No one can fight the state, the ISPR chief Major General Asif Ghafoor warned the leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement while speaking to the media in Rawalpindi on Monday.
“What revenge are you [PTM] talking about? We are just worried about the people that you are inciting otherwise it is not at all hard for us to deal with you,” the head of the army’s media wing remarked.
He said that the PTM leaders threatened people in Wana to stop speaking in favour of Pakistan Army. We didn’t act first because the army chief refrained us from being harsh towards the PTM, he said. “You have taken the liberty that you wanted.”
The ISPR chief said that he was the first one to “engage” with the PTM leaders during their rally in Islamabad. “The army chief told me to be polite because of all the hardships the youth in KP and erstwhile FATA has seen.”
The PTM had three main demands: clearance of mines, removal of check posts and missing persons issue.
“The issue of unexploded bombs is a genuine demand,” he remarked. The Pakistan Army has cleared 45% of the mines. “The areas where there are unexploded bombs have been marked clearly. People have been stopped from wandering in the area too.”
We sent 48 teams to clear the minefields. We have lost 101 soldiers in the process. “We had to do this because this is part of the war not because we were under pressure from someone.”
On check posts, he said that they are needed because armed forces need to monitor people in a particular area because of security threats. “At least 600 soldiers were killed in military operations. They didn’t belong to one province. They weren’t there to protect their families.” He asked where the PTM leaders were when heads of some persons were cut and then terrorists were playing football with those. “Where were [PTM leaders] Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir then?” Only Pakistan Army went there to combat terrorists, he added.
The PTM handed us a list of missing persons too. “We told them that we will focus on these issues once the war is over.” The missing person cases pending in the courts have been decreased to 2,500.
“I request them to give me a list of all the TTP operatives in Afghanistan too. I need to ensure that the ‘missing persons’ are not a part of any terrorist organization.”
“The three demands put forward by PTM are not theirs. This is not their pain. The people don’t even live in areas where the war occurred,” said the spokesperson.
The funds received by the PTM should be spent on developing the merged districts. “They use the money to organise rallies and badmouth the armed forces.”
“When PTM leaders travel abroad why do they meet the people who don’t support the Pakistan Army?”
They staged so many protests after one of its leaders, Armaan Loni, was killed. Loni’s postmortem report says that he was a chronic heart patient and this is why he died. The Afghan president made a statement on his death and the PTM acknowledged it, he remarked. When our PM says something you make a statement against him. “Do you consider yourselves as Pakistanis or Afghan nationals?”
Bringing madrassahs into mainstream
There are over 30,000 madrassahs in Pakistan in which 2.5 million children study, he said. The number of madrassahs increased over time because of what happened in our region. There was the Afghan war and then the Iran revolution. As a result, more madrassahs were opened.
In 1947, there were 247 madrassahs. The number surged to 2,861 in 1979, and from 1980s to 2019 it has increased to over 30,000. “We found that less than 100 madrassahs are teaching extremism to children.”
The madrassahs have their own system of operations. About 70% of the madrassahs charge Rs1,000 per student, 25% charge Rs3,000 to Rs5,000 and five percent charge Rs15,000 to Rs20,000.
There are some madrassahs which give students basic education but many which don’t. “Now, the problem that arises is what job opportunities do these children have when complete their education. They can be employed to teach religion. Do they not have the right to become whatever they want?”
We want to bring them into the mainstream, he remarked. We have decided to bring them under education ministry. The madrassahs fell under the industries ministry previously, he said.
“We want madrassahs where hate speech won’t be tolerated at all. All the students will be taught to respect the teachings of other religions and sects,” he said.
The new system will allow children who get degrees from madrassahs. The degrees will be affiliated with the education board.
The plan will occur in three phases: making legislation, reviewing syllabus and then bringing them into the mainstream.
“We, however, need money for this,” he said. “Funds worth Rs2 billion are needed for this process and after that, we will need Rs1 billion every year for maintaining the system.”
‘No organised terrorist structure in Pakistan’
Since 9/11, Pakistan has conducted 1,237 kinetic operations and 100 intelligence-based operations, killing over 17,000 terrorists. We can say with conviction that there’s no organized terrorist structure in the country, he said.
He remarked that 70 countries are sharing intelligence right now regarding the arrests and repatriation of such terrorists.
Over 81,000 Pakistanis were killed or injured in these events, he said. At a time when your army is involved in kinetic operations — we had to move towards the Eastern border three times due to escalation — it couldn’t concentrate on our operations, he explained.
He also addressed the fallout of the Pulwama attack. He said Pakistan did not respond to India’s false statements because the truth only has to be said once.
When there’s war, at times, the information coming in is not clear, he said. For example, it was reported from two locations, he said. Later, as clarity emerged, we announced that only one pilot was captured, said the ISPR chief. Even, the US confirmed that no F-16 of the Pakistani Air Force was gunned down, he reminded the media.
“Remember, this is not 1971,” he said. “It’s not that army anymore, nor is that media. If we had the same media in ’71, it could have exposed [Indian] propaganda and the atrocities committed in East Pakistan. East Pakistan would still have been part of Pakistan,” he said. He praised the media’s role during the “three-day war”.
Most of our young people today were five to six years old when 9/11 took place, he said. They have seen terrorism and operations, he added.
Let me tell our youngsters that the Pakistan of the 60s and 70s was very developed, said Major General Ghafoor. The law and order situation was better, the police was performing and a dollar was worth Rs4 to Rs5, he said.
With Independence, we inherited the Kashmir issue, he said, adding that it’s a matter of ideology. “We fought several wars over Kashmir.”
The other is our geographical location — Afghanistan was invaded by the USSR, then after 9/11, the US led coalition invaded Afghanistan, he said. In 1979, a jihad culture started and then the Iranian revolution followed by sectarian rifts, he said.
Another thing affecting Pakistan today is the emergence of ‘Hindutva’ in India and how the lives of 200 million Indian Muslims have been affected, he said.