DG ISPR Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif says army focused on rooting out terrorism, respects all political parties
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif on Tuesday said the military was focused on rooting out terrorism, clarifying that as a “national” institution it had respect for all the politicians and political parties.
He expressed these views in a press conference on national security and terrorism — the first such briefing by Maj-Gen Sharif since his appointment as head of the military’s media affairs wing.
At the outset of his press conference, Maj-Gen Sharif said his briefing would focus on anti-terror operations conducted by the army.
“We will shed light on matters pertaining to security and terrorism in the ongoing year,” he said as he gave details of the situation on Pakistan’s eastern border with India and the Line of Control (LoC) — a de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
“The situation at the LoC has remained relatively peaceful after the restoration of the 2003 ceasefire agreement,” he said, but at the same time criticised India for its “fake propaganda”.
New Delhi’s “fake propaganda on infiltration and technical air violations show India’s special political agenda,” he said.
On the other hand, Maj-Gen Sharif said, Pakistan had allowed the United Nation’s observers complete access to the LoC. “But India has not done so. They have not given them (UN observers) access or liberty of action.”
The DG ISPR said Pakistan had organised 16 trips to the LoC in the past few days, including the participation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s secretary general and international media.
“But no such visit was organised by India, which shows that it wishes to hide the reality of the situation in [occupied] Kashmir,” he added.
Maj-Gen Sharif said India had violated the LoC ceasefire 56 times in the ongoing year, which included three violations of airspace, 22 incidents of speculative firing, six ceasefire violations and 25 technical airspace violations.
Meanwhile, he added, the Pakistan Army had struck down six spy quadcopters, asserting that the “Pakistan Army is prepared to [deal with] any such attempts by India”.
In the meantime, on the country’s western frontiers in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, terrorists had been trying to destroy peace, Maj-Gen Sharif said, adding that security forces, police and other law enforcement agencies remained engaged in foiling their attempts.
He assured that armed forces were focused on ensuring border security in Pakistan. “In this regard, Pakistan’s forces, law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies have taken appreciable measures, tracked down terrorist networks and we continue to do so.”
The DG ISPR said external linkages of the banned outfit Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Baloch militant groups were also proven in terrorism incidents.
Sharing further details, he said 436 terrorist attacks had taken place in the country during the ongoing year, during which 293 people were martyred and 521 injured.
In KP, he said, 192 people were martyred and 330 injured while 80 were martyred and 170 injured in Balochistan.
Meanwhile, 14 were martyred and three injured in Punjab, he added. Similarly in Sindh, seven people were martyred and 18 injured.
The DG ISPR said security forces had conducted 8,269 intelligence-based operations in the going year. In these operations, he said, 1,525 terrorists were arrested or killed.
Of these operations, he said, 3,531 were conducted in KP in which 159 terrorists were killed or arrested, 119 were conducted in Punjab and 519 were conducted in Sindh.
“To rid the country of terrorism, more than 70 operations are conducted daily,” he added.
“It is very important to note that due to the sacrifices of the public and army, there are no no-go areas in Pakistan today,” the DG ISPR said, adding that some terrorists remained active in some areas of the country, but “they are being hunted down every day”.
“Illegal weapons and ammunition have been obtained from them (terrorists) … and facilitators and planners involved in terror incidents have also been arrested and exposed,” he said.
Maj-Gen Sharif said the attacks on a mosque in Peshawar Police Lines in January and on the Karachi Police Office (KPO) in February were reflective of the “nefarious intentions of terrorists” and showed that “they have nothing to do with the state or Islam”.
He said the banned outfit Jamaatul Ahrar carried out the attack in Peshawar Police Lines on the orders of TTP and the suicide bomber who carried out the attack was identified as an Afghan citizen, hailing from Kunduz. This suicide bomber, identified as Imtiaz, was arrested from Bajaur, he added.
The DG ISPR said other terrorists, who were trained by Jamaatul Ahrar and TTP’s Maulvi Abdul Baseer alias Aizam Safi in Afghanistan, were also arrested.
He further said the attack was cancelled twice because of low turnout at the mosque before it was finally executed the third time.
With regards to the attack on KPO, Maj-Gen Sharif said the three terrorists who carried out the attack had been killed in retaliatory action by security forces. “And three masterminds behind this attack were also arrested.”
“Arms and ammunition were seized from the custody of these terrorists,” he said, adding that they had reached Karachi via Hub. The reconnaissance of the KPO was carried out for eight months before the attack, he added.
The DG ISPR said overall 137 security personnel were martyred and 117 injured in anti-terror operations in the ongoing year.
