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‘We Salute Sacrifices of Religious Minorities’

by Newsweek Pakistan

In wide-ranging press conference, ISPR spokesman says there is no space for open conflict between two nuclear powers

Pakistan’s armed forces respect the ‘white’ color on our national flag, and salute the sacrifices rendered by religious minorities in the country’s pursuit of peace and stability, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar said on Thursday.

Addressing his first press conference since taking assuming the office of spokesman from Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor last month, Iftikhar said Operation Raddul Fasaad, launched in February 2017, had helped restore normalcy to the country. “We claimed 40,000 muraba [one muraba is approximately equal to 25 acres] of land back from terrorists,” he said. “The journey from terrorism to tourism has been a difficult one, the people also played a part in this. Our cricket grounds are now filled once again,” he added.

During his press conference, held to mark the first anniversary of Operation Swift Retort, the spokesman said Pakistan had no choice but to respond to India’s “cowardly” attack on Feb. 26. “We were prepared, the surprise they wanted to give to us, we gave them one instead and they retreated,” he said.

“We salute the bravery of all our soldiers that continue to fight bravely in front of the enemy,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s civil and military leadership were aware of the “game” being played by India. “We are aware of all covert and overt operations of our enemies, and are prepared for all scenarios,” he added.

According to Maj. Gen. Iftikhar, Pakistan is ready to respond to any challenge to the country’s security and integrity. “If there is a challenge to Pakistan’s security, we will respond—do not test our capability and resolve,” he said. “There is no space for war between two nuclear powers. The consequences for that will be uncontrollable and things will spiral out of control. Intentions can change overnight but capabilities remain,” he said, adding that Islamabad was ready to respond “befittingly” to any aggressive action from its neighbor.

Referring to India’s defensive capabilities, the spokesman said that Pakistan was prepared for them. “India is among the top three countries globally for military spending; despite this we are 100 percent capable and will not let any harm come to our country,” he added.

The armed forces’ spokesman claimed that India in the past year had instigated “384 violations” of a ceasefire agreement across the Line of Control. “They do not spare children on their way to school… 2019 marked the most ceasefire violations and casualties recorded,” he said. “The Pakistan Army is a responsible force; when we are provoked we respond on military targets, while the Indian forces target civilians,” he added.

Referring to the ongoing communications blockade of India-held Jammu and Kashmir, the ISPR chief said the region remained an internationally recognized dispute between Pakistan and India. “In the past 207 days, the people of Occupied Kashmir have been facing major violence and oppression,” he said. “International media and human rights bodies have unmasked the violence in the occupied valley while there are protests in India regarding this. This issue cannot be silenced any longer,” he said, adding a solution to the issue was in Pakistan’s national interest.

“We stood with the Kashmiris in the past, and will do so in the future,” he said. “The entire world is aware of what is going on in Kashmir and we feel for the people of the valley. All our options are on the table. This dispute is being viewed as a flashpoint, we are moving towards a solution but the pace of this is not what it should be,” he added.

Commenting on the U.S.-Taliban peace deal to be signed on Feb. 29, the ISPR DG said nobody wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan. “We are hoping for the best,” he said, adding Islamabad has done its best to facilitate this agreement. “I don’t see any reasons for our relations with Afghanistan going sour,” he added.

To a question on two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pakistan, Maj. Gen. Iftikhar said the health ministry was handling the issue effectively. “As far as the armed forces are concerned, we are absolutely ready to help out as and when the government asks us, and all our facilities are alert to the situation,” he said.

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