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January 27, 2019

Pakistan has done its job of bringing Taliban to table: DG ISPR

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January 27, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor on Saturday said Pakistan had done its job of bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. In an interview with Arab News, the military spokesman asserted that the Afghan Taliban were not excluding Pakistan from the US-led talks being held in Doha.

“The Taliban are not excluding Pakistan from the peace process,” Asif Ghafoor said, adding: “We are a facilitator. We have done our job of bringing them to the negotiating table. What is discussed and how the process moves forward will depend on progress during every meeting.”

When asked if the Taliban had refused to meet Khalilzad in Islamabad, Asif Ghafoor said: “There are so many factions and stakeholders involved in the process. Coordination takes time. One faction or party gets out of coordination, (which) can result in changes in schedule or place.” He said Pakistan had pushed for the dialogue to restart but had “no preference for time or place.”

The DG ISPR said there was as yet no certainty on whether the insurgents could be persuaded to engage with the Afghan government but added that progress from the meetings would determine all outcomes. He also spoke about abiding fears about how Afghan government forces would withstand the Taliban threat without US military support if US President Donald Trump acted on his desire to bring home half of the 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan should not go into turmoil” when US forces leave, the military spokesman said: “The US should leave Afghanistan as friends of the region, with a commitment to assist Afghanistan in becoming self-sustaining and help in socio-economic development.”

Islamabad also fears that increased turmoil in Afghanistan would mean more sanctuaries there for Pakistani Taliban (TTP) militants who have lost control of all territory in Pakistan since a major counter-terrorism operation was launched after a 2014 attack on the Army Public School. Asif Ghafoor said the Afghan government did not currently have the capacity to eliminate all sanctuaries given that it was embroiled in fighting an insurgency, but once the Taliban entered the political mainstream, Kabul would be in a better position to tackle groups like the Pakistani Taliban and the Middle Eastern Daesh.

“If there is peace in Afghanistan and greater control of the area by Afghan forces, it will be difficult for TTP to continue their sanctuaries there," the military spokesman said.

He dismissed fears that the US would lose interest in Pakistan once it exited Afghanistan, or be free to take harsh actions when it no longer needed Islamabad’s help to end the conflict. “Pakistan has always remained relevant and will continue to be relevant,” Asif Ghafoor said. “And when the US leave Afghanistan, it will leave acknowledging Pakistan’s role in ending the conflict. Our relationship shall further strengthen.”

Responding to media reports that Pakistan was building military jets, weapons and other hardware with funds received under the CPEC umbrella, Asif Ghafoor said the corridor was “purely an economic project.”

“We have separate defence cooperation with China but that has nothing to do with CPEC,” he said. “We had F-16 deals with the US. That was our requirement. Later we have jointly made the JF-17 Thunder with China. Like any sovereign country, Pakistan takes decisions suiting its national interest,” he said.

Speaking about a growing protest movement by the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), he said: “Till such time that the PTM is peaceful and they stick to their genuine demands, which are natural in a post-conflict environment, the state is committed to take care of them. Once we have fulfilled the genuine demands which are already in the overall plan, then we see how to deal with anyone who still tries to exploit.”

He said the movement was being exploited by Pakistan’s enemies: “When there are fault lines, then enemies will always try to exploit them. So there is an effort to exploit PTM, whether with their connivance or not.” The DG ISPR warned that India needed to “stop using proxies against us,” adding that “just as we are concerned that an unstable Afghanistan is not in our interest, India should also know that an unstable Pakistan is not in its interest. They need to change their behaviour.”

Responding to a question about an extension in military courts, Asif Ghafoor said the courts were a “national requirement” because the country’s civilian judicial infrastructure was ill-equipped to deal with terrorism cases.

Asif Ghafoor said verdicts could be appealed at several levels, including in military appellate and civilian courts, and those on death row had the right to file mercy petitions with the army chief and the president of Pakistan. “Military courts proceed as per law; there is a laid down legal process with full transparency. Courts decide on evidence and not emotions,” he said. However, he added, “should parliament decide that military courts are not needed, then they will not be renewed.”

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