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RAWALPINDI: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa gives a medal to a woman whose relative embraced martyrdom in the line of duty during a ceremony held at the General Headquarters on Thursday.—INP
RAWALPINDI: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa gives a medal to a woman whose relative embraced martyrdom in the line of duty during a ceremony held at the General Headquarters on Thursday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said on Thursday that “engineered protests” would not be allowed to reverse the gains of counterterrorism operations and cautioned the nation against forgetting sacrifices of “real heroes”.

The army chief was speaking to notables in Peshawar and at an investiture ceremony at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Gen Bajwa did not name the social movement for the rights of Pakhtun people, Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), but it was abundantly clear from his remarks, which included references to PTM’s demands for clearance of mines and removal of check-posts, that he was referring to their protests.

Bajwa cautions against forgetting sacrifices of ‘real heroes’

Apparently, the army chief was forced into giving his position on the protests after leaders of some mainstream political parties, including Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, expressed their support for the PTM protests that are being seen as a movement for the rights of Pakhtuns. The PTI chief had also said that he would raise the PTM concerns with Gen Bajwa.

The movement was initially launched in protest against the extra-judicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi and for getting justice for the slain young man. A 10-day-long protest held in Islamabad to press for the arrest of suspended SSP Rao Anwar, who is allegedly involved in Mehsud’s killing, earned the PTM sympathies from all sections of society, encouraging leaders of the movement to expand their agenda to include other grievances of Pakhtuns.

The military was initially receptive to their demand of seeking justice for Naqeebullah, but later became critical of the motives of its leadership, especially after the movement got support from Kabul and some other world capitals. These concerns got reinforced when PTM leaders talked about seeking “international guarantees” for redressal of their grievances and taking their issues “to the United Nations” and appealing “to the global society”.

Speaking about PTM’s demands for removal of what they call “mines” and “check-posts”, Gen Bajwa said: “Measures to facilitate general public at check-posts without compromising security and clearance of unexploded ordnance were already in process on completion of kinetic operations”.

He, however, cautioned against haste in the process. “No one is more interested than security forces to have such peace and stability environment which allow their complete de-induction. However, threat is still residing across the border and some disorganised residual potential including the ones morphed into Afghan refugees. Therefore we still need to move with caution”.

Notwithstanding genuine problems of peaceful citizens, he maintained that military’s concern was that “no anti state agenda in the garb of engineered protests etc aimed at reversing the gains achieved at heavy cost in blood and national exchequer succeeds”.

At the ceremony at the GHQ, Gen Bajwa regretted that no sooner had peace returned to Fata than a “movement was started”.

On this occasion, he warned against forgetting the sacrifices of “real heroes”, who laid down their lives for the country, saying nations that forget their heroes were wiped off. He also pointed to the “limited ability” of “our nation” to “remember history”.

“The people in the country and outside, who are against Pakistan’s integrity must know that the Army with the public backing would not allow anything to happen to the country,” he added.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2018