Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar said on Thursday that the word "conspiracy" was not used in the statement issued after a meeting of the National Security Committee last month.
He was answering a question by a journalist after a press conference on the recently held formation commanders conference at the General Headquarters. The journalist had asked the army leadership's stance on Imran Khan's claim of a foreign conspiracy to oust him and whether the NSC had endorsed such a claim.
Key points from DG ISPR's briefing:
- The words used [in NSC statement] are clear. Is there any word such as conspiracy used in it? I think not
- COAS is neither seeking an extension nor will he accept it
- There was institutional input that he (Imran Khan) should go to Russia
- 3 scenarios were discussed [with Imran during political crisis]. No option from establishment was given
- Army would have had the same stance [as Imran] but the reality is that they (the US) never asked for military bases
- A malicious propaganda is being run against army and its leaders using deep fake technology
"As far as military response about the NSC meeting is considered, that stance, in that meeting was fully given, and then a statement was issued ... which clearly says what was concluded in that meeting.
"The words used are in front of you ... as I said ... the words used are clear. Is there any word such as conspiracy used in it? I think not."
General Iftikhar said the minutes of the NSC meeting can be declassified if the government decides.
He added that the cipher from the Pakistan ambassador to the US was also received by the ISI and it briefed the NSC based on that cable.
The DG ISPR explained that issuance of demarches are not specific to hatching of conspiracies but can also be given for other reasons. "In this case, it was given for undiplomatic language and is equal to interference."
The SOPs of such a cable, he continued, was that these ciphers were in the domain of the Foreign Office. "These are top secret documents and there is some circulation depending on which institution they're related to. When institutions get such cables, the FO begins work if there is something on national security in them."
'Army has no role in politics'
Meanwhile, in response to a question regarding the army's role in politics, the DG ISPR revealed that the former prime minister had approached the army chief to help find a solution to the political crisis.
"It is unfortunate that our political leadership was not ready to talk. So the army chief and DG ISI went to the PMO and three scenarios were discussed," he said, recalling that one was that the no-confidence motion should be held as it was. The other were that the prime minister resigns or the no-confidence motion was retracted and the assemblies were dissolved.
"No option from the establishment was given," Gen Iftikhar clarified.
The DG ISPR rubbished rumours circulating on social media about the establishment meeting opposition parties. "There is no truth to this," he asserted.
"I heard these things ... investigative journalism has progressed a lot. If someone has evidence, bring it forward. There were no such contacts, no deal... For Gods' sake, there is nothing like this," he said, further refuting BBC's story on the army chief meeting Imran Khan on the night of April 9.
"I said it that day, too, that whatever political process has run, army had no role or interference at any stage."
The DG ISPR reaffirmed that the "establishment or army had the best of relations with the government" and assured that there was no disagreement between the two institutions.
"In fact I'd say that the COAS has very good personal relations with Imran Khan and of mutual respect. It will stay the same. Parties and governments change but army meets all of them. There are no issues or problems," he reiterated.
Gen Iftikhar also pointed out that there were rumours about the army chief's extension. "Let me put this to rest. COAS is neither seeking extension nor will he accept it. He will be retiring on time on November 22.
"This is character assassination without evidence," he added.
Gen Iftikhar continued that the word neutral doesn't properly describe the army's stance. He said this in answer to a question. "[The word] apolitical is better. In our constitutional and legal setup, no kind of political affiliation or interference should exist."
He said that there had always been demands that army shouldn't have a role in politics. "Today, it is being given a real form."
The DG ISPR recalled that when the COAS last appeared in the security committee's meeting, he told all the political leaders that the army wanted to keep itself away from politics.
"In another meeting in GB, when all the political leaders were present, the army chief had reiterated that we [army] wanted to stay away from politics. We don't have anything to do with politics... I think this is very good decision and it will remain so," he added.
Gen Iftikhar also clarified that the judiciary was free when a question regarding courts opening Sunday night was asked.
"If something has happened it was their decision... Pakistan's sustenance relies on democracy and to strengthen it is everyone's duty."
The DG ISPR said "absolutely not" to possibility of a martial law being imposed. "So our external challenges are so much that if our army could tackle those alone it would be a success. It is not fair to blame an institution which is always working for Pakistan's security."
'US never asked for bases'
When a journalist asked him about army bases, the DG ISPR said the ex-prime minister was asked about giving bases to US in an interview. "If a demand like that would have been made, the army would have had the same stance as the prime minister.
"But the reality is that they never asked for bases," he revealed, reiterating that had they asked, the army would have had the same stance as the PM.
Meanwhile, commenting on the former premier's visit to Russia, Gen Iftikhar confirmed that the army was onboard on it and was taken into confidence. "There was institutional input that he should go. It was in no one's wildest dreams that they [Russia] would announce war when the prime minister was there, which was obviously very embarrassing."
The DG ISPR, while answering a question on Imran Khan's comments about Pakistan's nuclear assets being unsafe under the Sharifs' leadership, cautioned everyone to be careful when talking on the subject.
"They (the nuclear assets) aren't associated to any one political leadership," he said, adding Pakistan had one of the best systems and there was no such threat to them.
New government and stability
Talking about the current political situation in the country, Gen Iftikhar said that the army couldn't afford to decide which government to have smooth relations with and which to not. "This is not a choice, governments are elected, it is their job to tell us what to do."
He also clarified that the COAS didn't attend Shehbaz Sharif's oath-taking ceremony because he was ill.
The DG ISPR said that rallies were a part of democracy. "Army has provided an enabling environment to the people by risking its lives. This free atmosphere where anyone says what they want ... good or bad ... we have worked hard and sacrificed a lot for this.
"People come out on roads and express thoughts. There is nothing wrong with it," he said, assuring that some stability was returning to the country but it would take time to keep it sustainable.
"Political stability drives everything. National security rests on it."
Raising concerns on the "malicious propaganda" being run against the army on social media, the DG ISPR said that in the digital domain, everything was being amplified through external linkages and fake technology.
"When we talk about propaganda, it can't create issues as much as it amplifies them. Whatever political thoughts people have, they pitch them against each other which spreads negativity and thus are externally blown up," he said, adding that consequently a notion is created that Pakistan's youth wasn't as well-informed.
Gen Iftikhar stressed the need to take strong measures to insulate the society from the effects of fake news. "Whose job is it to ask? Army chief is the head of an institution that is subservient to the government. If army head is being criticised, then it's the government's job [to take action]."
He added that there had been a surge in fake news given tech advancements. "There should be laws for this. I think all stakeholders should sit and try to correct this otherwise there's no limit," the DG ISPR added.
Moving onto other security challenges, Gen Iftikhar said that the "new war" announced by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was "stopped in tracks" and said there was no such things as "talks" with the banned group.
Meanwhile, talking about the foreign policy, he praised former national security advisor Moeed Yusuf for his work.
He also recalled that the army chief was criticised for indulging into the foreign policy domain when he gave a statement on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
"All things he said weren't against Pakistan's stated foreign policy. He was not getting out of that paradigm. When talks are held on strategic level, political leadership talks on its behalf and military leadership too, some times to balance things out," the DG ISPR added.