ISLAMABAD: The spokesperson for Pakistan Army on Thursday put an end to the debate as to whether the National Security Committee (NSC) in its recent meeting had exchanged views on the “foreign conspiracy” to topple former prime minister Imran Khan’s government, saying whatever was discussed in the meeting was released through the official statement and term “conspiracy” was not mentioned in it.
Speaking at a news conference, Director-General, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar also clarified that the United States has never asked Pakistan to provide bases for its continued operations in Afghanistan.
The DG ISPR’s remarks on both the issues come in response to media queries when journalists asked for his comments on former Prime Minister Khan’s repeated claims of a US-backed foreign conspiracy to be behind his ouster through a no-confidence motion of the joint opposition.
To a question whether the US has demanded Pakistan for providing bases, Major General Iftikhar said that the former prime minister was asked about giving bases to the US during an interview. “If a demand like that would have been made, the army would have had the same stance as the prime minister (to say absolutely not). But the reality is that they never asked for bases,” he stated.
“As far as military’s response about the NSC meeting is concerned, 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,” he added.
However, he stated that it is up to the government to decide whether to declassify the minutes of the NSC meeting or not.
He stated that the cipher from the Pakistan ambassador to the US was also received by the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and it briefed the NSC based on that cable.
To another query, he explained that demarches to the foreign diplomats are made, not just on “conspiracies”, but for many reasons. “In this case it was given for the use of un-diplomatic language and is equal to interference,” he stated, adding that the SOPs of such a cable was that these ciphers were in the domain of the Foreign Office.
“These are the top secret documents and there is some circulation depending on which institution they are related to. When institutions get such cables, the Foreign Office begins work on it if there is something on national security in them,” he further explained.
The military spokesperson also clarified that Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa is not seeking an extension and will neither accept one, adding that the army chief will complete his tenure in November this year.
“Let me put this to rest. The Chief of Army Staff is neither seeking an extension nor will he accept it. No matter what, he will be retiring on the November 29, 2022,” he added.
The DG ISPR once again made it clear that the army has no role in politics. He said that the former prime minister had approached the army chief to help find a solution to the political crisis.
“It’s unfortunate that our political leadership was not ready to talk. So, the army chief and DG ISI went to the PM Office and three scenarios were discussed,” he said, adding that one was that the no-confidence motion should be held as it was; the other was that the prime minister resigns or the no-confidence motion was retracted and the assemblies were dissolved. “No option from the establishment was given,” he further clarified.
He also rubbished rumours circulating on social media about the establishment meeting opposition parties, saying: “there is no truth to this”.
“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 God sake, there is nothing like this,” he further stated in response to a question with regard to the alleged events on the night of April 9 at the PM House as was misreported by a foreign media outlet. “Whatever political process has run, army had no role or interference at any stage,” he added.
He 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 would say that 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 added.
In response to another question, the DG ISPR also stated that the term “neutral” does not properly describe the army’s stance. “The word apolitical is better. In our constitutional and legal setup, no kind of political affiliation or interference should exist,” he added.
He said that there had always been demands that army should not have a role in politics and today, it is being given a real form.
He 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.
He also referred to the meeting in Gilgit-Baltistan in the past, he added that all the political leaders were present in the meeting and the army chief had reiterated that the army wanted to stay away from the politics. “We don’t have anything to do with politics. I think this is [a] very good decision and it will remain so,” he stated.
In response to another query about the opening of the higher judiciary on Sunday, the day the National Assembly was about to vote on the no-confidence motion, he said that the judiciary in the country is free and independent. “If something has happened it was their decision,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s existence relies on democracy and it is everyone’s duty to strengthen it.
When asked about any possibility of martial law in future, he replied with “absolutely not”.
“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,” he stated.
About former premier Imran Khan’s visit to Russia, he confirmed that the army was onboard on it and was taken into confidence on the Russia’s trip. “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,” he added.
When his comments were sought on PTI chairman Imran Khan’s remarks about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets following the joint opposition coming into power, he cautioned everyone to be careful when making any comment on the nuclear assets of the country.
“They (the nuclear assets) aren’t associated to any one political leadership… Pakistan has one of the best systems and there was no such threat to them,” he emphasized.
About the current political situation, he said that the army could not 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 responded to a query.
When asked about the absence of the army chief during the oath-taking ceremony of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, he said that the COAS did not attend the ceremony because he was ill.
To another query, he said that rallies are part of democracy and the 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,” he stated, adding that people take to the streets and express their 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. He said that political stability drives everything and 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 spread negativity and thus, are externally blown up…consequently, a notion is created that Pakistan’s youth was not as well-informed,” he added.
He also underscored the need for taking strong steps to shield the society from the effects of “fake news”. “Whose job is it to ask?” he posed a question, adding that army chief is the head of institution that is subservient to government. “If army head is being criticized, then it’s the government’s job to take action,” he added.
He further stated that there should be laws to check the surge of the “fake news”, adding that all stakeholders should sit and try to correct this; otherwise, there is no limit.
About the security challenges, he said that new war announced by the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was stopped in tracks. He said that there is no such thing as talks with the banned militant group.
To another question, he pointed out that what the army chief had stated during the recently held Islamabad Security Dialogue about the Russia-Ukraine crisis and Pakistan’s relations with the US, was all in line with Pakistan’s stated foreign policy.
“All things he [the COAS] 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, sometimes to balance things out,” he added.
When asked about the future of the National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf, he praised Moeed Yusuf for his work with regard to the formulation of the national security policy.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022