Pakistan military hits back at criticism as elections loom

In this file photo, Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor speaks with media representatives during a press conference in Rawalpindi on April 17, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2018

Pakistan military hits back at criticism as elections loom

  • Since being removed from power, former premier Nawaz Sharif has been increasingly confrontational with the military, repeatedly accusing them of unfairly targeting him and his party
  • “There is nobody else happier than the army over the completion of parliament and government’s tenure,” chief military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said

ISLAMABAD: 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 Protection Movement (PTM) and militants during a rally 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 the garrison city of 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 powerful armed forces.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.