Pakistan’s outgoing army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Tuesday warned India not to mistake his country’s restraint over tensions in Kashmir for weakness as he handed over power to his successor, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Lasting peace in South Asia could not be achieved without resolving the Kashmir issue, Sharif said while addressing a change of command ceremony at a stadium near the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
In a blunt message, Sharif, who once referred to Kashmir as an “unfinished agenda of Partition”, said: “Unfortunately, in recent months, increasing state terrorism in (Kashmir) and India’s aggressive stance have endangered regional peace.
“I want to make it clear to India that mistaking our policy of patience for weakness would be dangerous for it.”
Sharif added, “This is the reality, that in South Asia, lasting peace and progress is impossible without the solution of the Kashmir issue. For that, international community’s special attention is necessary.”
Tensions between the two countries erupted following a terror attack on Pathankot airbase in January that was blamed on the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed. Another terror attack on an army camp in Uri in September and fierce exchanges of fire on the Line of Control (LoC) took relations to a new low.
Bajwa, who has extensive experience of commanding troops on the LoC and was named the new chief on Saturday, will have to cope with the tensions and a drive against militant groups that was started by Sharif. Officials have indicated there is unlikely to be a shift in policies for India under the new army chief.
During the changeover, Sharif expressed the hope that policies started under him would be continued by Bajwa. Sharif listed the achievements of the army and the country in the past three years in his final speech. At the same time, he stressed the need for institutions to work together for Pakistan’s progress.
“It is important that all institutions work together against external threats and internal threats. For this, we will need to follow the National Action Plan in letter and spirit,” he said. “I thank the federal government and political leadership for cooperating with us...I had the entire country’s cooperation, for which I thank the army and the nation.”
He also cautioned the country on the challenges facing it. “Our challenges are not yet over. We have made gains over the past year. It is necessary that we never forget the sacrifices of those who lost their lives...Our journey towards peace is still underway. Our destination is not far,” he said.
Internal deficiencies should be overcome by uprooting “criminality, corruption and extremism” so that Pakistan can effectively tackle external threats, he added.
Sharif said he was particularly proud of enhanced cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would ensure regional peace and prosperity.
“The departure of the first cargo from Gwadar port has shown this journey cannot be halted now,” he said. “The time is here for the enemies of CPEC to stop working against it and become a part of it.”
Sharif is credited by most Pakistanis for turning the tables against militants in the war against terrorism. On this, he said: “We were able to change the face of history by fighting a war against terrorism. I have a strong belief that the Pakistan Army will always deliver on the nation’s expectations.
A military band kicked off the ceremony, which was attended by members of the cabinet and parliamentarians. Defence minister Khawaja Asif and National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq were also present.
Before the ceremony, Sharif laid a wreath at the Yadgar-e-Shuhada (martyrs monument). According to media reports, all educational institutions in nearby areas were closed and mobile phone services were suspended for security reasons.