“The entire nation salutes them for sacrificing their lives for the country. And this [also] shows that no one should have any doubt on the Pakistan army, intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies commitment, resolve and ability to end the scourge of terrorism.”
He also announced the arrest of banned Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) head Gulzar Imam, adding that the Pakistan Army’s successes in the fight against terrorism, despite internal and external challenges, were not hidden from anyone.
“If Pakistan is compared to other countries, the way Pakistan fought and continues to fight terrorism has been acknowledged by the world and is unprecedented.
“Our successful war against terrorism will continue until the last terrorist is eliminated,” he vowed.
Maj-Gen Sharif also said that tasks undertaken as part of the western border regimen were near completion. “Fencing along the 2,611 border fencing along the Pak-Afghan frontier is 98 per cent complete,” he added.
Similarly, he added, 85pc fencing was complete along the Pak-Iran border while 85pc construction of forts along the Pak-Afghan border and 33pc along the Pak-Iran border had also been completed.
The DG ISPR also touched upon socioeconomic uplift during the briefing and termed the Reko Diq mining project in Balochistan an “important milestone” for the province’s development.
He recalled that Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir (COAS) recently visited Gwadar, where he ordered the reallocation of a part of the army’s budget for development projects in the area.
“Complete security is being provided for these schemes for their timely completion,” he added.
‘Army respects all politicians, parties’
Questioned about former army chief Gen (R) Qamar Javed Bajwa’s alleged continued influence on the military, the DG ISPR said everyone had their right to analysis but as far as incumbent army chief Gen Asim Munir was concerned, the “centre of real power” was the nation.
“As far as politics is concerned, Pakistan’s army is a national army and all politicians and political parties are respectable to us. You wouldn’t want this and neither would we that the army leans towards a specific political ideology or vision or party.”
The DG ISPR said it was important to understand the rationale behind the above stance.
“If any country’s army is used to favour a specific political ideology or religion or vision then it has only led to chaos — this is a reality,” he added.
The head of the military’s media wing said the army had a “constitutional and non-political” relationship with the government of the time and would always have so, adding that it was inappropriate to paint that relationship with political colour.
‘Ready for befitting response to India’
Coming back to India, Maj-Gen Sharif said New Delhi’s “aggressive designs and baseless accusations and claims” would not change history or occupied Kashmir’s internationally recognised status.
Referring to the army chief’s visit to the LoC earlier this month, the DG ISPR said the COAS had sent a message in “clear words” that the army was capable of defending every inch of the country’s territory.
“If need be, we can take this battle into the enemy’s territory. I also feel it important to say that if India thinks of any misadventure due to any miscalculation or misunderstanding, then let there be no doubt that the army would give a befitting response with national support.”
Responding to a question about a possible false flag operation by India, the DG ISPR said it was “unfortunate” that Pakistan’s internal situation carried importance in India’s domestic politics. He explained that the reason behind it was to divert attention from India’s own issues.
“False flag operations and doing false propaganda against Pakistan and influencing social media inside Pakistan with its facilitators has been India’s tactic and it will keep doing this,” the DG ISPR said.
Criticism of institutions on social media
Regarding criticism of institutions on social media and the lack of government response, the DG ISPR said the Constitution afforded freedom of expression to every citizen but also subjected it to certain laws.
“We think the talks on social media against the army, institutions and their officeholders are not only irresponsible and unwise but unconstitutional.”
He added the military realised that some people might engage in this criticism in a personal capacity but “for some of them, there are personal and political reasons and in some cases, the agenda of hostile foreign agencies is being advanced.”
DG Sharif said the army’s laws and training did not permit it to respond to every baseless accusation or analysis, adding that the people would also not want the military to fall into fruitless debates and would prefer that it did not divert focus from operational matters.
“We give importance to constructive criticism, but we find it important to say that like any other army, the Pakistan Army can’t be pressured by falsehood and force,” he said.
Asked about criticism from organisations comprising military veterans and the arrest of Lt-Gen (R) Amjad Shoaib, the DG ISPR said veterans were an important asset of the armed forces and their services were acknowledged.
He said veteran organisations were supposed to look after the welfare issues of retired military personnel and were not political or commercial organisations. “Being a veteran does not mean you are immune from the law. Organisations comprising veterans similarly should not wear a political garb.”
The DG ISPR was also questioned about the handing over of 45,267 acres of land in three districts of Punjab to the military, which was halted by the Lahore High Court, to which he said food security was a challenge for Pakistan.
He added that militaries in other countries were also used by their government to bring improvements in agriculture. “The provincial and federal governments will decide what role the army can play to bring improvement in agriculture, increase production and make the land more cultivable,” DG Sharif added.