Islamabad – Staff Reporter:
Leaders of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) will be offered tea and snacks and looked after if they decide to stage a long march towards Rawalpindi, the chief of the military’s media wing said on Monday.
Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), was answering a question at a press conference about PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s indication that the opposition could turn the direction of its anti-government movement towards the army leadership.
“I don’t see a reason for [them] coming to Pindi. And if at all they want to come, we will offer them refreshments (chai pani) and look after them. What more can I say?” the DG ISPR said.
Rehman, while talking to the media after a PDM meeting earlier this month, had said the 11-party opposition alliance’s movement would no longer be directed only at the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government but also “his backers”, hinting that its possible long march to the capital “could also be to Rawalpindi”.
The PDM chief had said if the PTI government refused to resign by January 31, the PDM leadership will announce the long march to Islamabad and decide its date. “It will also decide whether the long march should be staged towards Islamabad or to Rawalpindi,” Rehman had added. Rawalpindi is a metonym for the headquarters of the Pakistan Army.
Maj Gen Iftikhar was also asked by a reporter whether any “stern action” would be taken against those propagating an “anti-army narrative” — an apparent reference to some PDM leaders.
The ISPR chief responded: “When it comes to criticism or allegations levelled, the army is doing its job. As to why are we not responding to that, only such allegations are responded to which have some weight or are based on facts.
“We have our hands full and we neither want to get involved in such things nor will we. We have stayed the course [and] we will stay the course. There is nothing to worry about; we are not worried.”
He said the morale of the entire army and that of the families of the martyrs was very high.
While answering another question about the PDM’s allegations against the army, Maj Gen Iftikhar denied the impression that there was “no concern” within the army over the statements, but emphasised that the armed forces’ morale remained high.
“The army is doing its job despite whatever is being said. [But] the concern remains in its place,” he said.
In a reference to PDM’s statements, the DG ISPR said “the type of allegations that are being levelled have no weight”, and cited the allegation about the 2018 elections not being fair.
“The incumbent government asked the Pak Army to conduct elections and the Army conducted them with full responsibility and integrity.
“After that, if anyone has any problem regarding that, then all Pakistani institutions are working and they are the ones who have to decide on that and they should be approached,” he added.
Referring to rising political tensions in the country, Maj Gen Iftikhar said: “This is truly not a good thing […] but all said and done, the army is a subordinate institution of the government.”
He added that “whatever has been said, I think the government has given a very good response and is tackling it. Army neither has the need to interfere in political matters nor should attempts be made to drag it in.”
Asked about Prime Minister Imran’s statement that the opposition was asking the army to overthrow his government, the DG ISPR declined to comment. But he said there was “absolutely no” backdoor contact between the army and the opposition. “There is no such thing. We want to stay out of it and we are out of it,” he added.
‘No organised terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan’
At the beginning of the briefing, Maj Gen Iftikhar said he had convened the press conference to shed light on the country’s security and border situation and to present a comparative analysis of security challenges of the past decade.
“The last 10 years were a challenging time in every aspect for Pakistan,” he said at the start of his presser, adding that in 2020 alone, the coronavirus pandemic and locust attacks put Pakistan’s food security and economy in danger.
On the other hand, he said, proscribed organisations were being facilitated to harm Pakistan on the western border.
“Despite all these challenges, the state, institutions, the armed forces and intelligence agencies and most importantly the Pakistani people unitedly faced these challenges,” Maj Gen Iftikhar said, adding that along with restoring peace in the tribal districts along the western border, socioeconomic projects had been launched.
Concrete steps were taken to solidify the Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders and “as a result of successful operations against terrorism, the security situation improved considerably,” he noted.
“Whether it was India’s designs or hybrid warfare, whether the challenges were internal or external, we not only showed and identified [them] but also combatted them successfully and the world is recognising it too because the truth always prevails.”
Listing some of the measures taken in the security domain, Maj Gen Iftikhar said Operation Raddul Fasad had “consolidated the achievements of the entire decade”.
“Through this operation, the support base, facilitators, abettors, financiers [of terrorism] and weapons were destroyed to a large extent. Thankfully, today in Pakistan there is no organised terrorist infrastructure like in the past,” he added.
Under the operation, he said, 371,000 intelligence-based actions were conducted in the last three years alone. “If we evaluate the manifestation of success, in 2007-08, only 37 per cent of the areas in the tribal areas were under state control. Today, they have all become part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he added.
The ISPR chief said there had been a 35pc reduction in major terrorism incidents in 2020 compared to 2019, while terror incidents which had hit an annual peak of 90 in the year 2013 had now fallen to around 30.
Law-enforcement agencies also averted more than 50pc of the terror threats over the course of the last year, he added.