After Defence Minister Khwaja Asif apologized on Saturday for statements he had made some years ago on the army, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday praised chief of army staff General Raheel Sharif and held him up as an example of professionalism, patriotism, dedication and commitment.

Speaking at the 129th passing out parade of the Pakistan Military Academy long course at Kakul, Mr. Sharif said the nation will stand united behind the army. The state despite calls of economy and austerity is providing the defence forces all possible resources needed for making the defence of the country impregnable, he pointed out. Without a strong economy, rule of law and containment of terrorism, a credible defence system cannot be sustained, he said.

Mr. Asif in a statement had said that in the last couple of weeks there was a misunderstanding due to his speeches made some years ago in a different context. He said it was not his intention to undermine an institution which he held in high esteem.

The invitation to Kakul and the address by the Prime Minister is being seen as an attempt to bridge the coolness between the army and civilian leadership. Earlier this month, a statement by General Sharif when he visited the headquarters of the Special Service Group (SSG) at Ghazi Base, Tarbela on Monday had created more than a flutter. "While our country is faced with multiple internal and external challenges, Pakistan Army upholds the sanctity of all institutions and will resolutely preserve its own dignity and institutional pride, the chief of army staff said while responding to the concerns of soldiers on undue criticism of the Institution in recent days," a statement from the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

General Sharif also paid tributes to the sacrifices of the SSG soldiers and officers and acknowledged their tremendous success while fighting terrorists. He said, Pakistan Army takes pride in its brave and battle hardened Special Services Group which is ranked among the top elite forces of the world. Given the specialized nature of their employment in the most sensitive, complex and challenging environment, he praised them for their outstanding professional skills, ISPR said.

Addressing SSG officers and soldiers, General Sharif said the Pakistan Army never has and never will shy away from rendering any sacrifice in ensuring a formidable defense and security of the motherland. The Army has contributed immensely towards national security and nation building and will continue to deliver on its mission, he added. The need to underscore the importance of the army especially on a visit to the SSG, to which former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf belonged was not lost on anyone. The government which has been trying to assert its civilian authority though the prosecution of Musharraf for high treason has been referring to the court of law which will deliver justice. There is frequent speculation about the government and the army having differences over Musharraf's fate and the prosecution itself.

Lt General Talat Masood, chief coordinator of Pugwash told The Hindu that the chief of army staff wanted to clarify certain things and the army was overstressed as it was operating everywhere. He said the visit to the SSG was also to raise its morale and it was important as an army chief for him to do that. However, his statements were over read by the civilian government and the media which created such an impression that today even the government had to clarify in a way.

He said the fact remains that there is a section of people who don't believe in the rule of law and for them narrow institutional interests are more important. However, Pakistan was a state in transition and there is an element of sensitivity because of the burden of history and the military coups. Both institutions tend to overreact, he said and added that the issue should hopefully die down.

Keywords: Pak armySharif