Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa with tribal leaders in Pakistan Image Credit: Courtesy: ISPR

Dubai: Pakistan has eliminated sanctuaries of all terrorists groups including the Haqqani Network from its soil through a well-thought-out military campaign, said a top military official.

“But all this has come with a huge price. Besides cost in blood of over 75,000 Pakistanis, there has been loss of more than $123 billion [Dh451.6 billion] to the national exchequer,” said Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) — the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces.

On the possibility of peace between India and Pakistan, Major General Ghafoor said he believed that all issues between the two nuclear-armed countries, including the core issue of Kashmir, need to be resolved to normalise the bilateral relationship.

During an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Major General Ghafoor talked about Pakistan’s success in the war against terrorism, Pakistan-India relations and the possibility of peace between the two countries. He also discussed Pakistan’s relations with the UAE and the much publicised $54-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which will link Pakistan’s Gwadar Port with China.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

What measures are being taken to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan? Would you share what has been done so far and what is planned?

Pakistan has fought a successful war against terrorism — a war which entered Pakistan through the 2,611-km scantily manned Pak-Afghan border when US-led coalition forces started military operations in Afghanistan against AQ [Al Qaida]. Whereas there are no more organised sanctuaries, for elimination of remaining disorganised scanty residual presence of militants, Operation Raddul Fasaad, a largely intelligence-based operation is in progress.

Effects of operation have visibly reduced the level of violence throughout Pakistan. This residual presence also takes advantage of 2.7 millions Afghan refugees inside Pakistan by morphing into peaceful refugees. There is a need to undertake their respectable repatriation to their country.

Presently there are over 200,000 Pakistani troops deployed in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] along Pak-Afghan border. This deployment is to continue despite successes inside Pakistan as threat continues to reside inside Afghanistan not due to lack of will but lack of capacity of the Afghan forces.

To safeguard own success, Pakistan has started to fence entire 2,611-km length of Pak-Afghan border and construction of new forts/posts along the border to deny free cross-border movement of terrorists.

Besides kinetic operations, Pakistan has undertaken major socio-economic development projects in cleared areas. This is aimed at carrying forward relative stability to enduring peace.

Pakistan is sending a military force to Saudi Arabia. Is it for the war in Yemen?

Pakistan’s contingent is part of the ongoing Pak-Saudi bilateral security cooperation since 1982. It is neither part of Islamic Force nor it shall be deployed outside KSA borders. The role of Pakistani troops is training and advice.

Pakistan has similar bilateral security arrangements with other GCC and regional countries.

What measures are being taken after the US suspended aid to Pakistan amid allegations that Pakistan is not doing enough to tackle terrorists and eliminate safe havens?

Main US concern is alleged inaction against Haqqani Network. Pakistan has operated against terrorists of all hue and colour including the Haqqani Network. Earlier, till 2014, Pakistan focused on operations against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] and targeted Haqqani Network during Operation Zerb-e-Azb, [from] 2014 onwards. This was due to lack of capacity and not lack of will. There are no organised terrorists sanctuaries inside Pakistan anymore.

Pakistan has repeatedly conveyed the above stance to US authorities. Present violence inside Afghanistan should not be linked to Pakistan. Pakistan shall do anything to support achievement of peace in Afghanistan but can neither fight inside Afghanistan nor will do it again inside Pakistan.

To ensure achieving peace in Afghanistan, ungoverned spaces inside Afghanistan would have to be cleared by Afghan and RSM [Resolute Support Mission] Forces. A better Pak-Afghan border security arrangement are quintessential towards this end. Pakistan has long been pursuing this with Afghanistan.

How do you see UAE-Pakistan relations?

Pakistan maintains excellent brotherly relationship with UAE. UAE has assisted Pakistan phenomenally for socio-economic development projects during our counter-terrorism effort in FATA.

We don’t foresee any deterioration in our relationship and look forward to continued strong relationship. UAE Army contingent is participating in a Pakistan National Day Parade this month.

Pakistan is blamed whenever there is any terrorist attack in Afghanistan? Why?

Various independent international surveys report that more than 50 per cent of Afghan areas are not under effective control of Afghan forces. There is scanty presence of Afghan forces along Pak-Afghan border. Lack of effectiveness inside Afghanistan cannot be done away with by throwing blame on Pakistan.

If Afghanistan still believes that there is a support to TTA from Pakistani soil, they must come up with actionable intelligence.

No country other than a Pakistan is more keen to see a peaceful Afghanistan as we are the immediate neighbours. Peace in Afghanistan is important for peace in Pakistan.

What is the biggest threat to Pakistan currently. Is Pakistan Army still ‘India focused’ or more focused on handling issue of terrorism?

Threat from India is perpetual. India is not only challenging Pakistan conventionally along our eastern borders, but is busy in fomenting unrest through terrorism using Afghan soil. And this is not mere rhetoric. Pakistan has arrested a serving Indian naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav working as RAW [Research and Analysis Wing, India’s primary foreign intelligence agency] agent in Pakistan. So we are not having any let-up in safeguarding against Indian threat.

We have successfully fought against threat of terrorism and now consolidating it for enduring peace and stability. While threat remains from India, both in conventional and sub-conventional domain, our biggest challenge is to maintain this stability with threat still residing inside Afghanistan coupled with economic difficulties.

Having said that, Pakistan has a strong and combat-hardened professional standing armed forces ready to thwart and defeat any threat. We are a responsible nuclear power with over 200 millions resilient Pakistanis. No threat can deter our national resolve.

Is there any chance of normalising relations between Pakistan and India?

Pakistan is a peaceful country and doesn’t want conflict with anyone. However, our desire for peace should never be mistaken as our weakness. For normalised Indo-Pak relationship, all issues including the core issue of Kashmir between the two nuclear countries need to be resolved. India needs to behave like a responsible country, stop atrocities on both sides of the LOC [Line of Control] and also discontinue interference inside Pakistan through state-sponsored terrorism.

How is the army making sure of continuity of the CPEC after the next general elections?

Continuity of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not linked to elections or any other event. China is our time-tested friend and CPEC is a nation-to-nation project.

We know enemies of peace and of Pakistan are trying to scuttle CPEC, but Pakistan shall never let them succeed. Pakistan Army has the responsibility for security of the project, which is engine of progress not only for Pakistan but for the region. For this special security, a division has been raised.

Do you think it is the right time to invest in Pakistan? Is it safe for foreign investment?

Pakistan has been successful in war against terrorism. Peace has gradually returned to Pakistan. We are moving towards enduring stability. CPEC is progressing well. All this is affording economic investment opportunities in Pakistan. There are no threats anymore and environment is conducive for investment.

Peace and prosperity is our destination and we expect the world to contribute in promoting peace and economy not only in Pakistan but in the region as well.