“Your time is up”: Pakistan Army going to take action against PTM

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  • Asif Ghafoor fields 5 questions to answer
  • Accuses PTM of taking funds from Kabul, Delhi
  • Blames political party (PPP) for supporting PTM
  • Wants list from PTM to resolve issue of missing persons
  • Asks India not to test Pak resolve on Kashmir issue
  • Says Pakistan feels pain for plight of Indian Muslims
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Nation special report

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Armyhas signalled taking legal action against the leadership of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), stating that “those who are playing in others’ hands, their time is up”.

Addressing the “India-Afghanistan intelligence agencies focussed” news conference at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Monday, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor accused the PTM of getting funds from Afghanistan’s secret agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

“Those who playing in others hands, their time is up,” said Ghafoor, adding that possible action against the PTM would not harm anyone. The instructions of the army chief will be strictly followed. Every step will be taken according to the law,” the chief military spokesperson explained.

Answering a volley of questions on the PTM issue, Ghafoor did not elaborate on the action to be taken against its leadership. However, he made it clear that no one wanted any unrest at a time when the country had achieved relative peace after years of anti-terror campaign.

This was the first time the military spoke about dealing with the PTM. Previously, while the army did express reservations over the PTM’s protests and their activities, it never expressed inclination towards taking any action.

Unlike earlier news briefing, this time the ISPR director general spoke more openly about the alleged role being played by NDS and RAW in the ongoing protest movement of the PTM and other activities.

He challenged the PTM leadership to disclose that from where they were getting the funds for their so-called movement. “On the PTM website, they have got a number that states the amount of funds they have collected from Pashtuns around the world. But they have much more funds than actually shown. We have the details,” the ISPR director general said.

He then asked specific questions of the PTM leadership, “Tell us how much money did you get from NDS on March 22, 2018 for a protest, how much funds RAW has provided you for the Islamabad sit-in, on April 8, 2018, who was the relative of Manzoor Pashteen that went to the Indian consulate in Kandahar and had meeting there, on May 8, how much funds the Indian consulate in Jalalabad has provided you for the protest at Torkham?

“What connection Haji Amir Khan Safi in Kabul and Naseer Zadran in Dubai have with you, how they support you?”

He said he was the first one to engage with the PTM on the instructions of army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. According to the ISPR director general, the army chief had instructed him to adopt a reconciliatory approach towards the PTM even if they made any harsh comment.

Initially, the PTM had put forward three demands — de-mining of tribal districts, reduction of check posts and recovery of missing persons, Ghafoor said, adding that security forces immediately acted on those demands and the PTM leadership had follow-up meetings with local military commanders.

The army had formed 48 teams to clear landmines and other unexploded ordnances. So far 45% of the area had been cleared of such landmines, he said adding; “As many as 101 security personnel were martyred during the clearing operation”.

He said the PTM had enjoyed the liberty they wanted to. He questioned that how much time the PTM leadership actually spent in tribal districts. “The problems are genuine, but those problems are being faced by the locals,” he added.

He also pointed out that people were asking questions that when action was taken against the Tehreek-e-Labbaik, then why not the PTM.

He said some elements were trying to mislead the people to provoke them against Pakistan and its institutions. He assured the people that the armed forces were working tirelessly to solve their problems. The armed forces would not rest until their issues were resolved, he said, hoping they would not pay heed to “rhetoric and instead will stop these anti-state forces”.

“We want to do everything for the people [of tribal areas], but those who are playing in the hands of people, their time is up. Their time is up,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said, referring to the PTM. But the instructions of the army chief will be fully followed. People will not face any sort of problem and neither will any unlawful path be adopted,” he said, suggesting possible action against the PTM.

“Everything will be done lawfully. You have enjoyed all the liberty that you wanted to,” he said, addressing the PTM leadership.

PTM is a rights-based alliance that, besides calling for the de-mining of the former tribal areas and greater freedom of movement in the latter, has insisted on an end to the practices of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions, and for their practitioners to be held to account within a truth and reconciliation framework.

The ISPR chief individually responded to the demands made by the PTM at its rallies and meetings.

