ISLAMABAD: Military commanders on Tuesday took notice of the smear campaign against the Army on the social media and endorsed the position taken by the top brass on the political crisis in the country that climaxed with ex-premier Imran Khan’s ouster.

In a statement on the 79th Formation Commanders’ Conference, a semi-annual event at the General Headquarters where the field commanders deliberate on operational and training matters, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said: “The forum expressed complete confidence in leadership’s well considered stance to uphold the constitution and rule of law, at all cost.”

The statement comes in the backdrop of the installation of Shehbaz Sharif as the new prime minister after his predecessor Imran Khan lost no-trust vote in the National Assembly. Mr Khan alleged that the opposition’s successful move to dislodge his government was inspired by a conspiracy hatched by the United States.

While much of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf anger has been targeted against the alleged foreign conspiracy, the military too has faced criticism on social media platforms for neither fully endorsing Mr Khan’s position nor helping him against the opposition’s onslaught.

Formation commanders back stance to uphold Constitution, rule of law

Besides Twitter trends and messages on other platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp, slogans against the Army have been raised at PTI rallies across the country. It has been one of the strongest social media campaigns against the Army in years.

Ahead of PM Shehbaz Sharif’s oath-taking ceremony on Monday, several social media users urged the services chiefs to stay away from the event because he was facing corruption cases. In this situation, Gen Bajwa’s unexplained absence led to a new wave of speculations even though the event was attended by the Chairman, Joints Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the air and naval chiefs.

The ISPR said the Formation Commanders Conference “took note of the recent propaganda campaign by some quarters to malign Pakistan Army and create division between the institution and society.”

Though the campaign has been continuing for weeks, law-enforcement agencies swung into action against PTI activists immediately after Mr Khan was voted out of office. Residence of Dr Arslan Khalid, who served as Mr Khan’s focal personal on digital media, was raided in the wee hours of Sunday. Other PTI activists have also complained of harassment by Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Several PTI activists have been arrested so far. PTI Secretary General Asad Umar said that the party would be filing petitions in high courts on Wednesday for stopping the action against its workers.

The ISPR said participants in the meeting were briefed on professional matters, national security challenges and measures being undertaken to counter traditional and non-traditional threats. It said national security of Pakistan was sacrosanct. “Pakistan Army has always stood by the state institutions to guard it and always will, without any compromise,” the ISPR added.

At the meeting, the army chief expressed satisfaction over operational preparedness of formations and response mechanism to deal with emerging challenges. “Forum paid rich tribute to the supreme sacrifices of officers and men to ensure security of borders and safety of masses,” it said.

Gen Bajwa said the Army was “aware of its responsibilities and shall continue to defend territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan against all internal and external threats under all circumstances.”

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2022

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