ISLAMABAD: Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani used the occasion of ‘Youm-i-Shuhada’ (martyrs’ day) to send more than one message to more than one audience.
Assuring everyone that the elections would be held on May 11, he tried to dispel the ever-circulating rumours about the postponement of elections.
He also made it clear that the war the army was fighting was Pakistan’s war and that the anti-democratic forces would never be acceptable, sending a message to all those watching the country’s battle with extremism and militants. And last but not least, he also indirectly expressed the military’s reservations about the treatment being meted out to his predecessor retired Gen Pervez Musharraf.
“Allah willing, general elections will be held in the country on 11th of May. We must not harbour any doubts or misgivings about it,” the army chief said while addressing a ceremony at the GHQ to mark the day.
“I assure you that we stand committed to wholeheartedly assist and support in the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections; to the best of our capabilities and remaining within the confines of the constitution. I also assure you that this support shall solely be aimed at strengthening democracy and rule of law in the country,” he said.
Like every Pakistani, he said, Pakistan Army in its humble capacity, had endeavored to strengthen democracy in the past five years with the hope that the next elections would steer the country towards betterment.
“Now, once the destination is in sight we must not err in accomplishing our responsibilities towards the election process. We must never forget that success of any system resides in coming up to the aspirations of the masses. The success of democracy is intimately linked with the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation. The real virtue of democracy ultimately lies in the safety and welfare of the masses,” he said.
GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: He termed the next elections “a golden opportunity” for the people that “can usher in an era of true democratic values in the country”.
In his indirect reference to the ongoing trial of former military ruler Musharraf, the army chief said: “In my opinion, it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship.”
Gen Kayani was of the view that if they succeeded in rising above all ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases to vote solely on the basis of honesty, sincerity, merit and competence, “there would be no reason to fear dictatorship or to grudge the inadequacies of our present democratic system”.
“Our salvation resides in transforming the government into a true platform of public representation. This would come to pass once the construct of public representation in Pakistan is oriented towards affording primacy and precedence to larger public interest over personal interests. Otherwise, may it be democracy or dictatorship; governance would continue to remain a means of self-aggrandisement and that of plundering national wealth and resources,” he said.
According to the army chief, the conduct of elections is not an end in itself, “but is surely an important means towards delivering us from our present sufferings”.
He regretted that despite tremendous sacrifices, the dream of founding fathers under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam and Allama Iqbal was yet to be realised. “Perhaps, we have either not discovered the correct path or have not remained steadfast in our journey. Yet the spirit of sacrifice and resilience of our nation remains undiminished.”
‘WAR ON TERROR’: Blaming “external enemies” for the menace of terrorism and extremism that had claimed thousands of lives in the country, the army chief criticised those busy in debating the causes and origin of the ‘war on terror’ — an apparent reference to certain political and religious groups accusing Gen Musharraf of bringing this war to the country’s soil.
“We cannot afford to confuse our soldiers and weaken their resolve with such misgivings,” he said, adding: “Considering this war against terrorism as the war of the armed forces alone can lead to chaos and disarray that we cannot afford.”He said the fact of the matter was that today it was Pakistan and its valiant people who were a target of this war and were suffering tremendously.
“I would like to ask all those who raise such questions that if a small faction wants to enforce its distorted ideology over the entire nation by taking up arms and for this purpose defies the Constitution of Pakistan and the democratic process and considers all forms of bloodshed justified, then does the fight against this enemy of the state constitute someone else’s war?”, he asked.
According to the COAS, even in the history of the best evolved democratic states, treason or seditious uprisings against the state have never been tolerated and in such struggles their armed forces have had unflinching support of the masses; questions about the ownership of such wars have never been raised.
Gen Kayani expressed the desire that all those who had “strayed and have picked up arms against the nation, return to the national fold”.
However, he said, this was only possible once “they unconditionally submit to the state, its constitution and the rule of law. There is no room for doubts when it comes to dealing with rebellion against the state.”
The army chief said the “nefarious designs of our enemy, may it be internal or external, will never succeed and we shall eventually prevail.”
He paid tribute to the 140 soldiers and officers who lost their lives in an avalanche in Gayari sector.
The event honoured the personnel of armed forces and police and the civilians killed by the terrorists and extremists.
Apart from the parents of martyred servicemen, sons of SP Syed Abdul Kalam and ANP leader Bashir Ahmed Bilour, who were killed in suicide attacks, and the children of slain journalist Nasrullah Khan Afridi also spoke.