Dialogue offer to India always on table: ISPR chief

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ISLAMABAD: The military spokesman on Monday said Pakistan’s offer to India for dialogue always remained on the table and underscored that any progress towards normalisation was dependent on the attitude of the two sides to the process.

Director General of the Inter-Services Public Rela­tions Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor was speaking at a media briefing at which he dwelt upon the country’s relations with India, the United States and Afghanistan and the improved border coordination mechanism with Iran. He also touched upon the political challenges at home and reserved a significant portion of his nearly hour-long media interaction for responding to the critics within political parties and social media activists who keep questioning military’s policies.

“To normalise ties we would have to review many things, we would have to introspect, and for moving forward both sides would have to show positivity,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said and added that there was no space for war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The military spokesman, who was speaking to the media for the first time since Pakistan and India renewed their 2003 ceasefire agreementlast week, stressed the need for honouring the understanding announced after the hotline contact between the directors general military operations of the two countries. He said Pakistan “may not even respond to the first bullet as long as it does not cause any casualty, but the second one would not go unresponded”.

There has at least been one reported incident of ceasefire violation by India in Azad Kashmir in which a young man got injured after being hit by a bullet in the foot.

“We expect India to take this (ceasefire renewal) forward in a positive manner instead of reverting to violations,” the spokesman said.

Pak-US ties under stress

Maj Gen Ghafoor candidly admitted that Pakistan’s relations with the US were under stress.

“The issues are being discussed at the diplomatic level and we are also discussing the matters pertaining to security assistance,” he said.

In an interesting message directed towards the Trump administration, the military spokesman said: “We want to see peace in Afghanistan and would like to see US-led coalition forces go back after attaining success.” Pakistan, he maintained, would extend any and every help for achieving that goal while keeping the national interest foremost.

He once again denied the presence of the Haqqani network in Pakistan, but added a caveat that there might be some residual existence of the group in the Afghan refugee camps. He, therefore, repeated the demand for expeditious repatriation of the refugees.

Pak-Afghan action plan for peace

The ISPR chief shed light on a recent visit of an Afghan delegation led by National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar, which also met Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. The talks, he said, focused on the new bilateral ties framework — Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity. Five working groups have to be set up under the new framework.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said that setting up of the groups on military and intelligence cooperation was being prioritised, which would improve coordination in the fight against terrorism.

Talking about the fencing of Pak-Afghan border and construction of border forts under a Pakistani initiative for controlling the unauthorised cross-border movement along the 2,600km-long porous border, he said there had been 186 cross-border attacks by militants from the Afghan side on the groups carrying out the construction work over the past three months.

Seven Pakistani soldiers have been martyred and 39 injured in these attacks.

“Even at this cost we are not slowing down the effort,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said, adding that a secured border served not only Pakistan’s interest, but also of Afghanistan.

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