ISLAMABAD: Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan had eliminated sanctuaries of all terrorist 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 Gulf News.
On the possibility of peace between Pakistan and India, he said that he believed that there was a need to resolve all issues between the two nuclear-armed countries, including the core issue of Kashmir, normalise the bilateral relationship.
The ISPR DG also discussed Pakistan’s relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which would link Pakistan’s Gwadar Port with China.
Responding to a question about the measures that had been taken to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan, he said that the country had fought a successful war against terrorism which entered Pakistan through the 2,611-kilometre scantily manned Pak-Afghan border when the US-led coalition forces started military operations in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda. There were no more organised sanctuaries in Pakistan and for the elimination of remaining disorganised scanty residual presence of militants, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, a large intelligence-based operation, was in progress, he added.
He said that the operation had visibly reduced violence in Pakistan but some militants took advantage of the 2.7 million Afghan refugees inside Pakistan by morphing into peaceful refugees. There was a need to repatriate them to their country, he added.
Major General Asif Ghafoor said that there were over 200,000 Pakistani troops deployed in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pak-Afghan border.
“This deployment is to continue despite successes inside Pakistan as the threat continues to reside inside Afghanistan not due to lack of will but lack of capacity of the Afghan forces,” he added.
He said that Pakistan had started to fence the entire Pak-Afghan border and the construction of new forts and posts along the border to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists.
He further said that besides kinetic operations, Pakistan had undertaken major socio-economic development projects in cleared areas.
Responding to another question, he said that Pakistan’s contingent to Saudi Arabia was part of the ongoing Pak-Saudi bilateral security cooperation since 1982.
“It is neither part of the Islamic Force nor shall it be deployed outside Saudborders. The role of Pakistani troops is training and advice. Pakistan has similar bilateral security arrangements with other GCC and regional countries,” he said.
Talking about the suspension of US aid to Pakistan, he said that US’ main concern was the alleged inaction against Haqqani Network while Pakistan had operated against terrorists of all hue and colour, including the Haqqani Network.
The ISPR DG said that till 2014, Pakistan had focused on operations against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and had targeted Haqqani Network during Operation Zarb-e-Azb which started in 2014. This was due to the lack of capacity and not lack of will, he added.
He said that Pakistan had repeatedly conveyed the above stance to US authorities.
“Present violence inside Afghanistan should not be linked to Pakistan. Pakistan shall do anything to support the achievement of peace in Afghanistan but can neither fight inside Afghanistan nor will do it again inside Pakistan,” he added.
He said that in order to ensure peace in Afghanistan, ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan would have to be cleared by Afghan and RSM (Resolute Support Mission) Forces. A better Pak-Afghan border security arrangement was quintessential towards this end and Pakistan had been pursuing that with Afghanistan, he added.
Major General Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan had excellent brotherly relationship with UAE.
“UAE assisted Pakistan phenomenally with socio-economic development projects during our counter-terrorism efforts in FATA,” he said, “We do not 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 that various independent international surveys reported that more than 50 per cent of Afghan areas were 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 a Pakistan is keener to see a peaceful Afghanistan as we are the immediate neighbours. Peace in Afghanistan is important for peace in Pakistan.”
He said that threat from India was perpetual as it not only challenged Pakistan conventionally along its eastern borders but fomented unrest through terrorism from Afghan soil. Pakistan had arrested a serving Indian naval officer named Kulbhushan Jadhav who had been working as Research and Analysis Wing’s (RAW) agent in Pakistan, he added.
He said that Pakistan had successfully fought against the 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 said.
The ISPR DG said that Pakistan had strong and combat-hardened professional standing armed forces 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,” he said.
He said that as a peaceful country, Pakistan did not want conflict with anyone.
“Our desire for peace should never be mistaken as our weakness. For normalised Pak-India 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 and stop its atrocities on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) and also discontinue interference inside Pakistan through state-sponsored terrorism,” he said.
He said that continuity of CPEC was not linked to elections or any other event.
“We know that 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 the engine of progress not only for Pakistan but for the region. For this special security, a division has been raised,” he said.
The DG ISPR said that Pakistan had been successful in war against terrorism adding that peace had gradually returned to the country.
“We are moving towards enduring stability. CPEC is progressing as well. All this is affording economic investment opportunities in Pakistan. There are no threats anymore and environment is conducive for investment,” he said, “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.”
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