Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar on Wednesday said that fencing of the Pak-Afghan border would continue as planned, adding that the blood of martyred soldiers was involved in erecting the fence.
Maj Gen Iftikhar made these remarks in Rawalpindi during a press conference, his first of 2022, scheduled to coincide with Kashmiri people's Right to Self-Determination Day.
During the wide-ranging media talk on a myriad of issues relating to security and regional developments, the army spokesperson also discussed issues related to the Pak-Afghan border, including its fencing.
According to the DG ISPR, border fencing was being done in an effort to protect the people on both sides as well as to regulate trade. "The fence on the Pak-Afghan border is needed to regulate security, border crossing and trade. The purpose of this is not to divide the people, but to protect them."
He also said that the security situation along the Western border was "challenging" during 2021. "The western border management, specifically the Pak-Afghan border ... there are some specific local, operational and strategic dynamics and these are [being] addressed at the relevant level."
The DG ISPR said that the Pak-Afghan border fencing was 94 per cent complete, adding: "We are totally focused, and under the western border management regime, the work that is underway will be completed in some time."
He said that the border management system would be made more effective with the passage of time. "The blood of our martyrs was spilled in erecting this fence. It is a fence of peace. It will be completed and will remain [in place]."
He also said that 67 new wings of Frontier Corps Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been established in 2021 to further strengthen border security. He added that a process to establish six more wings had been initiated.
When asked whether the government had protested with Afghanistan about recent incidents of damage to the border fence, the DG ISPR reiterated that western border management had "local and strategic dynamics".
The DG ISPR deemed the recent uprooting of the fence by Taliban fighters as "one or two localised problems", which he said was being discussed by the governments of both the countries.
"We have very good relations. We understand each other and keep talking about different issues that keep surfacing. There is no problem, fencing is underway and will continue."
Talk of deal with Nawaz 'baseless speculation'
During the question and answers session, when asked to comment on rumours of a deal with PML-N's self-exiled leader Nawaz Sharif, the DG ISPR said: "I will only say that all of this is baseless speculation.
"If anyone is talking about a deal, please ask them who is doing the deal. Where is the evidence of such a deal. There is no such thing," he said.
The DG ISPR called on reporters to instead question those talking about a deal, reiterating that it was "baseless speculation". "In my understanding, and I am very clear on that, this is baseless speculation."
Later, he was also asked about the state of civil-military relations, to which he responded that there were "no issues".
"The armed forces are subservient to the government and work according to their directives. There is nothing more to it."
He also urged the media to keep the "establishment" out of politics. "There are more issues to discuss in this country, such as health and education [...] please keep us out of it."
'No ceasefire with TTP currently, operations to continue'
The DG ISPR also touched on recent talks with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) during the press briefing, stating that they were "on hold" but operations were "ongoing".
"The ceasefire [with the TTP] ended on Dec 9. It [the ceasefire] was a confidence-building measure taken ahead of talks with these violent non-state actors on the request of the current Afghan government.
"There was a requirement for the interim Afghan govt that the TTP should not be using their soil against us so they said they would bring them to the table and make them accept what Pakistan wants. Obviously, those external conditions were yet to be settled.
"The TTP is not a monolith. They have internal differences. There were some problems ... some conditions that were non-negotiable from our side so there is no ceasefire [right now]. We are continuing with operations and will continue till we get rid of this menace. That's how it goes."
'Propaganda against institutions has failed'
The DG ISPR also spoke of a "campaign" against national institutions, which he said was hatched to create a a "gulf" between the masses and the institutions and to "damage people's trust".
"We are aware of these efforts and their various linkages," he said. "[Those] who spew half-truths, fake news and false propaganda to target institutions and damage the country have failed and will always fail."
At one point, a reporter also asked the army spokesperson about whether Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa would be granted another extension in 2022.
However, the DG ISPR firmly stated that it would be best not to indulge in such "baseless accusations".
Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar began the press conference by recalling Indian forces' atrocities in occupied Kashmir as well as "propaganda" campaigns by their media.
He said that under the ceasefire agreement signed with India in February 2020, the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) remained largely peaceful, adding that the "biggest dividend" was that it improved the lives of locals living in the area.
"At the same time, the blame from the Indian military leadership and false propaganda points to a specific agenda to remove global attention from Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir."
The DG ISPR accused India of engendering regional security through its defence procurement, adding that it would trigger an "arms race" in the region and have a negative impact on peace.
He also rejected Indian allegations against Pakistan regarding infiltration. "They have committed false propaganda about infiltration along the LoC," he said.
"They recently staged a fake encounter in Neelum Valley in Kirin sector and killed an innocent Kashmiri and then blamed us. In this particular incident, the Indian media ran pictures of a terrorist named Shabbir. He is not only alive but is at his home in Sharda," he said, adding that India had killed countless Kashmiris.
"The reality is that India wants to externalise the indigenous freedom struggle of the Kashmiris. But voices are cropping up from everywhere that the people are being targeted and their struggle is being stamped out," he said.
"On January 5, 1989, the people of Kashmir were promised the right to self-determination by the UN. That promise remains unfulfilled. On this occasion, we salute their (Kashmiri people's) bravery."
Review of armed forces' performance in 2021
Maj Gen Babar also reviewed the armed forces' performance during 2021, calling their work "wonderful".
He said that under Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, 60,000 intelligence-based operations were carried out which helped to dismantle terrorist networks.
"In 2021, intelligence agencies issued 890 threat alerts, on the basis of which 70pc incidents were averted," he said. "The masterminds and their facilitators were unmasked."
"In tribal areas, more than 70,000 mines ... were recovered and lives were saved. Many officials were injured and martyred during the process."
"In 2021, 248 troops were martyred. We salute them and their families. [Their sacrifices] helped establish peace."
"Under the National Action Plan (NAP), action was taken against terrorists. We can tackle extremism by focusing on the NAP. The ulema and media have also played their part. In Pakistan, no group or person can be allowed to take the law in their hand. Only the state can exercise this power."
He said that attempts to sabotage the CPEC (China–Pakistan Economic Corridor) had also failed, adding that the army was providing security to all development projects.
Looking ahead, the army official said: "2022 also marks 75 years of our independence. We have faced many challenges and we have to play our part in making the country prosperous."
National Security Policy
Talking about the country's first-ever National Security Policy, that was approved last month, Maj Gen Iftikhar refrained from commenting on the drafting of the implementation framework.
However, he did say that "institutional input" was given for the policy, adding that the next step was the mechanism and implementation framework.
"It will not happen in one day, it will take time. But the good thing is that [the policy] has been approved and national priorities have been highlighted."