Islamabad: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, President Asif Ali Zardari, Saudi Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif watch the fly-past during the Pakistan Day parade at Shakarparian Parade Ground on Saturday. —Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
Islamabad: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, President Asif Ali Zardari, Saudi Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif watch the fly-past during the Pakistan Day parade at Shakarparian Parade Ground on Saturday. —Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

• Stresses country’s unwavering commitment to sovereignty in Pakistan Day speech
• Expresses nation’s desire for peaceful relations with all neighbours
• Reiterates support for Kashmir cause, assails human rights violations in occupied territory
• Calls for unity among political parties to achieve prosperity

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday, in a message directed at the country’s hostile neighbourhood, said Pakistan’s sovereignty was sacrosanct and that the armed forces stood ready to respond to any aggression.

Mr Zardari in his speech at the main Pakistan Day ceremony in Islamabad — the March 23 armed forces parade — said, “Pakistan wants relations with all our neighbours. We are a peace-loving country and a responsible nuclear state. However, let me make it clear that we will not compromise on our sovereignty.”

Saudi Defence Minister Pri­nce Khalid bin Salman Al Saud was the guest of honour at the ceremony, which was also atte­nded by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, federal cabinet members, services chiefs, foreign diplomats and other notable guests.

Pakistan is confronted with multiple threats to its sovereignty, including the continued Indian threat, cross-border tensions with Iran over alleged terrorist sanctuaries, increased ter­rorist activities by the ban­ned Afghanistan-based Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and a severe economic crisis characterised by a daunting external debt burden.

While the overt hostilities between Pakistan and Iran have been somewhat defused following reciprocal military actions targeting alleged terrorist enc­laves, underlying tensions persist, subtly altering the dynamics of their bilateral relations.

However, in an attempt to publicly display a harmonious relationship, the Iranian government on the eve of Pakistan Day made a symbolic gesture by lighting up Tehran’s Azadi Tower with the flags of Pakistan and Iran, projecting an image of unity and amicable ties.

Mr Zardari specifically noted the terrorism threat, though he avo­ided naming Afghanistan, where the Taliban administration has been harbouring the TTP.

“We will not tolerate any efforts by terrorists or any group to destabilise our country,” he said. Pakistan had last Monday carried out air strikes against sanctuaries of Gul Bahadur terrorist groups in Afghanistan, marking a significant shift in Pakistan’s approach to dealing with terrorism threat from Afghan soil, especially since the relationship with the Afghan Taliban became strained after they seized power in 2021 over the issue of militant hideouts there.

Kashmir dispute

Air Force Karakoram-8 aircraft perform aerobatic manoeuvres.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
Air Force Karakoram-8 aircraft perform aerobatic manoeuvres.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

The president also reiterated Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir dispute and described it as the root cause behind instability in the region.

He condemned Indian brutalities and human rights violations in India-held Kashmir and urged the international community to play its role in the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions. He reaffirmed Pakistan’s continued support for the Kashmir cause till the attainment of the right to self-determination.

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s accusation during a visit to Singapore on Saturday that Pakistan was sponsoring terrorism to the extent of it being almost an “industry-level” operation and that India would no longer ignore such threats and instead confront the issue head-on underscored the deep-seated tensions between India and Pakistan.

President Zardari emphasised the constant readiness of the armed forces to counter any acts of aggression, stating, “Today’s parade is a testament to our unity, strength, and pride.”

He made these remarks after reviewing the parade, having arrived at the site wearing a Western business suit riding a chariot, flanked by presidential guards on horseback, symbolising the ceremonial valour.

On the strategy to deal with the economic crisis, he said the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) had been formed to attract investment in agriculture, livestock, mining, information technology and energy sectors.

He thanked China, Saudi Arabia, Turkiye and United Arab Emirates for supporting Pakistan in difficult times.

About domestic challenges, he urged the political parties to join hands to steer the country out of the crisis. “I request all political parties to set aside all their political issues and work for the country’s development and prosperity,” he stated.

“I am happy that a democratic government has been set up after elections. Now it is our responsibility to tackle all challenges. I believe that as we did in the past, we will tackle all problems and we will take the country out of the current troubles,” he added.

Political stability remains elusive in Pakistan following the contentious Feb 8 elections, and polarisation has only deepened in their aftermath.

The March 23 ceremony featured a military parade by the three armed forces wings and paramilitary forces, showcasing their readiness. Aerial displays were a highlight of this parade, with formations of fighter jets such as the J-10C, JF-17, F-16, Mirage, AWACS, and P-3C Orion participating in it.

Among the equipment displayed were advanced tanks, armoured personnel carriers, rocket launchers, comprehensive air defence system, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and a selection of both short and long-range missiles, including the Ra’ad, Nasr, Babur, Shaheen, Ghauri and Ababeel.

The parade also serves as a platform for military diplomacy, with participants from friendly countries. This year, troops from Azerbaijan and China participated in the parade.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2024

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