before the controversy emerged and was about the defence relations between the two countries.

He noted that “the government and people of Pakistan are proud of ties with KSA, which are historically in their best shape and will remain so”.

Gen Iftikhar denied speculations about realignment of Pakistan’s foreign policy. “There is no specific realignment as such, but yes the world has become more interconnected, interdependent, and much more diverse,” he maintained.

INDIA: India’s hegemonic designs and its internal situation, the military spokesman said, could push the region towards instability.

“The fires of communal hatred and racism ignited in India have spread to all parts of their country. Moreover, their conspiracy to externalise India’s internal failures has brought it to a point where its fallout could impact the security of the region,” he said.

He said increase in India’s defence budget and its arms buying spree were meant to fulfill its expansionist designs.

“Pakistan is fully cognisant of the intentions and capabilities of India,” Gen Iftikhar said.

Indian defence spending, he warned, could affect the conventional balance in the region, which could push the things to “another domain” — an apparent reference to the nuclear arms. “The world must take notice of it,” he added.

BORDER MANAGEMENT: The military’s spokesman said that the fencing of borders with Iran and Afghanistan was going on well and had helped reduce terrorism, smuggling and unauthorised cross-border movement.

He said that 1,700km from the 2,611-kilometre-long border with Afghanistan had been fenced and currently the parts in more difficult terrain were being fenced.

Gen Iftikhar rejected Afghan criticism of the fencing, saying it was being done along the international border and without trespassing the Afghan territory. “Wherever differences arise they are resolved through border mechanism and the construction proceeds only after settling the dispute,” he said.

The Foreign Office, in a related statement, rejected Afghan allegations that Pakistani military was conducting “illegal” fencing of the Pak-Afghan border. The FO spokesperson clarified that the fencing along the border was being done to address Pakistan’s serious security concerns and was fully in accordance with the established norms of international law, without encroaching upon Afghan territory.

About the fencing with Iran, Gen Iftikhar said it would be completed in 2021.

SOCIAL MEDIA: He said the ‘inimical forces’ would not be allowed to drive a wedge between the armed forces of the country and the people.

He said hostile intelligence agencies were using information warfare to try to destabilise the country. “Fake news propagated through the social media damages the social fabric and targets the national and military leadership to create uncertainty and influence the decision-making process,” he said.

The spokesman said “misinformation, disinformation and half truths were being used to instigate people against national institutions”.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2020

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