Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Saturday said the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a "huge tragedy" that must be stopped immediately.
“Sadly the Russian invasion of Ukraine is very unfortunate as thousands of people are being killed and millions are refugees. Half of Ukraine is destroyed. Pakistan has called for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. We support immediate dialogue to find a solution to the crisis,” he said while addressing the Islamabad Security Dialogue 2022.
Many western nations have condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and demanded of Kremlin to stop the assault. The western nations have also threatened Moscow with sanctions and criticised Vladimir Putin’s actions.
The army chief said the conflict gave hope to smaller countries that they could still defend their territory with smaller but agile forces against a bigger country's aggression through the selective modernisation of equipment.
He said Pakistan enjoyed excellent defence and economic relations with Ukraine since its independence, adding that Pakistan had a cold relationship with Russia for a long time due to numerous reasons. “However, there have been some positive developments in this regard.”
COAS Qamar was of the view that despite Russia's legitimate security concerns, its aggression against a smaller country cannot be condoned. He added that Pakistan will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the war-torn country as they did last month through two special aircrafts of the Pakistan Air Force. The flight carried food, medical supplies, bedding, and other items.
Moreover, he stressed that the continuation of conflict would not serve any side and it would have a dire impact on developing countries. “The conflict can easily get out of hand,” he said, “The contention for expansion will not support anyone.”
Gen Qamar added that there were two visible camps internationally – those who advocated contestation and those who advocated cooperation – and the future vision of security would be decided based on which camp prevailed.
“I believe the world today is built by those who believe in cooperation, respect and equality, instead of division, war-mongering and dominance.”
Pakistan’s interests were served only when cooperation instead of contestation between power centres was promoted, COAS Qamar said, urging the international community to support cooperative countries such as Pakistan rather than those who wish to gain from this contest.
Ties with the US, China
Furthermore, the army chief spoke about the country’s “longstanding ties” with the United States and China amid the developing tensions between the two leading economies of the world and Pakistan’s developing ties with them.
“Pakistan was positioning itself as a melting pot for international economic interests by focusing on connectivity and friendship,” he said while expressing concerns over the contestation between the global powers.
“Pakistan does not believe in bloc politics,” he said, adding that the country had close relations with China, as evident by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. “Equally, we have a long relationship with the United States, which is our larger export market,” Gen Qamar said, adding that the country sought to broaden its ties with the United Kingdom, Gulf countries, South East Asia, and Japan as they are also in favour of progress.
He said that Pakistan sought to broaden and expand relations with both China and the US “without impacting our relations with [either]”.
The army chief also spoke about the March 9 incident, when a high-speed flying object was picked up inside the Indian territory by the air defence operations centre of the Pakistan Air Force. India in a delayed response to the incident had termed it the “accidental launching” of a supersonic cruise missile.
“It is a serious concern. Unlike other incidents involving strategic weapons systems, this is the first time in history that a supersonic missile from a nuclear-armed nation has landed in another,” he said, “This is a serious concern over India’s ability to manage and operate high-end weapon systems.”
He further criticised India’s “indifferent attitude” and delayed response to the incident.
The COAS expressed hope that the international community would realise that the incident could have resulted in the loss of life in Pakistan or the accidental shooting down of a passenger plane flying along the path of the cruise missile.
He added that Pakistan has called for a thorough probe of the incident and it expects India to provide pieces of evidence to ensure the world and Pakistan that their weapons were safe.
Gen Qamar further stressed the need for resolving issues – including the Kashmir issue – through dialogue.
“Pakistan continues to believe in using dialogue and diplomacy to resolve all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute and is ready to move forward on this front if India also agrees to do so,” he said.
The army chief had also spoken in a similar tone in last year's meeting of the dialogue.
He added that Pakistan’s reaction to the Indian airspace violation once again demonstrated the country's “maturity.”
Talking about the regional situation, he said that the Indo-China border issue was also a matter of grave concern for Pakistan and the country wanted the issue to be resolved immediately via dialogue and diplomacy
“I believe it is time for the political leadership of the region to rise above their emotional and perceptional biases and break the shackles of history to bring peace and prosperity to almost three billion people of the region.”
“Therefore good or bad, it is important for the international community to keep the Afghan government's nose above the water. The performance of the present government is not satisfactory, to say the least, but we have to be patient and accommodating,” the army chief said.
He was of the view that imposing sanctions has never worked and the international community must incentivise the Afghan government so that they change their behaviour positively. “While Pakistan shares some of the concerns of the international community we believe that disengagement with Afghanistan is not an option.”
COAS Qamar added that Pakistan hosts around four million, registered and unregistered, Afghan refugees, which it would continue to do but would seek “dignified and time-bound support” from the international community for their return to Afghanistan.
“For decades conflict in our immediate west has created negative externalities and spillover effects that have adversely impacted our economy, society and security,” he said, “This is why Pakistan continues to work closely with the international community to pursue peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
The army chief lamented that the lack of finances and continued sanctions were creating a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and even though Pakistan has “worked tirelessly” to provide aid in collaboration with the international community, “much more” was needed.
“While the world is focused on a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, we must ensure that 40 million Afghans who faced terrible conditions are not forgotten,” he said and expressed fear that the consequence of the international community’s inability would not just lead Afghanistan to another refugee crisis but would also make it an “epicentre of terrorism where Da’ish agenda flourishes, which may result in more than one 9/11.”
COAS Qamar stressed the need for global cooperation rather than confrontation.
“Unprecedented return to global power confrontation, the resurgence of interstate conflict, poverty cyber intrusion, climate change, terrorism, and scarcity of resources pose profound questions for the international system,” he said. The COAS added that international security rested in the world's ability to integrate shared goals for global prosperity.
“We are committed to preserving our gains against terrorism and we are working with the interim Afghan government and other neighbours to ensure that terrorist organisations are no longer allowed to use the territory of one country against another. A peaceful and prosperous west and South Asia is our goal.”
He added that the country’s efforts to defeat extremism continue by celebrating diversity and ensuring the writ of state to preserve the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution irrespective of cast creed or belief.
“I fully realise that it’s a challenge but we are committed and we will not relent till we make Pakistan a moderate and forward-looking country as envisioned by our founding father Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We believe peace and stability in our wider region is a prerequisite for regional prosperity and development. In this regard, our doors are open for all neighbours.”