ISLAMABAD: In a pointed response to his Indian counterpart’s threat of a short war, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif said on Sunday that his forces were fully ready to thwart any external aggression.

“If the enemy ever resorts to any misadventure, regardless of its size and scale – short or long – it will have to pay an unbearable cost,” Gen Sharif said at a grand ceremony held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) to commemorate 50 years of the 1965 war with India.

In his speech, the army chief touched upon all issues of concern to the military – terrorism, Karachi, the peace process in Afghanistan that it has been facilitating, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. But the primary focus remained on the threat from India, something which he mentioned on two separate occasions during his 11-minute speech.

Gen Sharif’s curt comments came against the backdrop of Indian Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag’s remarks earlier this week, where he said his troops were ready for the “swift, short nature of future wars”. Indian Army’s 2 ‘Kharga’ Strike Corps had, in April, also carried out large scale war games codenamed ‘Brahmashira’ to rehearse “swift multiple offensives”.

The increasing ceasefire violations by India along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary, where some 20 Pakistanis have been killed over the past three months, reinforced fears in Pakistan that India was planning a brief incursion.

Gen Sharif, while seemingly calling India’s bluff, said: “[The] armed forces of Pakistan are fully capable of dealing with all types of internal and external threats, may it be conventional or sub-conventional; whether it is cold start or hot start. We are ready!”

He said his army was among “the most battle hardened armies of the world, which has no parallels”. He went on to say that despite the ups and downs witnessed by the country over the past 50 years, it was much stronger now.

The army chief also emphasised the resolution of the longstanding Kashmir issue, which he described as an “unfinished agenda of partition” and warned against putting it on the backburner.

The choice of Northern Light Infantry, which received two Nishan-i-Haider decorations during the 1999 Kargil war, for presenting the guard of honour at the ceremony carried symbolism in it. The regiment’s predecessor, the Gilgit Scouts, is also credited with the liberation of Gilgit Agency from Dogra Raj.

ZARB-I-AZB: The Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan, which is flaunted by the army as the biggest success under Gen Sharif’s command, was the centrepiece of the ceremony.

The ceremony was sequenced in a way that the thrust seemed to be on the war on terror and historical references to the Indo-Pak war of 1965 did not surface until the army chief’s speech. The only reference to the Line of Control came in one of the documentaries screened, which mentioned the active fronts the military was currently engaged on.

The ceremony began with a vigil by the heirs of fallen soldiers and the story of Capt Akash, the first officer killed in this action. It then moved to the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase, in which displaced persons were promised a better place on their return.

In fact, most of the short re-enactments of forces operations that were screened at the event were also focused on current operations against militants fighting the army in tribal areas.

Several family members of fallen soldiers were also invited to speak on the occasion and a documentary showcasing the sacrifices of the brave martyrs of operation Zarb-i-Azb was also screened, which moved several members of the audience to tears.

Renewing his commitment to carry on the counter-terrorism operations to the logical end, Gen Sharif said: “I reiterate the resolve that we shall not relent until all terrorists, their financiers, abettors, facilitators and sympathisers are brought to justice.”

Gen Sharif, who had arrived at the ceremony alongside Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, reminded the audience that all state institutions would have to join hands to complete the task of eliminating terrorism.

“To make this success comprehensive and enduring, all organs of the state will have to earnestly play their part to achieve the objectives of National Action Plan in the earliest possible time,” he said. He said peace had been restored in Karachi to a great extent through combined efforts of civilian and military law enforcement agencies.

AFGHANISTAN: The army chief expressed concern over the aggravating security situation in Afghanistan and hoped that the situation would not affect bilateral ties.

“I must highlight that the aggravating security situation in Afghanistan is a point of serious concern. We have strong historical and blood ties with Afghanistan and no power on earth can disrupt this relationship,” he said.

Recalling the peace process Pakistan tried to facilitate, the general said: “We have made concerted and sincere efforts for bringing peace in Afghanistan but certain inimical forces are bent upon undermining our efforts.”

HAQQANI NETWORK: Although the army chief did not directly refer to the renewed concerns in the US and Afghanistan about the Haqqani network not having been uprooted, he made a point to dispel the notion, saying that the counter-terrorism operations undertaken by the army had also contributed to regional and international peace.

“We hope that the international community acknowledges our extreme sacrifice and would assist us in this endeavour without any prejudice,” he maintained.

The ceremony was also attended by ministers Khawaja Asif, Ishaq Dar, Pervaiz Rashid and Abdul Qadir Baloch, as well as Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani and Leader of the Opposition in the Natio0nal Assembly Khursheed Ahmed Shah and other dignitaries.

Earlier in the day, a display of military hardware was organised at the Qasim Base in Dhamial, Rawalpindi, while PAF planes and ordnance were put on display at the Nur Khan Airbase.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2015

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