Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar on Tuesday categorically denied any foreign conspiracy in the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan.

Speaking to a private news channel Gen Babar rebutted Imran Khan’s allegations and said “no evidence of a foreign conspiracy was found” and the participants of the National Security Committee (NSC) were clearly told that no conspiracy was hatched against the PTI-led government.

The DG ISPR said he had “already clarified” the matter.

Regarding the first National Security Committee meeting on the diplomatic cable at the centre of the “conspiracy allegation” that was held during Imran’s tenure, Gen Babar said it was attended by top military leadership and the participants were “clearly and in detail briefed by agencies that there is no kind of conspiracy or any evidence of it”.

Asked to explain how he would define an act of interference and an act of conspiracy, the DG said they were diplomatic terms and diplomats could better explain them.

The DG ISPR was also asked about “propaganda and criticism” against the army after it “distanced” itself from political affairs.

He said that the army and its leadership were being targeted through “baseless rumours and propaganda which is very unfortunate and shouldn’t happen”.

Responding to former interior minister Sheikh Rashid’s claims about the NSC meeting, the military spokesperson said everyone has a right to have an opinion but “no one should spread lies”.

The military’s spokesperson lamented that propaganda was initiated against the army and the military leadership on social media. 

BUDGET: Major General Babar said that the defence budget allocation for the fiscal year 2022-23, contrary to perception, had decreased after factors such as inflation and rupee depreciation were accounted for, and was now 2.2 percent of the GDP from 2.8 percent last year.

In the next budget, defence services were allocated Rs1,523 billion, which makes up 17.5 percent of the total current expenditure and is 11.16 percent higher than last year. In terms of expenditure, the defence budget is 16 percent of the government’s planned total outlay — exactly the same as it was a year before.

The declared increase in defence budget was in sharp contrast to the cuts in spending on the development sector (11 percent), health (31 percent), education (1.5 percent) and housing (77 percent).

The allocation makes up nearly 1.94 percent of the GDP and 16 percent of the total expenditure planned by the government for the next year. The hike is almost at par with the average inflation calculated for the year ending on June 30.

However, the DG ISPR defended the budgetary allocation for defence and denied that it has seen an increase.

He said there was an “annual debate” on army’s allocation following the budget, adding that the money earmarked for defence services was based on the “threat perception, challenges, deployment and the resources available”.

“So [after] considering at all these things, the army hasn’t had any [net] increase in the budget since 2020,” the DG ISPR claimed. “When you look at inflation and rupee depreciation, it (defence budget) was actually reduced. It was 2.8 percent of GDP last year and now we are at 2.2 percent so the budget is continuously going down in GDP terms.”

He said that after factoring in this year’s inflation, the defence budget had actually taken a hit of Rs100 billion. “Despite these challenges, we did not allow any shortcoming in our capabilities,” Iftikhar added.

Elaborating on the measures taken by the army to curb its spending, he said instructions had been passed to conserve fuel and reduce expenditure on utilities, while Friday would be observed as a “dry day” where no official transport would be used except for emergencies.

Gen Babar said the army had returned to the government Rs6bn from Covid allotments and Rs3.5bn from other allotments in last year’s budget.

GEN BAJWA’S CHINA VISIT: The military spokesperson described the recent China visit of army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as “very imporatnt” in which the two countries vowed to step up cooperation on “their strategic partnership” in the challenging times.

The DG ISPR disclosed that the army chief also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the visit.

Pakistan-China have strategic ties which are crucial for peace in the region, he said and added that no compromise would be made on the security of CPEC projects. Security of the CPEC projects has been given to Pakistan Army, he added.

INDIA LOBBY AGAINST PAKISTAN IN FATF: On the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) plan, the DG ISPR avoided commenting on it but maintained that “New Delhi had lobbied to get Pakistan blacklisted”.

On the implementation of FATF’s points, he shared that the government formed a special cell in 2019. In this special cell, a coordination mechanism was formed between different department’s ministries and agencies, he added.

“This special cell formulated a complete action plan and all departments, ministries and agencies implemented it. The cell worked day and night to develop an effective strategy for money laundering and terror financing, which was implemented by all departments,” said Maj Gen Babar Ifitkhar.

The DG ISPR said that because of the cell this legislation was done and Pakistan implemented FATF’s 26 points out of 27. He also added that the legislation helped Pakistan recover Rs58 billion. 

GEN PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: The DG ISPR confirmed that former army chief General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s family was in contact with the military regarding his mooted return to Pakistan in light of his poor health.

He said that Musharraf’s return to Pakistan from UAE was a decision for his family and doctors to make.

“The institution and its leadership have the stance that he should come back,” he said.

The DG ISPR also talked about Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s recent visit to China, saying it was “very important”. He said the trip would have “far-reaching effects” that would soon be seen.

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