Put off for seven years because of security concerns, the Pakistan Day parade was finally held on Monday in a move that sought to demonstrate the country’s military might in the face of threats posed to the nation by homegrown militants and external forces.
Amid tight security the country’s top civil and military leadership, including President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, three services chiefs, diplomats and a large number of people witnessed the show of pageantry full of flag-waving pomp and aerial military expertise.
The joint military parade used to be a regular feature of Pakistan Day celebrations, but the exercise had been discontinued over the precarious security situation of the country. The last Pakistan Day parade was held in 2008 during tenure of then president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.
However, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif decided to revive the tradition, something that was meant to send a clear message to militant groups that the country would not bow down to their threats. These groups are on the rack now thanks to the major military offensives against militant strongholds since June last year.
Security arrangements were unprecedented in the twin cities, particularly at the venue of the parade near Shakarparian. All cellular services were suspended as part of precautionary measures taken to thwart any untoward incident. Portions of roads were blocked in the capital and heavy traffic was barred from entering the city.
The day began in the federal capital with a 31-gun salute. Contingents of all three branches of the armed forces as well as the paramilitary Rangers presented a march past to the president and the prime minister, who were joined by all services chiefs on the podium.
Both modern and traditional elements of Pakistan’s military arsenal were on display, from nuclear-capable missiles and the new home-made armed drone Burraq to a camel-mounted musical band. Nuclear-capable Nasr and Shaheen missiles, which have a range of up to 1,500 kilometres, and Babur cruise missiles were also paraded.
The recently appointed Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, led the fly-past before joining the president and other dignitaries at the podium. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Air Chief Marshal Aman flew over the venue in an F-16 Block 52 and presented a salute to the president by performing a magnificent vertical roll over the parade square.
Following the air chief, a four-ship box formation of F-16 aircraft – under the command of Air Vice Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Air Officer Commanding, Central Air Command – flew past the saluting dais. The fly-past also included some dizzying aerobatic displays by JF-17 Thunder fighters, which are locally produced in cooperation with close ally China.
Skydivers from three services, led by Maj Gen Abid Rafiq, the general officer commanding of the Special Services Group (SSG), gave an engaging demonstration of aerobatics before landing in front of the podium. Clad in a green jumpsuit, Maj Gen Rafiq presented his national flag to the president. One of the highlights of the event was a contingent of female officials of the Pakistan Army participating in the parade for the first time.
President Mamnoon acknowledged the sacrifices of the Pakistan Movement and scores of other people in the struggle for a separate homeland.
He also remembered those who had lost their lives in acts of terrorism and the fight against it, including the victims of the December 16 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar.
The president expressed satisfaction over the National Action Plan, which was formulated after the Peshawar massacre. He reiterated that Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency would be taken to its logical conclusion.
“I myself would go to the battlefield and embrace the brave sons of the soil who are gallantly fighting the dark forces of terrorism and extremism.”
Mamnoon said Pakistan sought equal and friendly relations with all its neighbours. “Pakistan wants to resolve all outstanding issues with India amicably.”
He said resolution of the Kashmir issue according to the aspirations of the Kashmiris and in the light of the United Nations’ resolutions was the key to regional security and peace.
He congratulated the nation on the country’s sea boundary being extended from 200 nautical miles to 350 nautical miles. “This would enhance the country’s resources.”
Message from India
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on the social networking website Twitter that he had written to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif “conveying my greetings on the National Day of Pakistan”.
Echoing President Mamnoon’s desire, Modi said: “It is my firm conviction that all outstanding issues can be resolved through bilateral dialogue in an atmosphere free from terror [and] violence.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2015.