Major General Asif Ghafoor is Pakistan’s Director General of Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR), the media and public relations arm of its armed forces, since December 2016. A representative of the official view for the Pakistan Army, his statements are closely watched, both domestically and internationally. Some of his Twitter updates have caused political storm in Pakistan. Major General Ghafoor spoke to the Indian Express in Islamabad on the sidelines of an interaction with media representatives from South Asian countries. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the current status of the Indo-Pak relations, particularly in the context of increasing tensions and firing along the Line of Control (LoC)?
The ceasefire between the two armies on the LoC is at the DGMO-level (Director General of Military Operations level) since 2003. From 2003 to 2016, there were very few ceasefire violations, but in 2017 alone the ceasefire violations have been more than that recorded in the past 10 years. In 2017, there were 1,813 violations, while the number in 2018, so far, is 1,321, and we are not even halfway through the year.
The ceasefire violations by Indian Army are not against Pakistan Army, but against the civilian population on our side. We have lost hundreds of innocent civilian lives in these violations. We can’t respond in the same coin — one, for humanitarian reasons, and two, because the civilian population on the other side is Kashmiri Muslim. It is our compulsion to respond only at the Indian Army posts.
The two DGMOs must reach an understanding as both sides need to bring the temperature down. The real reason, if I may say it candidly, is that India has failed to control the uprising in Kashmir, post the ‘shahadat’ of Burhan Wani. Indian Army is trying to put Pakistani forces under pressure thinking that they are providing physical support to the Kashmiri youth, which is not the case. They think that by keeping the LoC hot, the tensions in Kashmir will somehow go down.
What is going on with Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan? He, despite UN strictures, seems to be free again.
Hafiz Saeed, you see, is under custody or confinement as possible according to the law in Pakistan. There is no evidence against him and has been discharged by the courts. We have held him under the NPO, but there has been no evidence from the Indian side against him.
Will Jamaat-ud-Dawa become a political party?
Hafiz Saeed is a citizen of Pakistan and anything he does, other than violence, is good. There is a process in Pakistan for anyone to participate in politics. The Election Commission of Pakistan has its rules and laws. If he (Hafiz) fulfills all those requirements that is for the ECP to decide. Please don’t forget that there are, if I am not wrong, nearly 200 political parties in Pakistan and more than 160 of them have never won a single seat in an election. I will leave it at that.
Pakistan-US relations are floundering again. The US Defence Attache in Pakistan was stopped at the airport from leaving the country over the weekend. Are you worried?
With the US, we have a history of the relationship, which includes many ups and downs. Between any two states, there are convergences and divergences. Our attempt is to increase convergences and reduce divergences. Pakistan has been a front-line ally of the US in its war on terror. The USA’s success in defeating al Qaeda has been only because of Pakistani support. But Pakistan cannot do anything inside Afghanistan. No one is more willing to see US succeed in counter-terror operations inside Afghanistan than Pakistan. Even though the relationship is under stress, the strategic lines of communication for US forces inside Afghanistan remain open from Pakistan.
The Pakistan Army is often accused of institutional overreach and not allowing democracy to take deep roots. Where do you stand on that, considering what happened to then PM Nawaz Sharif, where your tweet caused a storm?
(Laughs) My tweet. it is a domestic issue. It happened in the past. As far as civilian supremacy is concerned, this is the third democratically-elected government which is in place. Parliamentary elections are going to take place shortly and a new democratically-elected government will come in. All decisions are taken by the civilian government. National Security Committee meetings are held frequently, and you can see the record on that. There have been many security challenges over the decade, and there are areas of overlap, but at the end of the day, it is the civilian leadership which takes the decisions. The army gives advise as in any other state.
Please tell me who appoints the Army chief, the Navy chief and the Air chief in Pakistan. It is not the army, it is the civilian government. Who rules the country as per the Constitution? The civilian government.
Any message for India?
(Smiles, pauses and ponders) War is not the solution. If imposed on us, it will be befittingly responded. But we believe in peace and cooperation.