RAWALPINDI: Pakistan’s outgoing military chief General Raheel Sharif warned India on Tuesday it would be dangerous to mistake his country’s “restraint” over recent tensions in disputed Kashmir for weakness, as he handed over power to his successor.
The hugely popular General Sharif spoke at a colourful ceremony welcoming the incoming chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at a hockey stadium of 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 the 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 the nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India spiralled following a deadly assault on an Indian army base in September that New Delhi blamed on militants from Pakistan.
India claimed 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 shelling and gunfire from both sides since, claiming the lives of dozens of people, including civilians.
Pakistan on Saturday 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.
Kashmir is one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints, bitterly divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 but claimed in full by both. The nuclear powers have already fought two wars over the mountainous region.