Islamabad, Jun 10: Pakistani Army Corps Commanders at a conference here on Thursday appealed to politicians not to "slander" the army over the issue of fighting militants, Dawn reported.
The report said, on the surface of it the 139th Corps Commanders Conference appeared to be different from its predecessors in that it provided the military's viewpoint on a number of recent controversies.
A lengthy press release issued by the ISPR went so far as to provide a rare insight into the broad contours of ‘renegotiated terms of engagement' with the Americans.
“The participants noted with regret that despite briefing the joint session of the Parliament and deferring the ultimate findings to the commission appointed by the government, some quarters, because of their perceptual biases, were trying to deliberately run down the Armed Forces, and the Army in particular,” the statement said.
It cautioned that the campaign against the army would be seen as an attempt to “drive a wedge” between the military, organs of the state and the nation. “Nothing should distract them (the troops) from the job at hand (fighting terrorism).”
The twenty-odd commanders led by their chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who till recently was credited with having bolstered the army's image after his predecessor Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf's departure, sent out a clear message: “All of us should take cognizance of this unfortunate trend (of slandering the army) and put an end to it.”
Another recent controversy that the press release addressed was that of the billions of dollars in US military aid. Figures were quoted to prove that the armed forces did not get the bulk of the amount reimbursed by Washington for the expenses incurred for fighting the US-led war against militancy.
“Under the head of Coalition Support Fund (CSF), against a total sum of $13 billion expected from the US, only $8.6 billion have been received by the Government of Pakistan. The government has further made available only $1.4 billion to the Army over last ten years. A relatively smaller amount has gone to Navy and PAF as well.
“The rest, ie approximately $6 billion, have been utilised by the Government of Pakistan for budgetary support, which ultimately means the people of Pakistan.”
The military, according to Reuters, also repeated its opposition to missile strike by US drones, saying “these are not acceptable under any circumstances”.
The army chief also touched on the impending North Waziristan operation, which the US has been pressuring for, saying he would accept no external pressure on its timing.
“The army was following a well thought-out campaign plan and is under no pressure to carry out operations at a particular time. Future operations, as and when undertaken, will be with political consensus.”
But the statement hinted at a possible change of tactics for dealing with the North Waziristan problem. With Gen Kayani calling on tribesmen to evict foreigners, it appeared that he wanted to utilise the services of loyal tribes to force the foreigners out instead of pitting the army against the militants.
The COAS reiterated the principle of no-tolerance for terrorism: “It was wrong, in principle, to allow others to use our land for fighting their battles. This must not be allowed. Army in North Waziristan is committed to supporting the people of NWA in this effort.”
The statement set clear limits on intelligence-sharing with the United States.
“It has been decided to share intelligence strictly on the basis of reciprocity and complete transparency,” it said.
“It has been clearly put across to US intelligence officials that no intelligence agency can be allowed to carry out independent operation on our soil.”
The commanders sought to distance themselves from the domestic political situation as well as dispel the impression that they were backing the PPP-led government.
“The army leadership reaffirmed its resolve to continue supporting the democratic system without any preference to any particular political party.”
However, the commanders also used the opportunity to voice their complaints. The press release spoke of the ‘insufficient support' the army was getting from civilian law enforcement agencies.
“LEAs … need to be more focussed and proactive and Army will be there to extend all possible support.”
Gen Kayani has in the past indicated that the military was increasingly becoming impatient with the LEAs performance.
Perhaps what was most noteworthy was the public announcement about the ‘renegotiated terms of engagement' with the US after the May 2 raid. Unusually, the military took pains to explain what it had sought from the Americans, even though it is evident that only those facets were revealed that projected a positive image of the army.
While it has been reported without any concrete evidence that US had been asked to reduce its military footprint in Pakistan, Gen Kayani was quoted in the press release as having told his commanders that all military training of Pakistani troops by the Americans had ceased.
The US had been training Pakistani troops for some of the recently acquired weaponry, besides building the capacity of the Frontier Corps.
The general also clarified the ‘new limits' for intelligence sharing with the US.
“It has been decided to share intelligence strictly on the basis of reciprocity and complete transparency. It has been clearly put across to US intelligence officials that no intelligence agency can be allowed to carry out independent operation on our soil,” Gen Kayani was quoted by ISPR.
Gen Kayani, who like his predecessor has earned the reputation of being pro-West, has recently made a conscious effort to present a more independent and nationalist image to his army and to the public at large.