• Asks rioters to shun politics of hate, adopt ‘constructive’ behaviour; insists May 9 not limited to army, concerns whole nation
• Seeks judicial probe into 2014 dharna, other past ‘attacks’ on Islamabad
• Says Bisham attack plot hatched in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Those involved in the May 9 violent protests need to regret their acts with sincerity and shun the “politics of anarchy and hate” before any talks could be initiated with them, the military said on Tuesday.

The remarks were made by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general, Maj Gen Ahmed Sharif, during a lengthy press conference in Rawalpindi just two days before the first anniversary of May 9 riots, when military installations came under attack following PTI founder Imran Khan’s arrest. The riots led to a severe state crackdown against Mr Khan and his party.

In the question-and-answer session, Gen Sharif was asked if there was a possibility of any dialogue with PTI to which he replied: “If some political mindset, leader or clique attacks its own army, causes rifts between the army and its people, insults the nation’s martyrs and issues threats and hatches propaganda, then there can be no dialogue with them.

“There is only one way back for such political anarchists that it (PTI) asks for an earnest apology in front of the nation and promises that it will forgo politics of hate and adopt constructive [style of] politics,” he said. “In any case, such dialogue should take place between political parties. It is not appropriate for the army to be involved.”

He insisted that May 9 was not just the Pakistan Army’s case but the entire country’s. “If, in any country, an attack is launched on its army, symbols of its martyrs are insulted, its founder’s house is set on fire, hatred is created between its army and public, and if the people behind it are not brought to justice, then there is a question mark on that country’s justice system.

“We believe that if we have to maintain trust in the justice system of Pakistan, then May 9 perpetrators — both the perpetrators and those commanding them — must be sentenced according to the Constitution and the law.

“Nothing is hidden about May 9. The public, the army and we all have irrefutable evidence. All of us saw this incident unfolding, we all saw how everyone was [brainwashed] against the army, its leadership, agencies and institutions through lies and propaganda.”

The army official said that on May 9, “some political leaders” issued orders to their supporters to selectively target military installations.

“When this became public, another lie and propaganda was created that this was a ‘false flag operation’ and ‘we do not know what happened or who did it’. “For such people, it is said: ‘You can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time,’” he said.

He referred to riots in the UK in August 2011, the attack on US Capitol Hill in 2021 and the Paris riots in June 2023, insisting that judiciary in those countries took its course to punish the culprits as per the law of the land.

Judicial commission

Regarding the PTI’s demand that a judicial commission be created to ascertain the facts of the May 9 riots, the DG ISPR said: “Fine, we are ready, make a judicial commission but if you have to, then go to the root of this entire incident. The judicial commission should also determine the goals of the 2014 dharna and how the parliament was attacked. It should also look into the PTV attack that how people were encouraged to stand against the state, indulge in civil disobedience and burn utility bills.

‘The commission should also investigate “how Islamabad was attacked in 2016 with KP’s federal resources, and then again in 2022”, he said. “It must also see how letters were written to the IMF and lobbying was conducted abroad so that Pakistan would not be given loans and fall into a state of default.”

“If a specific political clique continues doing these things with impunity, then one day it will go against its own army,” he warned. “When it continues to lie, and you don’t speak the truth in front of its lies, then there will be deceit and propaganda of every kind.”

The DG ISPR also rubbished the claims that airbases had been handed over to the United States. “Neither are any bases in Pakistan handed over nor will be,” he declared. He justified the closure of social media in the country and, mainly referring to X (formerly Twitter), said that it was a serious matter and the closure has been made after through deliberations by the regulator as well as the relevant department.

Elections and rigging

Asked about the PTI’s claim of winning the majority in the general elections, DG ISPR said that only 7.5 per cent of people in the country voted for the “specific party”.

“Let’s see the facts — on Feb 8, the turnout was 47pc, and around 65m voters cast their vote,” he said, adding that the “specific party” accumulated 18.5m votes which was 31pc of all votes in total. He said that there were 69pc voters who did not accept the PTI narrative.

“If we look at the total population, it is 7.5pc, so 92-93pc of the population did not stand with that narrative,” he said.

‘Bisham attack hatched in Afghanistan’

The DG ISPR began the press briefing by addressing tensions with Afghanistan and militant attacks mounted from its soil into Pakistan.

He said the plot that killed five Chinese engineers in an attack on a convoy in Bisham tehsil of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Shangla on March 26 was hatched in Afghanistan.

“This suicide bombing also connects to across the border [in Afghanistan]; the planning of this terrorism [act] was done in Afghanistan. Terrorists and their facilitators were also being controlled from Afghanistan and the suicide bomber was also an Afghan [national].”

Gen Sharif also said that despite all the efforts by Pakistan and despite pointing it out to the Afghan interim government on a state level, “TTP terrorists are continuously committing acts of terrorism in Pakistan.”

He said Pakistan presented “concrete evidence but no positive progress” could be seen yet. The army spokesperson said that links to recent terrorism “extend to terror hideouts in Afghanistan”.

The DG ISPR said that so far in 2024 security forces had collectively conducted 13,135 small and major intelligence-based operations against terrorists and their facilitators, during which “249 terrorists were sent to hell while 396 were arrested”.

He said that during the operations in the ongoing year by Pakistani forces, two of its officers and 60 soldiers embraced martyrdom.

The DG ISPR spoke about the drive to repatriate illegal Afghans back to their own country. He said 563,639 illegal Afghan citizens had been returned to their countries so far.

Threats from India

The DG ISPR said Pakistan’s top civil and army leadership was aware of “multiple threats” from India on the eastern border and that planning was underway to “divert attention from its internal violence like always”.

“In the current year, there have been multiple violations of ceasefire by India on a small scale, which include 120 incidents of speculative fire, 15 airspace violations and 59 technical air violations,” he said.

“Indian agencies have also killed Pakistani citizens Shahid Latif and Muhammad Riaz on the directives of the Indian government,” he said, adding that there was credible evidence present of communication between Indian agents and the killings on Pakistani soil.

Palestinian issue

DG Sharif said that Pakistan had emerged as an effective voice on the global stage among several Muslim countries for Gazans, adding that in the meeting with the Palestinian ambassador, the army chief had called for an immediate ceasefire and vowed to continue speaking on the issue. “We will continue speaking up for viable solutions to the Palestinian issue and their land,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2024

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