Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army on Friday came the closest it has to saying it does not apprehend an immediate threat from India and in doing so seemed to be moving slightly away from the carefully nurtured image of the “enemy neighbour”, in an echo of a recent similar remark by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Addressing an officers’ commissioning parade of the Pakistan Navy at Karachi, Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said the country faced both “external and internal” threats. “While the external threat to Pakistan continues to exist, it is the internal threat that merits immediate attention,” said Genearl Kayani, according to a military statement. It was terrorism that, he said, “pose a threat to our national security and stability”.

Without naming India, General Kayani appeared to mirror President Zardari’s far more explicit remarks during an interview last month to Euro News in Brussels.

“I do not consider India a military threat; the question is that India has the capability. Capability is what matters. [With regard to] intention I think we both have our good intentions. India is a reality, Pakistan is a reality, but Taliban are a threat, an international threat … to our way of life. And at the moment, I’m focused on the Taliban. It’s something that has been going on for a long time and of course went unchecked under the dictatorial rule of the last president,” he said.

Both remarks are significant in the context of recent efforts by the Obama administration to persuade the Pakistani leadership that the Taliban, not India, constituted an “existential threat” to their country, and to throw themselves fully and effectively into the fight against militancy and extremism.

General Kayani told the gathering at the Pakistan Naval Academy that the “multifaceted challenges” facing the country were “complex in nature and the spectrum is both diverse and intense”. The Pakistan armed forces, he said, were “fully capable” of taking on the “menace” of terrorism and extremism.