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Politicians must not tempt army with chances, says Gen Bajwa

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ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa briefed in-camera the Senate Committee of Whole on matters pertaining to national security and threats, allaying fears and apprehensions of the legislators on Tuesday.

Gen Bajwa gave an overview, which was followed by a detailed presentation by DG Military Operations Maj General Sahir Shamshad Mirza. After the presentation, the army chief personally answered the questions asked by the legislators that touched upon all areas of national interest and security.

The army chief reportedly told the committee that parliament should thrash out policies on defence and foreign affairs and that the army would follow them, but asked the legislators that the politicians must not give an opportunity to the army (for interference).

He also said that the army did not have any desire to play an extra-constitutional role and parliament was supreme. Regarding the Faizabad sit-in, the army chief reportedly told the forum that the police operation had pushed the situation from bad to worse, causing countrywide protests. “Had the army taken any action against the sit-in participants, the situation would have worsened,” he was quoted as saying.

However, he admitted that the army officer should not have signed the agreement between the government and the sit-in organisers, but added that the sit-in would not have ended without his signature.

Sources say the Senate was also briefed on the missing persons and told that some of them pretend to be missing by going into hiding. PML-N Senator Nehal Hashmi told journalists that the army chief vehemently denied the military role in the sit-ins, including the recent one staged at Faizabad, and offered to step down, if it was proved otherwise.

He added: “The army chief said that there is no room for a presidential system, because not only it weakens a country but also leads to dangerous polarisation.” He said Gen Bajwa stated that the army was ‘subservient’ and ‘answerable to the public’ and the institution had to act according to the law.

In an informal chat with former chairman Senate Senator Farooq H Naek, the army chief said he was satisfied with the role of the army given in the Constitution and that the army was playing its constitutional role and would continue to do so.

The proceedings, which lasted for over four hours, were also attended by ISI DG Lt-Gen Naveed Mukhtar and ISPR DG Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, and presided over by Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani.

The event was part of an ongoing exercise by the Senate to prepare policy guidelines in light of the emerging regional realities and national security paradigm with a special focus on the recent visits of the army chief to Iran and Afghanistan. The forum was informed that these visits were part of the military diplomacy which had been extremely productive.

Leader of the House Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, after the in-camera meeting, told media persons outside the Senate banquet hall that Gen Bajwa reiterated that the army would continue working according to the constitutional role and that the policy guidelines to be given by the government would be acted upon.

Rabbani said they all were satisfied with the in-camera briefing, whereas PPP’s Senator Abdul Rehman Malik chanted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (Long Live Pakistan) when his comment was sought about the event.

The session was also called to deliberate upon the emerging national security paradigm for Pakistan, especially with respect to the recent visits of Gen Bajwa, and other recent developments in this regard, said a statement released by the Senate Secretariat.

Rabbani welcomed the army chief in his opening remarks and gave a brief insight into the role of the committee in relations to issues linked with foreign policy and national security. “Today’s exercise, first of its kind, is being carried out to ensure that Pakistan’s national security policy is in line with the emerging regional realities and the incipient security paradigm for Pakistan,” the statement quoted Rabbani.

It added Rabbani stated that “the Parliament is mandated to oversee policies of the government and if required, provide guidelines to improvise the same”. During the session, Gen Bajwa briefed the senators on the Islamic military alliance. According to the sources, he said the 41-member alliance was not against any country and that the alliance’s terms of reference (ToRs) were yet to be finalised.

He also gave a categorical assurance to the legislators that Pakistan would make sure there would be no war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it was learnt. They were fully aware of the foreign conspiracies against Pakistan, he added, One senator claimed that the army chief said that the 220 million-strong Pakistani nation could deal with the challenges like Iran with 80 million people.

The army chief also clarified that retired military officers giving analysis on television were not spokespersons of the Pakistan Army. The military leadership told the lawmakers that since their inception in 2015, military courts had managed to decide 274 cases and had awarded 161 death sentences and 56 convicts had been executed during that time – 13 of these before Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad and 43 since its launch.

Maj Gen Sahir reportedly told the House that 1,249 combing and intelligence-based operations had been conducted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata under Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. Thirty-one major operations had been undertaken in the region, he added.

The DGMO reportedly told the Senate committee that 13,011 operations had been conducted in Punjab, including seven major operations, whereas 1,410, including 29 major operations in Balochistan. Likewise, 2015 operations were conducted in Sindh, including seven major operations.

He added that 18,001 operations were conducted based on intelligence information, while 4,983 search-based operations were conducted and 19,993 weapons were recovered. With reference to Karachi, he said since the launch of the Rangers operation in 2013, 8,780 suspects had been handed over to the police, 12,105 weapons seized and 1,948 terrorists apprehended.

The DGMO said 154 people were freed from captivity and 154 kidnappers arrested, adding that 24 soldiers had martyred so far. After the briefing, the ISPR chief during a brief media talk said a consensus existed among the participants of the briefing that “Pakistan is very strong and no one can defeat us till we are united”.

“There was a consensus that Pakistan is a very strong country, a very strong nation and there was agreement that we have to move forward in a united manner and we will face the dangers facing the country together.”

He said it was agreed upon in the meeting that whatever threats Pakistan was faced with would be fought collectively. “As long as we are one, none can defeat us,” he said. “It was a wonderful session. The DGMO talked about the geo-strategic situation through the security lens, made the Senators aware of the dangers facing the country. He also updated regarding the war on terror and talked of our future course of action,” he explained.

The DGMO’s briefing, focusing on full-spectrum issues, lasted for an hour after which there was around three-hour-long question and answer session, said the army spokesman. The ISPR chief described the session as a good beginning and said a detailed briefing would be given to journalists within three four days.

“The COAS briefed the Senate members on Pakistan’s policy on the war against terrorism. DGMO gave a detailed briefing on the security situation,” the DG ISPR said. “Senators expressed their pleasure in meeting the COAS and acknowledged the sacrifices of the armed forces,” he said.

Earlier, Gen Bajwa was received at the Parliament House by Deputy Chairman Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of JUI-F and led him to the chamber of Rabbani who then took him to the Senate hall where the in-camera session was held.

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