The Pakistan Army, as an organ of the state, has nothing to do with political activities such as marches and dharnas, the spokesman of the Pakistan armed forces said on Wednesday.
Inter-Service Public Relations Directors Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor told the Hum News broadcaster that the military had no issues with having no involvement in future elections. He said Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa had already urged politicians to foster a system and environment that would bring an end to the military’s role in elections.
The Army is deployed during elections across Pakistan to provide security at polling stations and monitor the movement of polling materials such as ballots. The 2018 polls witnessed the largest deployment in Pakistan’s history, with 371,388 troops reportedly tasked with assuring the polls would proceed without incident.
Opposition parties have criticized this, with many alleging the military helped influence the 2018 general elections in favor of P.M. Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. The Azadi March sit-in led by Jamiat-e-Ulema (JUIF) has called for an end to all military involvement in the polls as part of its demands to end the dharna in Islamabad.
The Army spokesman told Hum News that the Army only participated in elections on the request of the government, as stated in the country’s Constitution. “We do not desire to have a role. It is always the decision of the incumbent government… Army has no role in the [decision-making],” he said. “When the troops are no longer required, they will not be deployed. It is up to the government and other political parties to decide this,” he added.
Responding to a question, Maj. Gen. Ghafoor said the Army would play no role in resolving the ongoing dharna in Islamabad. “A sit-in is a political activity. The Army, as an institution, has no role here… the government and the opposition must deal with it. It is their domain and their job.” He said the Army had only deployed troops in Islamabad during Imran Khan’s 2014 dharna at the government’s request to ensure security for buildings in the federal capital’s ‘Red Zone.’
During the Azadi March, after the ISPR spokesman had called on Maulana Fazlur Rehman to clarify a statement about interference from ‘institutions,’ the JUIF chief had said it was perhaps his personal opinion. During the interview, Maj. Gen. Ghafoor clarified that he spoke solely on behalf of the armed forces during any and all media interactions. “I’m the DG ISPR. Whatever I say [during media interactions], I say it in that capacity,” he said, adding the military was too busy with national security matters to indulge in any ‘interference.’
The Army spokesman said that COAS Gen. Bajwa had urged lawmakers prior to the Azadi March to form a parliamentary committee to resolve all national issues amicably. He also rubbished claims that either the Army or the government had made any compromises on the issue of Kashmir.
Maj. Gen. Ghafoor also appeared to walk back a statement issued by P.M. Imran Khan, saying Indian Sikh pilgrims would in fact require a passport to visit the Kartarpur Corridor. “I would like to clarify that entry [to Kartarpur] would be a legal one under a permit on a passport. There will be no compromise on security and sovereignty,” he said, adding the Kartarpur Corridor was ‘one-way’ and no visiting pilgrims would be allowed to leave the gurdwara premises.
The prime minister had last week claimed that he had waived the requirement of a passport for Indian Sikh pilgrims, saying they would only need valid IDs to visit the site.