Pakistan’s military hit back at mounting criticism of its long campaign against militancy and stressed its support for upcoming elections in a major public relations offensive on Monday.
The push comes one day after a rights group clashed with Taliban-linked militants in the country’s northwest, sparking fresh claims the military was backing proxy forces based in Pakistan that are fighting in Afghanistan.
Sunday’s fight between activists from the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and militants during a rally on Sunday left at least two dead and dozens injured on the Afghan border, according to a local official.
PTM has been calling for investigations into disappearances and extrajudicial killings by Pakistan’s security establishment, while also echoing accusations that the military allowed extremists a safe haven from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan. But in a wide-ranging press conference, chief military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor slammed accusations that the country was harboring militants and accused PTM of being manipulated by “enemies of Pakistan.”
He went on to defend the conduct of Pakistan’s fight against insurgents, noting that thousands had lost their lives in the country’s battle against extremism.
“War is a cruel action and not a fair game, more than 70,000 Pakistanis and 16,000 soldiers have been killed and wounded in this war,” said Ghafoor during a press conference in Rawalpindi.
Ghafoor was also at pains to emphasize the military’s support for elections set in July, as tensions mount following the ousting of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court on corruption charges last year.
Since being removed from power Sharif has become increasingly confrontational with the military, repeatedly accusing them of unfairly targeting him and his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party.
Ghafoor said the military stood by Pakistan’s political development ahead of what is likely to be only the second democratic transfer of power in the nation’s 70-year history. “There is nobody else happier than the Army over the completion of Parliament and government’s tenure,” Ghafoor said.
Pakistan has been under direct military rule for almost half of its existence, with at least 15 heads of states deposed before completing their term, often at the behest of the country’s armed forces.
During the press briefing, Ghafoor also hinted that the military was monitoring social media usage of “anti-state” accounts. Without identifying any specific user, the ISPR spokesman said the military was aware of accounts posting against the armed forces and the state.
The spokesman said that January to May 2018 the number of anti-state accounts operating domestically had jumped from 2,000 to 3,000 while the number of anti-state accounts overseas had climbed past 10,000. “Social media is being used to create ripples in the county,” he said, adding that while social media was not a threat yet, awareness needed to be spread on the potential harm it could cause.