Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif has said that the army will uphold the sanctity of all institutions but will “resolutely preserve its own dignity and institutional pride”.
Gen Raheel made these remarks on Monday during a visit to the headquarters of the Special Service Group (SSG) at Ghazi Base, Tarbela. He was responding to the concerns of soldiers on ‘undue criticism’ of the army in recent days, according to a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
The ISPR, though, did not specify the nature of the criticism against the army. Officials suggested that the army chief’s statement might be aimed at pacifying the anger within the institution over the treason trial of former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf and the government’s peace initiative with the Taliban.
Gen Raheel has reportedly advised the prime minister to allow Musharraf to leave the country for his medical treatment and to look after his ailing mother. The government, however, has so far refused to remove his name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
The army leadership is also believed to be upset over the release of TTP prisoners by the government. The security establishment believes that it is too early to release such prisoners.
Gen Raheel was appointed Chief of the Army Chief in November last year by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and this was for the first time that he publicly responded to criticism against the army. Nawaz Sharif has had troubled relations with his army chiefs during his previous two brief stints in power.
Some analysts are of the view that Gen Raheel’s statement is an indication that the army is upset over certain issues.
“The army leadership is under immense pressure from within the institution over the way peace talks are being conducted by the government with the Taliban,” said defence analyst Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood. “It gives the impression that the military is a weak institution and cannot confront militants, though, in reality that is not the case.”
He said the second part of Gen Raheel’s statement might be aimed at conveying a message to politicians that they should not blast the army as an institution under the pretext of Musharraf’s trial.
During his interaction with SSG commandos, Gen Raheel said Pakistan Army never has and never will shy away from rendering any sacrifice in ensuring a formidable defence and security of the motherland.
He paid tribute to the sacrifices of the SSG soldiers and officers and acknowledged their tremendous success in their fight against terrorists. “Pakistan Army takes pride in our brave and battle hardened Special Services Group, who are ranked among the top elite forces of the world,” he was quoted as saying by the ISPR. “Given the specialised nature of their employment in the most sensitive, complex and challenging environment, the COAS praised them for their outstanding professional skills,” it stated.
“Drawing its strength from national support, with its characteristic coherence and resilience, Pakistan Army has contributed immensely towards national security and nation building and will continue to deliver on its mission.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2014.