“When we took action against the TLP (Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan), people said that why is action not taken against PTM as they speak up too much as well.

“The first person to engage with them [PTM] was me. I was told to engage with them by the army chief and I was given one order by the army chief: ‘Do not use a harsh hand with them.’

“I met with [PTM leader] Mohsin Dawar, and they had three demands: They said that mines and unexploded bombs still exist [in tribal areas] […] Their demand was genuine, we created 48 teams and 45 per cent of these areas were cleared. [As many as] 101 casualties of the Pakistan Army also occurred in those areas while clearing them of those mines. We let those casualties happen as they happened in the line of duty.

“Their [PTM’s] next demand was about clearing away checkposts. Pak Army has lost thousands of soldiers at these checkposts.

“[The issue of] missing persons were their third demand [and] they created a list of those missing persons. The list has shortened to 2,500 cases today and the [missing persons] commission is working day and night to resolve those cases.

“These demands were not even their [PTM’s] demands, the demands are of the people that live there.

“On the PTM website, they have got a number that states the amount of funds they have collected from Pashtuns around the world. But tell us how much money did you get from the NDS (Afghan National Directorate of Security) to run your campaign? How much money did RAW (India’s Research and Analysis Wing) give you for the first dharna in Islamabad?

“[Superintendent of Police] Tahir Dawar is killed in Afghanistan, in what capacity did PTM talk to the Afghan government, and say that the [Pakistani] government should not be handed the body and the body should only be given to the Dawar tribe?

“Why did NDS give you funds for Arman Loni’s funeral and the dharna that followed? If you have these funds, why do you not use these funds for the development?

“When Arman Loni died, funeral prayers were offered for him in Afghanistan. But how is it that when 10 policemen lost their lives trying to protect 800 students giving police entry exams [in Balochistan], you did not go to the namaz-i-janaza for those 10 men. And no namaz-i-janaza was held for those 10 men in Afghanistan.

“When Loni died, the Afghan prime minister gave a statement in his favour and you [PTM] endorsed it.

“Those people who are playing with the people whose issues they have brought forward, I would like to tell them that their time is up. Their time is up. I would like to ask the PTM to provide me another list — besides the one of the missing persons — of all the strength of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that exists in Afghanistan, so that I could tally the two to see if any of the missing persons are actually sitting there [in Afghanistan].

He then delivered a message in Pashto to the Pashto-speaking people, urging them to not be provoked by the “anti-state forces”.

Translation message to Pakhtun people

“My respected Pakhtun brothers, sisters, mothers, elders and youth. First, I pay my salutations to you.

As a representative of the Pakistan armed forces, I want to tell you that the Pakistan armed forces belong to you, just like Pakistan belongs to us all. We will all — including Pakhtun population — prosper if Pakistan is prosperous and thriving. And if God forbid, some evil befalls Pakistan, it will be a loss for the entire country.

You know that some people — misled by others — want to provoke you against Pakistan and its institutions. I want to say that the state acknowledges your sacrifices and it is working ceaselessly to solve your problems.

Pakistan armed forces will not rest until your issues are resolved. We hope that you will not pay any heed to their rhetoric and instead will stop these anti-state forces and play your role in strengthening Pakistan.”

Pakistan-India tensions

Referring the affairs with India, the military spokesman said that Indian Muslims are suffering from Islmophobia and Pakistan feels pain for them. “There is election atmosphere in India and many things are being said on related issue”, he added.

He asked India not to test the nation’s resolve — two months after a terrorist attack in occupied Kashmir brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of war. “India must not test Pakistan’s resolve. It is not 1971 anymore,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said.

Referring to the Indian narrative, the ISPR chief said India has been lying for the past two months while Pakistan, on the other hand, was exhibiting responsibility despite their lies.

Maj Gen Ghafoor reiterated that none of Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) F-16 fighter jets were missing, the fact which was also proven right by a report in an American news publication. “In your [Indian] rhetoric, you keep using nuclear power as a threat. Nuclear weapons are not a threat; they are a weapon of deterrence that should not be mentioned lightly.”

