The Pakistan Army, apparently ruffled by a vicious social media campaign against it, said on Thursday that it has “nothing to do with politics” and it will remain “apolitical”.
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – the media wing of the Army- Director General Major General Babar Iftikhar also asserted that Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was not seeking an extension and will neither accept one.
Maj Gen Iftikhar said that Pakistan’s survival lies solely on democracy and its strength lies in the institutions, be it Parliament, Supreme Court or the Armed forces. The Pakistan Army has “nothing to do with politics” and the institution has decided to remain apolitical in the future as well, he said while addressing a press conference, three days after Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif was sworn-in as the new Prime Minister after prolonged political turmoil.
He clarified that Gen Bajwa was “unwell” on the day Sharif took office and had to skip the oath taking ceremony. He said that instead of saying that the Army had been neutral, it was more appropriate to say that “it is apolitical as per the constitutional requirement and demands made by various political parties” over the years.
“We have many security challenges and we cannot be involved in any other thing. If we can only handle the security challenges properly, it will be fine . He also made an announcement that Gen Bajwa “is neither seeking an extension nor will he accept an extension.” “No matter what, he will be retiring on the 29th of November 2022,” the spokesman said.
He also rubbished the rumors about the threat of a martial law at the height of the recent political turmoil. “There will never be martial law in Pakistan. To a question about opening of courts in the middle of night when the battle for the no-confidence vote was going on, he said that it was a decision by the courts and the army had nothing to do with it. He also vehemently rejected the media reports about the visit of the army chief and the ISI chief to the PM House ahead of his decision to leave the official residence. “Totally untrue…Nobody went there…In the entire process, there was no interference by the army. Let me put this thing to rest,” he stated.
Maj Gen Iftikhar said that there is no truth about the army chief having meetings with the opposition leaders in Pakistan or outside Pakistan in the days leading up to the no-confidence vote. He said that then prime minister Khan had approached the army chief to help find a solution to the political crisis. “It is unfortunate that our political leadership was not ready to talk. So the army chief and DG ISI went to the PMO and three scenarios were discussed,” he said, recalling that one was that the no-confidence motion should be held as it was. The other were that the prime minister resigns or the no-confidence motion was retracted and the assemblies were dissolved. “No option from the establishment was given,” Iftikhar said. Khan had claimed that the “establishment” had given him three options: “resignation, no-confidence (vote) or elections” after the Opposition filed a no-trust motion against him in Parliament.
The powerful Army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 73 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy. Khan, who was ousted from power early this week, had apparently also lost, support of the powerful Army after he refused to endorse the appointment of ISI spy agency chief last year. Finally he agreed but it soured his ties with the powerful Army.
In response to a question, the spokesman said that the army was on board with the visit of then Prime Minister Khan to Russia. But termed it embarrassing when Russia launched an attack on Ukraine when Khan was in Moscow. The spokesman said that the United States had not asked Pakistan to provide army bases after withdrawing from Afghanistan. “But if the US had asked for the bases, the army’s response would have been the same as that of PM Khan,” he said.
Maj Gen Iftikhar said that the government of the day was responsible to take action if somebody targeted the Army. To a question about relations between former premier Khan and COAS Bajwa, Maj Gen Iftikhar said that the army chief has a relation of mutual respect with him. He also said that protest rallies by Imran Khan were a part of the political process and there was nothing wrong with it.
Maj Gen Iftikhar also said that the word “conspiracy” was not used in the statement issued after a meeting of the National Security Committee last month, apparently contradicting ousted prime minister Khan who has accused America of hatching a conspiracy to topple his government. He said that the minutes of the NSC meeting can be declassified if the government decides. About the threatening “letter” and the protest launched later on, he said the protest can be launched for various reasons. “This de marche was issued because there was a statement about interference and undiplomatic language.”
Talking about India, he alleged that there was always danger of a false flag operation as it was a habit of India but “we are keeping eye open and there is no unusual activity on the eastern border”. He urged the people to avoid using negative language against the armed forces.
To a question about an attack on an army soldier by the workers of some political party in Lahore, he said that the attackers were arrested and would be prosecuted according to the law.