Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. – AP (File Photo)

ISLAMABAD: Against the backdrop of swirling rumours of an impending counter-militancy operation, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani used his Independence Day message to renew military’s pledge to eradicate militancy and extremism from the country.

“We realise that the most difficult task for any army is to fight against its own people. But this happens as a last resort. Our real objective is to restore peace in these areas so that people can lead normal lives,” Gen Kayani said while addressing the Azadi Parade at the military academy in Kakul.

“No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force,” Gen Kayani said.

Renewal of military’s commitment to war on terror was coincidentally made at the Kakul academy which is barely a couple of miles away from the place where Osama bin Laden lived for years.

Speculations about a major military operation to clear North Waziristan of terrorist sanctuaries have intensified following improvement in ties with the United States, particularly after ISI chief Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam’s visit to Washington earlier this month.

Although it was quite obvious from Gen Kayani’s speech that he was building the national mood for probably the toughest part of the counter-militancy operations in the country, it was unclear if sanctuaries in Teerah Valley or North Waziristan would be the next target.

According to military’s own assessment, it controls 86 per cent of the area in tribal region while nine per cent is contested and five per cent is held by militants mostly loyal to the Taliban. The figures, however, are contested by local sources.

Reports suggest that last week’s corps commanders’ conference also took some important decisions about the future of counter-militancy operations in the tribal belt.

Gen Kayani underscored that the fight against terrorists and extremists was one of the entire nation and not only of the army. “The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we’ll be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this.”

The top commander who had been critical of the performance of civilian law-enforcement agencies in the past said sacrifices in the war on terror could bear fruit only when the civil administration functioned independently without military assistance.

He regretted the absence of effective counter-terrorism legislation in the country, a situation which has quite often worked to the advantage of terrorists and thrown up issues like ‘missing persons’.

Taking a swipe at the government’s poor performance, Gen Kayani said “critical economic situation, corruption and aggravating situation of the civic amenities” had prevented the countrymen from looking ahead. He listed protection of national integrity and unity as the biggest challenges.

The military which has ruled the country for decades since independence in 1947 is quite often blamed by politicians and civil society for many of the ills currently confronting the nation.

The army chief candidly accepted that “all are to share the blame – some more, some less”. But instead of indulging in the blame game, he said, it was time that “we stand up as a nation”.

UNFULFILLED AGENDA: Gen Kayani said the purpose behind creation of Pakistan was not only to carve out a piece of land but also to establish a welfare Islamic state, where foundation for a tolerant and modern society could be laid. He, however, noted that the latter part of the 1947 agenda could not materialise.

Although there was no reference to the controversy about Hindus migrating to India, the army chief in broad terms said Pakistan was to be a country where not only Muslims but where life and property of minorities were safe and they could freely practise their faith.