The military spokesperson also said that the armed forces have to provide security to improve the business environment. “For that we need to resolve all our disputes, and Kashmir tops the list. Now India should decide whether it wants a repeat of February 27 or whether it wants to work to eliminate poverty.”

At the start of the presser, Maj Gen Ghafoor said India had accused Pakistan of being behind the Pulwama attack in ‘occupied’ Kashmir, but that Pakistan had denied the same. “We told them we were not involved. India then violated our airspace, we then gave the ultimatum that we will respond when we see fit, just like the PM said.

“Two months have passed since and India has told countless lies on the matter. We have not responded to the lies, not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to retaliate. International media came to Pakistan, we told them that they should go to the place and see for themselves what had happened.

“India had said that 300 people had died in their attack [in Balakot]. Then they said that they had used a small-scale missile that bore a tiny hole in the ceiling of the building and then exploded inside. We again offered to show your own [Indian] media the site.”

“We downed two Indian planes in the process, the whole world saw their debris and you [India] still claimed that one of the two planes was ours and one of our own pilots died, as we had initially said that two Indian pilots had been captured, and then said that there was only one. You [India] said that we have changed our statement because one pilot was our own.

“We got initial information through the proper channel, then on the ground, I personally found out that only one person had been captured and I sent out the correction myself. How is it that you are ready to accept one of our statement, not the other?”

“We have not retaliated because we want peace […] we asked you [India] to ask America about our F-16s’ strength. In this day and age, hiding the downing of a plane is impossible. In this time, even if a motorcycle crashes the world finds out.

“We have not talked much about it because we want to find the appropriate time to honour our pilots whose skills had been used to down the Indian planes.

“India says that Pakistan’s attitude needs to change. We say that you have not been able to change our attitude, but maybe you need to look inwards and look at the way you have approached the relationship between the two countries.

“In your [Indian] rhetoric, you keep using nuclear power as a threat. Nuclear powers are not a threat, they are a weapon of deterrence that should not be mentioned lightly.”

“Do not test our resolve,” he said while addressing India, stressing that the Pakistan Army will fully defend its 207 million people if and when required.

The chief of the military’s media wing appreciated the role played by the Pakistani media during the war against terror in the past two years, and during the three-day conflict with India in February. “The media could not have played a better role in the situation and I would like to thank you for it,” he told the journalists present.

He said if today’s Pakistani media was present during the 1971 Pakistan-India war, it would have “unmasked your [India’s] conspiracies, reported on the excesses committed domestically and therefore East Pakistan would not have separated from [West Pakistan]”.

Proscribed organisations

Asif Ghafoor also shed light on the prevailing security situation in the country. “Pakistan has a regional importance. We are neighbours with Afghanistan, which has been plagued with war for the last 40 years, first with the Soviet occupation and then with the US army after 9/11.

“Cooperation with Afghanistan has been going throughout this time. This can be seen through the fact that at least 81,000 Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives in these operations to date.

“I can now say with confidence that there is no terrorist organisation in Pakistan anymore. We have proscribed violent extremist organisations and we have been working to curb terrorism in Pakistan.

“The state was busy conducting kinetic operations and every law enforcement agency was busy in that, which is why we were not able to strategise against these [banned] organisations the way we are doing today.

“In 2014, when the National Action Plan was formulated, all political parties had agreed on point number 3, which said that this aspect of bringing these elements into the mainstream will be taken care of now that our kinetic operations are working.

“Earlier, when the army chief spoke on occasion of Youm-i-Shuhada, he said that the monopoly of violence should rest with the state alone.

“On January 1, a strategy was made on how to bring these people or organisations into the mainstream but no funds were allocated towards this. In February, when the scheme was announced, a fund was also allocated towards it by the government for the first time.

“It was then decided that madressahs and hospitals, which are non-violent and being run under these organisations will be brought under the government’s banner.”

Seminary reforms

The spokesperson stated in categorical terms that the government would not allow any proscribed organisation to operate from its soil. He said the decision was taken much before the recent military standoff with India, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issues and even before the start of negotiations with the IMF.

Turning towards the issue of madrassa reforms, he said for many years seminaries were working under the Ministry of Industries, which did not make any sense.

