The Pakistan Army would have no problems if Lashkar founder and one of the prime accused in the Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Saeed, joins electoral politics and his party meets the requirements of the Election Commission of Pakistan, said Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of Pakistan military’s public relations wing, Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR).
Speaking to The Indian Express on the sidelines of an interaction with participants of South Asia Media Conference, Ghafoor said that there were more than 200 political parties in Pakistan and about 160 of them hadn’t won a single seat in Parliament.
“Hafiz Saeed is a citizen of Pakistan and anything he does other than violence is good. There is a process of Pakistani state for anyone to participate in politics, Election Commission of Pakistan has its rules and laws. if he fulfills all those requirements, that is for the ECP to decide,” said Ghafoor.
Responding to a question about Pakistan’s lack of action against Hafiz Saeed, the two-star general who is the spokesperson for Pakistan’s powerful military said that Saeed “is under custody or confinement as possible according to the law in Pakistan. There is no evidence against him and he has been discharged by the courts.”
He repeated the old Pakistani line that “there has been no evidence from the Indian side against” Saeed.
Saeed had founded terror organization Lashkar-e-Toiba in the 1990s and when that was banned after Indian insistence, he revived a much older organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) in 2002. While Saeed maintains JuD is a charity organisation, the UN Security Council banned it as a terror organization and declared Saeed a terrorist after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. India and the US have asked for strict action against Saeed since then but Pakistan has not done anything so far.
Ghafoor denied the charge against Pakistan Army of institutional overreach and weakening democracy. He dismissed the controversy around his tweet of April 2017 which said the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Office’s directives on the inquiry report were “rejected”. Ghafoor had “withdrawn” his tweet after 12 days.
“My tweet. it is a domestic issue. It happened in the past”, he told The Indian Express, “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.”
Ghafoor alleged that “the ceasefire violations (on the Line of Control) 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”.
He said that Pakistan Army “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.”
Earlier, interacting with the group of South Asian journalists attending a media conference, Ghafoor cited Pakistan Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying that “Pakistan was the land of connectivity” and “regions develop, countries don’t”. He harped on the importance of CPEC to Pakistan’s and region’s development, arguing that only north-south connectivity wasn’t enough, the CPEC even needed an east-west connectivity for its success.
He, however, agreed that this can only happen if differences between India and Pakistan are set aside. He said that if Indian Army stopped firing on the LoC, Pakistan Army would reciprocate. But he did not touch upon the cross-border infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir by militants with the support of Pakistan Army which has led to the heightening of tensions on the LoC.
Responding to a question about Pakistani hand behind major terror attacks in India, he accused India of supporting “thousands of” terror attacks in Pakistan, whether directly or through Afghanistan, arguing that they had “living evidence of Indian involvement in the form of Kulbhushan Jadhav”. Pakistan has however refused to provide India consular access to retired naval officer Jadhav despite repeated requests.
On the proposed joint military exercise by India and Pakistan under the SCO, Ghafoor refused to commit on Pakistan’s participation, stating that “we will decide as and when it is held”.
(The writer was in Islamabad to attend South Asia Media Conference on the invitation of Pakistan Media Development Foundation.)