PAKISTAN’S outgoing military chief warned India today (29) it would be dangerous to mistake his country’s “restraint” over recent tensions in Kashmir for weakness, as he handed over power to his successor.
General Raheel Sharif spoke at a ceremony welcoming the incoming chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at a stadium at army headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital Islamabad.
“Unfortunately, in recent months, increasing state terrorism in (Indian) occupied Kashmir, and India’s aggressive steps have put the region’s peace in danger,” Sharif said.
“I want to make it clear to India that considering our policy of restraint a weakness would be dangerous for her,” he said to applause.
“This is reality, that in South Asia, lasting peace and progress is impossible without solution of the Kashmir issue. For that, international community’s special attention is necessary,” he continued.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have spiralled following a deadly assault on an Indian army base in September that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
India said it had responded to the September attack by carrying out “surgical strikes” across the heavily militarised border, sparking fury from Islamabad, which denied the strikes took place.
There have been repeated incidents of cross-border shellings and gunfire from both sides since, claiming the lives of dozens of people, including civilians.
Sharif spoke today as Indian police said armed militants had launched a fresh attack near the border with Pakistan, killing two soldiers.
Officials said the attack took place in Nagrota in Jammu and Kashmir state, and has seen repeated outbreaks of cross-border firing in recent weeks, and blamed it on “terrorists”.
Pakistan last Saturday (26) named Bajwa as its new military chief as Sharif stepped down from a three-year tenure, winning praise for respecting democracy even as many Pakistanis called for him to extend his term.
Military bands played as uniformed soldiers marched at today’s ceremony, where the outgoing chief gives his wooden cane to his successor, symbolising the handover of power.
Bajwa, who once commanded the Pakistani military corps deployed on the Line of Control, will be seeking to address the conflict with India, as well as manage Pakistan’s ongoing fight against Islamist militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and elsewhere.
As well as controlling security, the army operates a vast business empire in the country and often dictates key areas of foreign policy, including relations with India and Afghanistan.