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DG ISPR Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa.— Photo by Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD, Feb 21: The army emphatically denied on Thursday that it maintained links with the banned terror outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) which has unleashed Shia killing spree in Balochistan and other parts of the country.

“The armed forces were not in contact with any militant organisation, including Lashkar-i-Jhangvi,” ISPR chief Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa said at a specially-arranged media briefing.

Human rights organisations have been accusing the army and its intelligence agencies of maintaining links with Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.

The allegations stem from the army using LJ chief Malik Ishaq for negotiating with the terrorists who had attacked the military headquarters in October 2009. Ishaq’s subsequent release from jail was sceptically seen as a deal. The escape of LJ’s operational commander in Balochistan, Usman Saifullah Kurd, in 2008 from a detention facility in the military Cantonment in Quetta has always raised questions.

“There is no reason to think about army’s involvement with LJ,” Gen Bajwa later told Dawn. He also ruled out any collaboration at the lower levels as well.

“There is no way the army can afford this. If such a thing comes to notice it will be sorted out,” he said and referred to action taken against several soldiers for their association with extremist groups, including Hizbul Tehrir.

Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the Feb 16 attack on Hazara Shias in Quetta in which over 90 people lost their lives.

The militant group is said to be responsible for other attacks on Shias as well.

Despite doubts in the Shia community its leadership’s main demand in the sit-in held after Saturday’s bombing in Hazara Town was handover of Quetta to the army for targeted operations against militants’ hideout.

The federal government reportedly vetoed the demand despite the army’s readiness to take up the task.

Maj-Gen Bajwa told reporters: “Decision of not calling the armed forces in Balochistan was also a political move, although the military leadership was not reluctant to support the civil administration under Article 245 of the Constitution.”

The Shia leadership was at the meeting in Quetta where it was given the impression by the government negotiators that the army was unwilling to take up the role, one of the participants revealed later.

APP adds: The ISPR chief said the army fully backed timely elections in the country. “We fully support free, fair and timely elections. We have been supporting the present political set-up for five years and will not get anything if the elections are delayed,” Maj-Gen Bajwa said.

He said there was a civilian government in Balochistan and the decision to impose governor’s rule there was taken after a consensus. It would also be a political decision if the provincial government was restored, he added.

About the law and order situation in Balochistan, he said the Frontier Corps had set up 19 additional posts in Kalat and Quetta divisions to further beef up security after the Hazara Town bombing. A targeted operation, led by the FC and supported by police and intelligence agencies, continued in the province. Maj-Gen Bajwa claimed that not a single army soldier had been deployed anywhere in Balochistan over the past five years.

In reply to a question, he said the country was in a state of war and there was a need for a united and comprehensive response from all institutions. About the extradition of Taliban’s senior commander Faqir Mohammad, he said: “Our Foreign Office is in contact with the Afghan Foreign Office for the purpose.”

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