Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor has said that Pakistan has eliminated sanctuaries of all terrorists groups including the Haqqani Network from its soil through a well-thought-out military campaign.
“But all this has come with a huge price. Besides cost in blood of over 75,000 Pakistanis, there has been loss of more than $123 billion to the national exchequer,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Gulf News.
To a question about measures taken to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan, he said the country has fought a successful war against terrorism. “A war which entered Pakistan through the2,611-km scantily manned Pak-Afghan border when US-led coalition forces started military operations in Afghanistan against AQ [Al Qaida]. Whereas there are no more organised sanctuaries, for elimination of remaining disorganised scanty residual presence of militants, Operation Raddul Fasaad is in progress,” he said.
He said the effects of operation have visibly reduced the level of violence throughout Pakistan.
This residual presence also takes advantage of 2.7 million Afghan refugees inside Pakistan by morphing into peaceful refugees. There is a need to undertake their respectable repatriation to their country,” he added.
Major General Asif Ghafoor said presently there are over 200,000 Pakistani troops deployed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along Pak-Afghan border. “This deployment is to continue despite successes inside Pakistan as threat continues to reside inside Afghanistan not due to lack of will but lack of capacity of the Afghan forces,” he added.
To safeguard own success, the DG said, Pakistan has started to fence entire 2,611-km length of Pak-Afghan border and construction of new forts and posts along the border to deny free cross-border movement of terrorists.”Besides kinetic operations, Pakistan has undertaken major socio-economic development projects in the cleared areas. This is aimed at carrying forward relative stability to enduring peace,” he added.
Replying to a question about measures taken after the suspension of US aid to Pakistan, he said the main concern of Washington is about alleged inaction by Pakistan against the Haqqani Network. “Pakistan has operated against terrorists of all hue and colour including the Haqqani Network. Earlier, till 2014, Pakistan focused on operations against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and targeted Haqqani Network during Operation Zerb-e-Azb[from] 2014 onwards. This was due to lack of capacity and not lack of will. There are no organized terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan anymore,” he added.
Maj Gen Ghafoor said Pakistan has repeatedly conveyed its position to the US authorities. “Present violence inside Afghanistan should not be linked to Pakistan. Pakistan will do anything to support achievement of peace in Afghanistan but can neither fight inside Afghanistan nor will do it again inside Pakistan,” he added.
To ensure achieving peace in Afghanistan, he said, ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan would have to be cleared by the Afghan and Resolute Support Mission Forces. “A better Pak-Afghan border security arrangement is quintessential towards this end. Pakistan has long been pursuing this with Afghanistan,” he added.
He said various independent international surveys report that more than 50 per cent of Afghan areas are not under effective control of Afghan forces. “There is scanty presence of Afghan forces along Pak-Afghan border. Lack of effectiveness inside Afghanistan cannot be done away with by throwing blame on Pakistan. If Afghanistan still believes that there is a support to TTA from Pakistani soil, they must come up with actionable intelligence,” he said. “No country other than Pakistan is more keen to see a peaceful Afghanistan as we are the immediate neighbours. Peace in Afghanistan is important for peace in Pakistan,” he added.
To a query, Maj Gen Ghafoor said threat from India is perpetual as it is not only challenging Pakistan conventionally along its eastern borders but is also busy in fomenting unrest through terrorism using the Afghan soil. “And this is not mere rhetoric. Pakistan has arrested as erving Indian naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, working as RAW agent in Pakistan. So we are not having any let-up in safeguarding against Indian threat,” he remarked.
He said Pakistan has successfully fought against threat of terrorism and was now consolidating it for enduring peace and stability. “While threat remains from India, both in conventional and sub-conventional domain, our biggest challenge is to maintain this stability with threat still residing inside Afghanistan coupled with economic difficulties,” he maintained.
He said Pakistan has a strong and combat-hardened professional standing army ready to thwart and defeat any threat. “We are a responsible nuclear power with over 200 million resilient Pakistanis. No threat can deter our national resolve.”
To another question, he said Pakistan is a peaceful country and does not want conflict with anyone. “However, our desire for peace should never be mistaken as our weakness. For normalised Indo-Pak relationship, all issues including the core issue of Kashmir between the two nuclear countries need to be resolved. India needs to behave like a responsible country, stop atrocities on both sides of the Line of Control and also discontinue interference inside Pakistan through state-sponsored terrorism.”
He said continuity of CPEC is not linked to elections or any other event. “China is our time-tested friend and CPEC is a nation-to-nation project. We know enemies of peace and of Pakistan are trying to scuttle CPEC, but Pakistan shall never let them succeed. Pakistan Army has the responsibility for security of the project, which is engine of progress not only for Pakistan but for the whole region. For this, a special security division has been raised,” he said.
The DG ISPR said that Pakistan has been successful in war against terrorism adding that peace has gradually returned to the country. “We are moving towards enduring stability. CPEC is progressing well. All this is affording economic investment opportunities in Pakistan. There are no threats anymore and environment is conducive for investment. Peace and prosperity is our destination and we expect the world to contribute in promoting peace and economy not only in Pakistan but in the region as well,” he added.
To another question, Maj Gen Ghafoor said Pakistan contingent to Saudi Arabia was part of the ongoing Pak-Saudi bilateral security cooperation since 1982. “It is neither part of Islamic Alliance nor it shall be deployed outside KSA borders. The role of Pakistani troops is training and advice. Pakistan has similar bilateral security arrangements with other GCC and regional countries,” he said.
He said that Pakistan has excellent brotherly relationship with the UAE. “UAE has assisted Pakistan phenomenally for socio-economic development projects during our counter-terrorism effort in FATA. We don’t foresee any deterioration in our relationship and look forward to continued strong relationship. The UAE Army contingent is participating in a Pakistan National Day Parade this month,” he said.