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Pak Army's patience to ongoing smear campaign may not be unlimited, says Bajwa

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Islamabad, Nov 23: Just days before his retirement, Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday warned that the army's patience to the ongoing smear campaign against it may not be unlimited and asked all political leaders to set aside their ego, learn from past mistakes and move forward.

Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa

He also dismissed claims that there was a foreign conspiracy to topple the previous government and asserted that the army would not have sat idle to let it happen if there was such a conspiracy.

Gen Bajwa, 61, is scheduled to retire on November 29 after a three-year extension. He has ruled out seeking another extension.

Addressing the Defence and Martyrs' Day ceremony in Rawalpindi to pay tribute to martyrs, Gen Bajwa also extended an olive branch to those targeting the army by saying that "I want to move forward by forgetting it". He urged all stakeholders to move ahead by learning lessons from the past mistakes.

The Defence and Martyrs' Day is observed annually on September 6 but it was delayed this year due to the devastating floods that hit the country around that time.

"I can assure you that there was no foreign conspiracy; the army would not have sat idle to let it happen if there was such a conspiracy," he said, adding that a "fake and false narrative was built to malign the army" and those behind the narrative were trying to escape from it.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan was ousted from power in April after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.

The powerful general said that the "army would have reacted to the (harsh) criticism but it showed patience" against the unending smear campaign, and hastened to add that "there is a limit to patience".

Gen Bajwa mentioned the repeated use of harsh words by Khan, though without naming him, after he was removed from the prime minister's office in April.

He also confessed that the army did commit mistakes but armies world over are spared of scathing criticism despite lapses on their part. He alleged that the Indian Army has committed human rights violations but it has never been criticised by the people.

Bajwa said that the Pakistan Army despite its tremendous sacrifices has been subjected to frequent criticism, which was due to its interference in politics.

"I think the reason for that is the army's involvement in politics. That is why in February last year, the army decided not to interfere in politics," he said. "I assure you we are strictly adamant on this and will remain so."

But he said that instead of taking the army's decision as a positive development, the institution was targeted and maligned.

"Many sectors subjected the army to criticism and used inappropriate language," he said. "To criticise the army is the right of [political] parties and the people, but the language should be careful."

He said the army had initiated its process of "catharsis" and expected that political parties would follow suit as well and reflect on their behaviour.

"This is the reality that there have been mistakes from every institution, including political parties and civil society," he noted.

Gen Bajwa also said the country was facing "serious economic" problems and no single party could take the country out of the financial crisis.

"Political stability is mandatory and the time has come for all political stakeholders to set aside their ego, learn from past mistakes, move forward and take Pakistan out of this crisis," he urged.

He also stressed the need for the nation to shed intolerance and adopt a "true democratic culture" and urged politicians that the next government should not be called as "selected or imported".

Gen Bajwa also spoke about the East Pakistan debacle and complained that the sacrifices of the troops had never been properly acknowledged.

He rejected the commonly held notion that 92,000 soldiers surrendered in the 1971 war and claimed that there were just 34,000 combatants, while the others were part of different government departments.

Gen Bajwa also confirmed that he was retiring in a few days and it was his last address to the ceremony.

"Today, I am addressing the Defence and Martyrs Day as the army chief for the last time...I am retiring soon," he said.

Bajwa was appointed as the army chief in 2016 and his three-year term was extended in 2019.

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