We all thought it was a joke – a sad one – but it wasn't. Lieutenant-General Asif Ghafoor, Pakistan's former Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) and better known on Twitter as ‘Burnol’ Ghafoor, has been appointed as the Commander XII Corps in Quetta, replacing Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali, who was killed days ago in a helicopter crash along with five other members of his team.
“He is replacing Lieutenant General Sarfaraz Ali HI(M) TBT and Bar, shaheed who embraced shahadat [martyrdom] in a helicopter crash due to bad weather during flood relief operations in Lasbela, Balochistan, on August 1, 2022,” reported The Express Tribune, citing the military’s media wing and congratulating the newly appointed Commander.
However, the crash, two days later, was actually claimed by Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), an umbrella organisation of Baloch guerrilla groups. The group stated, “[It] accepts responsibility for targeting Pakistani helicopter and killing six senior military officials of the enemy forces … In the attack, carried out with antiaircraft guns, the helicopter was badly damaged and later completely destroyed after it crashed.” According to the same statement, Lieutenant-General Sarfaraz Ali “was directly involved in enforced disappearances and the Baloch genocide”.
The appointment of somebody like Ghafoor, who, according to some medical experts, resembles most of the tracts of a psychopath personality, is a clear signal that the Army, far from being willing to come to terms with the Baloch issues, is going to worsen an already desperate situation and may increase the violence against the inhabitants of the region.
For those who have been living on another planet for the past few years, Ghafoor, the better armchair warrior Twitter has ever produced, had, in fact, been fired from his DG ISPR job for tweeting about the Pashtun long march to Bannu, that “already ‘butchered’ Pashtuns would be inviting further ‘butchery’ due to their satyagraha resistance”. For this, he gained the title of ‘Bannu’s Butcher’. But that was not enough. In a seemingly awkward tweet after the Indian decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, Ghafoor claimed that Pakistan will ‘take Kashmir back’. “It won’t be until just struggle of our Kashmiris succeeds. It will IA succeed,” he had said on Twitter (IA stands for InshaAllah).
Rubbing Salt Into Baloch Wounds
Leave alone the display of sheer ignorance of history, he was also engaged in threatening people and in exchanges not really expected by not only a DG ISPR but a normal, decent, human being. His appointment at the XII Corps in Quetta has not been taken lightly by many: “This is the reformed and changed army leadership for you. By appointing the odious ex-DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor as Commander XII Corps, the brass has added insult to the injury the Baloch have sustained at its hands. A vile, uncouth man, a disgusting move,” said scholar Mohammed Taqi on Twitter. He added:
“This is what callous hubris looks like. The army brass is just showcasing its arrogance & disdain for civilians. By appointing Gen Asif Ghafoor they haven’t just rubbed salt into the Baloch wounds but also thumbed their nose at Nawaz Sharif, whom this urchin had publicly rebuked.”
The arrogance and disdain of the Pakistani Army for civilians in general and for Baloch, in particular, are, of course, not new. Killing and dumping, enforced disappearances, mass graves and torture have only increased in the past years, also due to the Chinese presence linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Army has been acting like a colonial force dealing with an occupied country, more than like a body committed to protecting its citizens, directly or through their proxies.
For Ghafoor, 'All Is Fair in War'
The favourite proxies of Pakistani security forces in Balochistan are what people call ‘Death Squads’. The ‘Death Squads’ have been constituted by intelligence agencies to fight nationalists; they are composed of petty criminals who, in return for their job, have been given weapons and total immunity for any crime they commit. They engage in a range of illegal activities, including drug dealing, smuggling of weapons, and running terror training camps, private jails, torture cells and also the killing and abduction of activists.
Ghafoor is also the person who, years ago, made a brutally frank admission about the Pakistan army’s professional ethos, for which he deserves due credit. During a press conference, while replying to a question on missing persons, the DG ISPR replied, “We don’t want any person to go missing but where there is a war, you have to do a number of (undesirable) things. It’s said that everything is fair in love and war. War occurs to be ruthless.” And there’s nothing more ruthless than the war the Pakistani army has been waging against his people.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)