BERLIN: Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asim Bajwa in an interview with Deutsche Welle Urdu on Wednesday said the narrative that Pakistan has not done enough to fight terrorism was “unfair” as it did not recognise Pakistan’s contributions to the war against terror.
In a rare and candid interview with DW Urdu’s Kishwar Mustafa, Bajwa said, “The world had abandoned Pakistan to handle and face the terrorists in the region alone, and Pakistan has completed the task”.
Bajwa also commented on the drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, accusations that Operation Zarb-i-Azb did not target the Haqqani network, as well as the internal displacement caused by the operation.
Read the full transcript of the interview below or watch the interview here.
KM: There is a narrative in the West that Pakistan has not done enough in the war on error. How do you see it?
AB: I take it [the narrative] as quite an injustice to Pakistan. I take it as discrimination against Pakistan. Whichever you evaluate the matter, Pakistan has done a lot in the war against terrorism and for peace in the world.
Pakistan has played an unparalleled role against the Al Qaeda and all other terrorists that morphed over time, be it after Russian aggression in Afghanistan or the post-9/11 scenario.
I would like to say through your channel that it is injustice against Pakistan by the global community and that they did not do enough for Pakistan. They presented a flawed narrative, and they should recognise Pakistan’s perspective and morally support Pakistan.
KM: Keeping in mind the facts on the ground, 62 per cent of banned terrorist organisations are flourishing in southern Punjab. Yet Pakistan Army operates mainly in other areas and then Punjab comes somewhere down in their list. What is the reason behind this?
AB: When Operation Zarb-i-Azb was launched, the immediate problem was in Fata, particularly in North Waziristan. At that time, the entire world and people in Pakistan were saying North Waziristan is the “den of terrorists”.
They were planning and executing from there. Suicide bombers were being sent from there. So, an operation was started.
Forces launched operation in North Waziristan and then in Khyber Agency. At the same time, an innovation was created in which we have so far carried out over 18,000 intelligence based operations.
We have traced out facilitators of terrorists who were hiding in cities. More than 240 terrorists were killed in these operations. So that gives you an idea how deeply they were entrenched.
KM: During the North Waziristan operation, reports about the operation were not very transparent. Whatever was in the media came via the ISPR first. Would you please explain why the media was denied to access in the affected area?
AB: That is a western perception and perhaps you have the same reports because you are operating from a western country and looking at western media.
At that time Waziristan was a war torn area and it was impossible for journalists to visit there. However, we took people there at each and every stage of the operation. Upon reaching the area, we gave them a free pass to take a look around the area as they wish.
Now that the area has been cleared and people are returning home, they are requesting the army not to let the terrorists again come to their areas. For me, this is the clearest evidence of our success.
KM: A huge internal displacement occurred [as a result of the operation] and many died. Is it worth it to compel such a large number of civilians to be displaced? Do you think the army has achieved the results it wanted? Aren’t the people right to be frustrated?
AB: First of all, the prevailing frustration is a bit exaggerated. As far as displacement is concern, there are displacements, conflicts and crises in several places in the world, but there is no repatriation happening there. With the grace of Allah, we are an example to the world in this regard, as people have started repatriating to their homes after the operation.
There was a historical exodus from Swat and then people went back to their homes, and this is used as an example at the United Nations.
Similarly, people came out of Fata and Waziristan, and now they have started to resettle in their areas.
Now 62pc of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been repatriated to their areas, and as per a comprehensive schedule, the remaining will return by the end of the current year.
Lastly, I would like to say that it was absolutely well worth it. You can better ascertain its true value from the people who have returned to witness their areas in a much better position compared to when they had been left.
KM: The army did a lot of operations, but we did not see measures of that level taken against Haqqani Network. Is there any specific reason for that?
AB: The question of the Haqqani Network has been raised again recently. At the start of the operation, we had declared that it would be against all terrorists without any discrimination.
A soldier in a warzone cannot discriminate among the terrorists and who belongs to which group. There were terrorists from the Haqqani Network, ETIM, IMU, Al Qaeda and TTP, there were Pakistanis and Afghans and other nationals, and we fought against all of them.
And at the time the global community, including the United States, had admitted that the operation was being carried out across the board and effectively.
KM: The manner in which US drones have targeted Pakistani soil, you are well aware that how disastrous such attacks can be for the sovereignty of a state. How have the Pakistani government and the army tolerated all this? Doesn’t Pakistan have a system to know about the drones in advance and do something about them?
AB: Pakistan haD no technology to get information regarding drones in advance.
