ISLAMABAD: The army on Monday announced the successful completion of its ground offensive in Khyber Agency’s Rajgal Valley, a rugged and difficult terrain that was seen as key infiltration point for terrorist groups including Da’ish to cross over from neighbouring Afghanistan to Pakistan.
In over a month-long campaign supported by Pakistan Air Force, the army gained full control of the Valley that shares border with Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, known as a hotbed of Da’ish.
“We have successfully completed the operation in Rajgal Valley,” announced chief military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor at a news conference in Rawalpindi.
Security forces went into one of the last two remaining pockets to be cleared from terrorists in the tribal areas on July 15 after intelligence reports suggested that Da’ish in Afghanistan could use Rajgal valley to infiltrate into Pakistan.
During the campaign, 52 terrorists were killed, 32 injured, four of them surrendered while one was arrested, the Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
He added that two soldiers also embraced martyrdom and six others were injured in the six-week long counter-terrorism operation.
The minimum casualties from security forces were attributed to the army’s better planning and intelligence gathering. The DG ISPR pointed out that since there was no ground operation going on at the time of launch of Khyber-IV, all the best available resources were employed in order to ensure minimum losses to the army.
Rajgal Valley is spread over an area of 250 square kilometres and was seen as one of the most difficult areas for military operation. Also lack of road networks and other communication means made it difficult for the army to carry logistics.
That was the reason choppers were used for this purpose, Gen Ghafoor told reporters.
He said Afghan security forces did not take any measure on their side of the border but acknowledged that US resolute mission indeed took certain steps to check movement of fleeing terrorists.
The chief military spokesperson said the security forces were now conducting a ‘sanitisation operation’ and consolidating gains. Huge cache of ammunition and explosive as well as IEDs were also seized. Some of the IEDs had the marking of ‘Made in India,’ he revealed.
Sharing overall progress of Raddul Fassad, he said over 124,000 intelligence-based operations were conducted across Pakistan. Contrary to reports of rise in crime and other incidents in Karachi, Ghafoor said only one terrorist attack was reported from the port city this year as compared to 57 in 2013 and 34 incidents of target killings compared to 965 in 2013.
Ghafoor disclosed that recent terrorist attack near Arfa Kareem Tower in Lahore was to target Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif. He said the chief minister was to attend an event there but changed his plan at the last minute.
The army spokesperson gave stunning details as to how militants disguised as Shias targeted a Sunni seminary in Rawalpindi during the Muharram procession in 2013 to create a sectarian divide.
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At least eight people were killed and over 80 others injured during an Ashura procession when unidentified men snatched guns from policemen and opened fire on them. A mosque was also set on fire, and a number of shops were gutted.
It was suspected that the attack in Raja Bazaar was carried out by a Shia organisation. The incident prompted authorities to clamp down curfew in Rawalpindi as army troops were called in to control the situation.
However, DG ISPR said the attack was not carried out by a Shia organisation. Instead it was carried out by a Sunni militant outfit. He said a network that was behind the attack was busted.
A confessional video of suspects involved in the attack was played during the briefing. Two suspects identified as Shazaib and Ajmal were shown claiming how they planned and orchestrated the Raja Bazaar attack in 2013.
Hailing from Bajaur Agency, Shahzaib, the prime suspect, in his confessional statement revealed that he and a group of seven others were given the task to carry out the Raja Bazzar attack. They were asked to wear black clothes in order to pose as Shias.
Another suspect Ajmal corroborated the statement of his commander Shahzaib. He said Shahzaib was in contact with a commander in Kunar, Afghanistan.
Ghafoor said the group appeared to be linked to Indian RAW and Kulbhushan Jadhav network. He insisted that there was no Shia-Sunni divide in the country but forces inimical to Pakistan were creating fault lines to achieve their objectives.
When asked, the army spokesperson said Pakistan had conveyed all its concerns to the US regarding the involvement of RAW and Afghan intelligence agency.
In view of the repeated US demand seeking action against the Haqqani Network, Ghafoor insisted that Pakistan had carried out indiscriminate operation against all groups including the Haqqani Network.
He said US military delegations were offered to choose the place and timing to verify Pakistan’s counter-terrorism successes. The US was even given evidence in this regard, he said, adding that repeated US demands had more to do with global politics.
He said Pakistan would take decisions in its best interest if US takes any ‘coercive measures’ in its new Afghan strategy to be announced on Tuesday by President Trump.
Speaking against the backdrop of speculations that all is not well between civil and military leadership following the ouster of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, DG ISPR claimed that the term ‘civil-military’ should not even be used.
“There is no civil-military divide…we are all one,” he claimed. “In the kind of environment we live, there may be differences but that should not be labelled as civil-military issue.”
“Statecraft doesn’t work in ideal way and we should accept the difference of opinion on functional issues in a positive way,” he stressed.
On making public the findings of the Dawn Leak inquiry report, he said it was the prerogative of the government to take such decisions.
He also distanced the army from recent statements given by former military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. “His [Musharraf’s] services for the army remain part of the record.”
However, he was giving statement as the ex-president and head of his political party and not as the ex-army chief. “We cannot own his political statements because he is in politics now,” Ghafoor added.
Responding to a question that outlawed Jumatul Ahrar formed a group to fight against India in Kashmir, DG ISPR said Pakistan, though provide political, diplomatic and moral support, would not allow anyone to interfere in the disputed territory.
He, however, insisted that Kashmir struggle could not be branded terrorism since it was internationally recognised disputed.