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COAS is neither seeking an extension nor will he accept one: ISPR DG

Updated 14 Apr, 2022
ISPR DG Major General Babar Iftikhar during the press conference in Rawalpindi. Screengrab
ISPR DG Major General Babar Iftikhar during the press conference in Rawalpindi. Screengrab

Pakistan’s army chief will not seek an extension to his three-year term and neither is he accepting one, announced his spokesman, laying to rest what was perhaps the greatest political question for the country after the historic events of last week.

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar, while addressing a press conference in Rawalpindi regarding the recently held Formation Commanders' Conference, answered a wide range of questions during the hour-long event, including those pertaining to the army chief's tenure.

"The COAS is neither seeking an extension nor will he accept one," he said, adding that the Gen Bajwa will retire on November 29 after completion of his three-year tenure.

Establishment's three options

When asked about PM Imran's claim that the so-called Establishment had offered ex premier Imran Khan three options ahead of the no-confidence vote seeking his ouster, he said that the options didn't come from the army but were discussed during the meeting.

"The Prime Minister's Office approached the COAS to seek his assistance in resolving the unfolding political crisis," he responded.

Upon this, the army chief accompanied by the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligene met Imran. The options discussed included the vote of no confidence going forward, the incumbent resigning, or the opposition withdrawing the motion with Imran calling early eletion.

"He [Imran] found the third option acceptable and asked the army chief to take the proposal to the PDM leadership," he continued, adding that the united opposition didn't take up the offer.

US-sponsored conspiracy

When asked about the armed forces view on the purported foreign-funded conspiracy that has become Imran Khan's rallying cry, he said the same was discussed in the National Security Committee meeting on March 31.

"I cannot talk about the discussion that took place in the NSC meeting due to issues of confidentiality issues but we issued a statement regarding the same," adding that the word "conspiracy" wasn't part of it.

He went on state that any efforts to destablize Pakistan through any conspiracies will not be allowed to succeed. "If they cast a evil eye on Pakistan, we will gouge it out."

He added that it was the prerogative of the sitting government to declassify the minutes of the NSC meeting, while adding that the government has suggested a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security on the same issue. "The military top brass will share the same observations as it did in the NSC meeting," he continued.

When asked about the security of the country's nuclear programme, Gen Iftikhar asserted that it was safe and secure, and that nuclear security "shouldn't be made part of political debate".

When asked about the issuance of démarche to the US mission in response to the communique shared by the Pakistani diplomat in the US, he said it was part of diplomatic norms.

Formation Commanders' Conference

At the onset of the press briefing, General Iftikhar stated that a briefing was given regarding the country's security situation at the recently held Formation Commanders' Conference.

He added that Pakistan's border security remained intact, while the country's armed forces remain prepared and vigilant to tackle all situations. The conference participants were also updated regarding Operation Raddul Fassad as well as intelligence-based operations on Western border.

"In the last few months, militants tried to create instability in Balochistan and in the tribal regions," he pointed out.

"We have killed 128 terrorists and arrested 270 others," said General Iftikhar, adding that 97 army personnel lost their lives during this period. "The war against terrorism will continue until it is completely eradicated."

He said tributes were paid to Pakistan's contribution to UN peacekeeping missions, including the six soldiers who lost their lives in a helicopter crash in the DR Congo earlier this year. "So far, 168 Pakistanis have been martyred during various peace efforts for the UN," he added.

The army chief lauded the officers and the soldiers for their commitment and dedication in light of the changing security matrix, the DG ISPR continued, while adding that army personnel should stay abreast of emerging challenges.

He also spoke about the army's commitment to the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution. "Democracy is essential for strengthening institutions, which conversely must work within their ambit."

He added that the approval and support of the people of Pakistan is the foundation of the strength of the armed forces. "Any intentional or unintentional effort to create divisions between the army and people is tantamount to threatening national security," he continued, adding that baseless accusations not acceptable

"A malicious propaganda campaign is being run against the army chief, including using deep fake technology…and dissemination of fake messages," he said while saying that appropriate action will be taken against those involved in line with the law.

"This campaign didn’t work in the past and it won’t in the future… I request that the the army is kept out of such things," he added.

Neutrality and Martial Law

When asked about the many statements made by the former PM Imran as well as the opposition at that time alluding to the "neutrality" of state institutions, he said that the army's constitutional and legal role in the government set up doesn’t allow any political interefernece or allegiance.

"In the last 74 years, the only demand that people had is that the army doesn't involve itself in politics."

He went on to state that army chief, during his last appearance before the parliamentary committee on national security, had conveyed to political leadership that the army wants to distance itself from politics.

"We have never asked for meetings with any politicians. Why are politicians asking for meetings with us," he added, while bemoaning what he said was the inability on part of the political leadership to hold talks amongst themselves.

He said that any claims of intereference need to be substaniated with evidence. "As you can see for yourself, in the last two years the armed forces have not interfered in any by-election or local government polls.

"It used to be said in the past that calls were made…pertaining to intereference… Have any such accusations been made in the past 2 years?"

He added that that the judiciary was independent, while underscoring that the army had no influence over the April 7 decision of the Supreme Court's regarding restoration of the National Assembly and holding of voting on the no-confidence motion.