KM: Has the issue of drones been raised on any forum with the United States to know what it wants from Pakistan? What has been the US’ response?
AB: The issue has been raised at all levels, and Pakistan has been protesting against it and never accepted this and even today it is a cause of concern.
KM: The US has targeted Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Don’t the Pakistani intelligence and army have the power to target him? How do you see Pak-US relations in the current situation after Mansour’s elimination?
AB: In the case of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, he entered into Pakistan from another state and then he was traced and attacked. This is the issue Pakistan has been protesting.
Mansour was a part of the reconciliation process and was required to play his role for peace. You may know about the process in Murree, and then a few sittings in Islamabad for a comprehensive dialogue with the Taliban.
The murder of Mansour on Pakistani soil in this manner was regrettable only because Pakistan was not informed despite being an ally.
KM: Apparently, Pakistan has been isolated on regional level. Pakistan’s relations with Iran are sour, there are a lot of tussles with India. Pakistan will be more isolated if the situation moves in the current direction, and the domestic situation does not appear too stable either. What will be the future of Pakistan?
AB: Pakistan’s future is very bright and I am not saying this just as rhetoric. Ups and downs prevail in the foreign relations of all countries.
Afghanistan is a brotherly country of Pakistan. Currently the two countries have some issues over exchange of fire at Torkham on the issue of installation of gates on the border, but there is dialogue happening.
Border management is essential for both countries, without which there cannot be peace neither in Afghanistan nor in Pakistan.
KM: There are tensions between Pakistan and India regarding the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. How strongly Pakistan can plead its case in this regard in the present situation?
AB: Look. There is only one major cause of tension between the two countries, and that is the long-standing issue of Kashmir.
As you know, developments are being made on diplomatic and political forums to engage India, but as a military spokesperson, I would like to say that India poses a threat to Pakistan and so our entire defense mechanism in India-specific.
I would like to add that it will be a cause of disturbance of the strategic stability in the region, besides being a step towards discrimination if only India is inducted in the NSG.
KM: There is a blame-game about terrorists between Pakistan and India, but without concrete results. Is Pakistan not capable enough of cleansing itself of terrorists? Will something concrete ever surface out of this blame-game between the two countries?
AB: I am astonished that you have raised question about Pakistan’s capability. Pakistan has wiped out the roots of terrorists, planted by others, and we have fought the entire world’s war in this region. The world then abandoned Pakistan to handle, manage and face the terrorists in the region all by itself.
Pakistan has completed this task. We have also cleaned Pakistan from terrorists and now we have reached the border. We have now been carrying out intelligence-based and combing operations to clean our country from terrorists.
With the grace of Allah, we have such a high success rate and made such massive operational gains that western countries, including Germany, praised Pakistan’s efforts and want to learn from Pakistan’s experience.
KM: The situation is not good in Kashmir, and on the other hand there are tensions in Balochistan. Pakistan claims that India is involved in destabilizing Balochistan. What is the current situation in Balochistan and what is the role of India there?
AB: Apparently you have linked Kashmir and Balochistan in your question, but in fact there is no link between the two.
Balochistan is a part of Pakistan. Some miscreants from the province have taken shelter abroad and are spreading propaganda that there is some sort of freedom movement or an out-of-control insurgency in Balochistan.
Please visit Balochistan and observe the situation. Yes, it is a fact that since the inception of Pakistan, the pace of development remained very slow in the province. But there is work on development, and the security situation has stabilised.
The province is being developed politically and physical infrastructure is also developing there. You may also know about the developments in Gwadar and across the province under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which itself is a game-changer which will bring a revolution.
KM: Do you see any improvement in dialogue with the new Taliban leadership?
AB: Definitely, the killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour was certainly a severe blow to the peace process, but Pakistan is very optimistic on all levels and is eager to go to any extent and bring peace to the border.
We want peace on our Western border and we also want to facilitate Afghanistan with the fruits of Operation Zarb-i-Azb.
KM: What is Pakistan going to offer Afghanistan, and do you think that the dialogue process will resume soon?
AB: It is premature to comment but what I can say is that Pakistan is very optimistic and is hopeful about the future of the peace dialogue.\
KM: One last question about the internal situation in Pakistan. How do you see the relations between the civilian government and the army in Pakistan? Isn’t there a visible gap?
AB: In my viewpoint, democracy is strengthening in Pakistan and has been receiving all possible support from the military. Consultations are made on all major issues of national security and whenever called, army supports the civilian government in various issues ranging from natural disasters to development works to law and order.
I believe things will get better in the time to come. Pakistan is the main interest of each and every Pakistani.