ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army said on Thursday that it has “nothing to do with politics” and will remain “apolitical”, as it asserted that its chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was not seeking an extension and will retire on November 29 “no matter what.”
Amidst a vicious social media campaign against the powerful “establishment” for not backing former prime minister Imran Khan, military spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar said that Pakistan’s survival lies solely on democracy and its strength lies in the institutions, be it Parliament, Supreme Court or the Armed forces.
The Pakistan Army has “nothing to do with politics” and the institution has decided to remain apolitical in the future as well, he said while addressing a press conference, three days after Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif was sworn-in as the new Prime Minister after prolonged political turmoil that also involved the judiciary and the military.
Khan, who came to power in 2018, reportedly with the backing of the military, became the first Pakistan prime minister who was defeated in a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly.
Talking about the role of the armed forces in the country’s politics, Iftikhar, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) the media wing of the Army- said the Army has “nothing to do with politics” and said the institution has decided to remain apolitical in the future as well. “A better word than neutral is apolitical for describing our role,” he said.
The press conference was also held after the recent Corps Commanders Conference during which the military’s top brass assured that the “Pakistan Army is aware of its responsibilities and shall continue to defend territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan against all internal and external threats under all circumstances.”
Iftikhar confirmed that former prime minister Khan had approached the army chief to help find a solution to the political crisis. “It is unfortunate that our political leadership was not ready to talk. So the army chief and DG ISI went to the PM Office and three scenarios were discussed,” he said, recalling that one was that the no-confidence motion should be held as it was.
The other were that the prime minister resigns or the no-confidence motion was retracted and the assemblies were dissolved.
“No option from the establishment was given,” Iftikhar clarified while rejecting rumours circulating on social media about the establishment meeting the Opposition parties. “There is no truth to this,” he asserted.
He clarified that Gen Bajwa was “unwell” on the day Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Sharif took office and had to skip the oath-taking ceremony on Monday.
The DG ISPR reaffirmed that the “establishment or army had the best of relations with the government” and assured that there was no disagreement between the two institutions.
Iftikhar also announced that Army chief Gen Bajwa, 61, will retire this year.
“Let me put this to rest. The chief of army staff is neither seeking an extension nor will he accept an extension. No matter what, he will be retiring on the 29th of November 2022,” he said.
Gen Bajwa, who was appointed by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2016, was granted an extension in August 2019 by then prime minister Khan. He also rubbished the rumours about the threat of a martial law at the height of the recent political turmoil.
“There will never be martial law in Pakistan.” To a question about opening of courts in the middle of night when the battle for the no-confidence vote was going on, he said that it was a decision by the courts and the army had nothing to do with it.
The powerful Army, which has ruled the coup-prone country for more than half of its 73 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.
Khan, who was ousted from power on Sunday, had apparently also lost support of the Army after he refused to endorse the appointment of the ISI spy agency chief last year. Finally he agreed but it soured his ties with Army.
In response to a question, the spokesman said that the army was on board with the visit of then Prime Minister Khan to Russia. But termed it embarrassing when Russia launched an attack on Ukraine when Khan was in Moscow.
The spokesman said that the United States had not asked Pakistan to provide army bases after withdrawing from Afghanistan. “But if the US had asked for the bases, the army’s response would have been the same as that of PM Khan,” he said.
Maj Gen Iftikhar said that the government of the day was responsible to take action if somebody targeted the Army. To a question about relations between former premier Khan and COAS Bajwa, Maj Gen Iftikhar said that the army chief has a relation of mutual respect with him. He also said that protest rallies by Imran Khan were a part of the political process and there was nothing wrong with it.
Maj Gen Iftikhar also said that the word “conspiracy” was not used in the statement issued after a meeting of the National Security Committee last month, apparently contradicting ousted prime minister Khan who has accused America of hatching a conspiracy to topple his government. He said that the minutes of the National Security Council meeting can be declassified if the government decides.
About the threatening “letter” and the protest launched later on, he said the protest can be launched for various reasons. “This demarche was issued because there was a statement about interference and undiplomatic language.”
Talking about India, he alleged that there was always danger of a “false flag operation” by it.
But he said Pakistan Army was “keeping eye open and there is no unusual activity on the eastern border”. He urged the people to avoid using negative language against the armed forces.