The army spokesperson said that the army has many security challenges to take care of and that they cannot be involved in other things, and neither should they be dragged into it.

He emphasised that Pakistan's future lies in democracy. "Martial law will never be imposed again, God willing."

Russia visit

In response to a question regarding PM Imran's visit to Russia, General Iftikhar said that the government sought their institutional input. "We gave our input and agreed that the premier should undertake the trip."

However, he added, no one in their wildest dream could have thought that the conflict would break out on the same day the PM visited. "That was an unforunate development but the army was on board on the PM’s visit to Russia."

"Malicious campaigns on social media"

With multiple journalists raising the issue of social media campaigns targetting the army and its top leadership, including trending hashtags regardig the army chief, the spokesperson categorically stated that action would be taken against those involved.

“Any intentional or unintentional effort to create divisions between the army and people is tantamount to threatening national security,” he said, adding that they are aware of the elements behind such "malicious" trends including identifying the foriegn links.

He said such orchestrated campaigns have been run in the past as well, including the India-sponsored disinformation campaign, while stating that those who don't want Pakistan to flourish were now using cyber-based activities to malign Pakistan.

"There has been a fillip, a surge in such defamatory activities due to technology," he said, adding that it was affecting everyone.

He said such propaganda might not necessarily create fissures but it does amplify them. "Our army is the biggest target of this misinformation campaign along with the rank and file of the forces and the relationship between the army and the people of Pakistan."

He also urged the youth of Pakistan not to be deceived by viral information and "manufactured" trends and to revisit their practice of sharing unverified information. "We need to insulate ourselves from such things...on the national level as well as the institutional level."

He acknowledged that all political parties have social media cells and there might be disagreements when one doens't agree with the other's viewpoint or ideology.

"There were some local elements that initiated the malicious campaign, which was then amplified internationally," he continued, adding that the data regarding the same would be shared soon.

Action against provocatuers

When asked what action would be taken against those running such malicious campaigns, the DG ISPR stated that the army an an institution is falls under the government.

"If the institution is being targeted or its chief is being tagetted, then its not just the responsibility of that institution but also of the government of the day.

"What should I do? Should I sit on current affairs show and engage in debates with you guys?" he stated, adding that it lied outside his domian.

"I can't go on TV channels daily. I can not even raise a finger against anyone. I don't even have a voice," he said, adding that it was the government's responsibility.

During the QnA, the army spokesperson also reiterated that the BBC Urdu report that narrates an alleged series of events that transpired in the Prime Minister House late at night on Saturday was "totally baseless and a pack of lies".

No more talks with TTP

In response to the militancy situation pertaining to the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, with whom the government unsuccessfully tried to hold talks, he said that the option was dialogue was no longer viable.

"We have taken serious action against them and inflicted a lot of damage and put a dent their infrastructure," he said.

He added that the militant group had recently issued a statement about further attacks but the "army has stopped them in their tracks".

Civil-military ties

On the issue of civil-military ties, General Iftikhar stated that the relationship is strong and amicable.

"You can call us Establishment...or the army leadership.. We have the best of ties with the civilian government. There are no disagreements," he continued.

He added that the army chief enjoyed a cordial relationship with Imran Khan when he was prime minister and that the same would be the case with other governments.

"The military cannot afford to decide which government to side with. This isn't the choice that the army has."

He added that governments come to power through the electoral process with the Parliament serving as the voice of the people.

"We can give input about areas that our domian like national security. However, it is not binding. The politicians have the right to take that advice or disregard it."

Absolutely not on army bases

On the issue of whether the US had demanded the use of Pakistan soil to establish bases purportedly to conduct operations in Afghanistan and Imran Khan's refusal, he said that no such request had been received.

"If any such request had been made, our stance would have been the same as that of the incumbent prime minister."

Imran Khan assassination threat

When asked whether the army was aware of any threats to the life of Imran Khan and if it would mean greater security, he said that the former prime minister would be provided the security that protocol dictates.

He added that the Interior ministry would be aware of any such threats and would act on it accordingly.

When asked whether Imran's plan to hold regular public gatherings would add to the current political crisis, he said that it remains a democratic right of every individual.

"The decision on Imran Khan's jalsas and gatherings will be made by the government."

He went on to state that it was no longer the case where more than 10 people could not gather in an area because it could be construed as a security threat. "The army sacrificed a lot of lives so that we could arrive a point where it is not the case anymore."

As far as I am concerned, the spokesperson continued, people coming out on the streets and expressing their opinion or fealty to their leader is part of the democratic process.

When asked about early elections, he pointed out that it was a decision to be made by the politicians and not the army.

Political instability

When asked about the impact of the political instability that brought the country to a standstill, he said that stability remains pivotal to national security. "It drives everything from the economy to security."

However, he added that it was part of the democratic process. "It was disconcerting but it was part of the process," while adding that it would take sometime for the new political setup to achieve stability.

Divisions within the army

In response to another question regarding factions within the army, he said there was no truth to such claim. The army is unified behind its leadership and continues to act as one entity that follows the chain of command, he added.