Now, the government has decided to place them under the Ministry of Education, he added.

Giving a background of seminaries in Pakistan, he said at the time of Partition, Pakistan had only 247 madrassas. That number went up close to 3,000 in 1980, which had now swelled to 30,000. However, he said out of the 30,000, only 100 or so seminaries were involved in promoting militancy.

 “If these (faulty)100 were shut, what will happen to the millions of children who go to these madressahs. Today, madressahs offer eight years of studies in a Dars-i-Nizami. Then two more years to give them the title of Mufti. But when these children come out of these madressahs, what job opportunities await them?

“Some of these madressahs do offer some contemporary education and thus very few of these children qualify for some basic level jobs, like procuring a commission in the army. But 32.5m children do not have these opportunities. That is why we are trying to mainstream madressahs so that children studying there have the opportunity to become doctors and engineers just like the children studying in mainstream schools.

“This means that teachers will have to be employed in these madressahs. [And] this means funding, which was lacking in the past, but now that we are at the end of the war against terror, we will be able to reroute the funds towards this process and initially Rs2 billion will be required to run this programme and then Rs1 billion will be required each year for the programme’s upkeep. We will provide these funds so that these madressahs are mainstreamed and all of our children have equal opportunities.

“The seminaries were earlier functioning under Ministry of Industries. Now the government has brought them under the Ministry of Education. Since there has been a security issue over the past few years, the army chief also engaged with scholars of all sects and talked to the prime minister as well. All the scholars agree that madressahs should be mainstreamed.

“The prime minister has formed a committee with the coordination of interior and education ministries to come up with a syllabus. In the curriculum, religious education will continue as it is but there will be no hate speech.

“When these kids graduate from seminaries tomorrow, they will have the same opportunities as the children who studied from other schools,” the ISPR chief said.

 “In February, money was allotted to bring the seminaries into the mainstream. To control welfare activities of proscribed organisations, the government has made a system to mainstream their social activities.”

The military spokesperson added that to bring madrassas into the mainstream, they will have to start teaching other subjects so that students have skills other than religious studies. “All madrassas will be brought under the Ministry of Education so that contemporary subjects can be taught. We will formulate a syllabus which will not have hate speech and the students will be taught to respect different sects.

“The students will also receive a degree which will be associated with the education board. The mainstreaming has three phases. The first is to prepare a bill which will be ready in around a month. The second phase requires training of teachers, and the third will be the implementation of the bill,” he added.

Media appreciation

Asif Ghafoor pleased the media persons by appreciating the role of media and advised them to continue this role which is in the interest of the nation. “Had this media been in 1971, East Pakistan would not have been separated”, he emphasised.

Regional countries

Maj Gen Ghafoor while discussing Pakistan’s engagements with regional countries recalled Islamabad’s facilitation of the Afghan peace process, the visits by the army chief and the prime minister to Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the cooperation with China. “Other countries will only understand your narrative when you talk to them,” he said.

“The armed forces are playing their role in establishing a security environment in the country that would speed up business and economic activity, as per the policy laid out by the government. When the economic stakes of other countries are in your country, peace will come.

“CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is not only a north-south link. To establish proper economic activity, it is important that an east-west link is also developed so that Pakistan can gain access to Central Asia. The question is, will India understand this? It is important to sort out issues with India and top of those issues is Kashmir.

“If India is serious about establishing peace in the region it should come to the table and talk to our government. It is up to India if it wants to repeat the February 27

[conflict]

or work to eliminate poverty and hunger,” he stressed.

Border fencing

Providing an update on the fencing of the country’s western frontier, the ISPR director general revealed that fencing over a distance of 1,000km on the borders of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan has been completed and work on the rest is underway.

He said a total of 823 border forts were planned, out of which 300 have been constructed so far. Work on the remaining posts is underway and will be completed soon.

“Fencing has benefitted us a lot, cross-border attacks, firing and IED (improved explosive device) incidents have reduced remarkably. When I talk about a remarkable decrease, I mean that their [militants’] liberty of action is not the same as before and as we continue to work on fencing, the number of these attacks will continue to decline,” he added.