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ISLAMABAD, Nov 12: It was Benazir Bhutto who had famously said ‘democracy is the best revenge’ — the words later became her party’s slogan — but it was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who visited the General Headquarters (GHQ) and felt the benefit of democracy as he received a guard of honour there on Tuesday.

Mr Sharif was booted out of power in October 1999 by the then generals, headed by former president Gen Pervez Musharraf. As a third-time prime minister, it was his first visit to the seat of military power in Rawalpindi.

The prime minister placed floral wreath at the Martyrs Monument and prayed for them.

Wearing a black suit and maroon necktie on a bright sunny day, PM Sharif was received by the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, at the military headquarters. According to the media wing of the Prime Minister’s Office, Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar, Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Special Assistant to PM Tariq Fatemi accompanied the prime minister.

Although the visit was planned earlier, it coincided with the army’s strong reaction to a statement of Jamaat-i-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hassan that slain Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakeemullah Mehsud was martyr, an honour which he doubted could be given to personnel of the army for joining hands with the Americans in the fight against terror.

Understanding the sensitivity of the ongoing controversy for the military commanders, PM Sharif said: “Those who have fought for Pakistan, Ghazi (living) and Shaheed (martyred), have sacrificed their today for ensuring a better tomorrow for our future generations and all of them are our benefactors.”

He said the nation held the army in the highest esteem as it had always shown professional excellence in times of war and peace.

“It is this passion and high morale that is the biggest strength of our forces. Those who have laid down their lives in the fight against terrorism would be remembered forever.” The prime minister said every soldier of the Pakistan Army entered the battlefield with a passion to sacrifice his life for the country and with a desire for martyrdom.

Rightly so, the PM also didn’t miss the opportunity to underline the importance of democracy to the country. He said Pakistan was a democratic and peace-loving country and wanted proliferation of stability in the world. “The people of Pakistan repose complete trust in democracy and believe that strong defence and stable democracy are essential for the country,” he said, making a clear reference to the win of his party in the general elections.

The chief of army staff and principal staff officers briefed the prime minister on the operational environment, spectrum of threat, national security issues, contributions of the army in nation building and support to civil administration in law and order situations and natural calamities, a handout said.

He was also apprised of engagements of army battalions in border areas and the level of preparedness against external and internal threats.

After the briefing, the prime minister visited various sections of the GHQ and expressed satisfaction over their performance.

However, the press release didn’t say anything about whether the proposal for talks with Taliban came under discussion. Neither did it mention anything on the appointment of the new army chief as Gen Kayani is retiring on Nov 28.

Had it been a courtesy call, Mr Sharif wouldn’t have taken his aides along with him to the GHQ. For sure, he wanted to have firsthand information about the prospective army chief and the army’s input over contacts with the TTP after the banned group has been taken over by Maulvi Fazlullah, argued an official.

He said the prime minister had a good time at the GHQ and had a frank discussion in a friendly and cosy ambience.

BRITISH SECRETARY: Talking to a delegation headed by the British Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammonds, Nawaz Sharif emphasised the need to increase cooperation between the defence forces of the two countries.

Both sides agreed to enhance the level of cooperation in counter-terrorism measures.

The post-withdrawal Afghanistan scenarios also came under discussion. The prime minister said Pakistan wanted a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

He thanked the British government for supporting Pakistan’s case for a preferential trade status.