QUETTA - Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif said yesterday that Pakistan Army was all out to eliminate terrorist and militant hideouts and sever their linkages across the country.

Addressing a seminar on ‘Peace and Prosperity in Balochistan’ here, he said operation Zarb-e-Azb enjoyed the support of people of Pakistan from all walks of life.

“As per the aspirations of the people of Pakistan, this operation will be taken to its logical end,” he asserted.

Gen Raheel said that Pakistan Army took pride in being truly a national army.

“It can isolate and neutralise warring factions. It reaches out to those in distress and alleviates their hardships, but the real foundations of peace and prosperity can only be laid through active participation of the people of Pakistan.”

Reviewing the prospects of peace and prosperity in Balochistan, he said it was indeed need of the hour and this seminar was aptly timed and focused.

On a personal note, he said that Balochistan was very close to his heart. “I was born in Quetta at 10 Litton Road. As a young lieutenant, my first posting was at Khuzdar. I have spent almost nine years in Balochistan and served as Chief of Staff Southern Command. “

With the passage of time, he said, diverse and divergent interests had led Balochistan to most complex problems. “Its roots range from personal vested interests to international geo-strategic designs, manifested in plethora of socio- economic, ethnographic and sectarian divides.

“Lack of developed infrastructure, extreme poverty, poor educational and health facilities, and rampant unemployment lend credibility to the complaints of the aggrieved section of society.

“These issues are further complicated by the foreign interference in the largest province of Pakistan and across a porous border spanning hundreds of kilometers.

“Our foreign adversaries have been more than eager to exploit any opportunity to destabilise Pakistan by harbouring, training and funding dissidents and militants.

“Balochistan, in fact, has become a hotbed of proxy wars for regional and global grand strategy by many powers. This is a battle that we all are fighting, and we shall continue to fight, till peace prevails across the width and breadth of the province.

“Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps, police, coast guards, Levies and above all, people of Balochistan have defended the integrity of Pakistan with unflinching resolve for which they deserve special appreciation.”

He lauded the efforts of all political parties in creating harmony as per the aspirations of people of Balochistan.

“A great challenge for the civil armed forces of Balochistan is the security of the long and porous border. Efforts are underway for capacity building of the security forces for this purpose.

“Besides this, the role of army is to provide an enabling environment in the province where these problems can find their solution at the table of social justice, trust and fraternity.

“I understand that use of force brings nothing but destruction, distress and suffering, often to those who had no part in it. Involvement of the people and state institutions, therefore, is the correct way forward for the prosperity of Balochistan.”

“Peace through Integrated Approach”, he said, had been primary focus, where federal and provincial governments, state institutions, entire security apparatus and people of Balochistan were working towards creating an environment of harmony, progress and prosperity.

Gen Raheel said, “The future of Balochistan is the youth of Balochistan. It is, therefore, imperative that their potential be raised to the optimal level so that they come equal to the onerous responsibilities awaiting them. To this end, it is important to make the youth of this great province partners in peace and prosperity. Our efforts aim at bridging the gap between the state and youth including small discontented segments, lured by vague slogans and elusive dreams.”

Besides security responsibilities, he said the Pakistan Army was serving the people of Balochistan in a multitude of ways. Today, the military-run institutions in the province were providing educational facilities to around 25,000 children of the province. In addition, Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps were running a huge network of medical facilities across Balochistan, he added.

He recalled the Pakistan Army played national role in the rehabilitation of Awaran after the devastating earthquake of 2013 that claimed the lives of 800 people and caused enormous damage to property.

“More than ever before, today the youth of Balochistan is getting good opportunity to obtain commission in the officers’ cadre of Pakistan Army.”

He said Sui Educational City, including a military college, had started to send forth a stream of young professionals, including military leaders. Over 18000 youth from all parts of Balochistan had joined Armed Forces and Frontier Corps in recent times.

“On this occasion, it is my pleasure to announce that soon a campus of NUST will also start functioning at Quetta. This will provide a historical opportunity to the youth of Balochistan to equip themselves with the scientific and technological knowledge and contribute to the progress of Balochistan and Pakistan.”

Gen Raheel said the resilience of the people, its geo-strategic location, and enormous wealth of natural resources such as RekoDiq were the true assets of Balochistan, which must be fully optimised for its prosperity.

On China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and development of Gwadar Port, the COAS said these projects would transform the province altogether, and for this, the local population must be its greatest beneficiary. “Once the people find their stakes in this progress, the need for check posts and barricades will disappear.”

He said the Pakistan Army, once instrumental in the completion of Makran Coastal Highway, was today playing a pivotal role in the timely completion of CPEC projects in Balochistan. The unprecedented contributions in communications infrastructure would usher Balochistan into an era of prosperity.

Since 2014, 632 kilometers of roads had already been constructed. By the end of this year, a total of 870 kilometer of roads would be completed by the FWO (Frontier Works Organisation), he said.

“It is heartening to note that successive governments in the Centre and province have sought to pursue a policy of reconciliation and engagement in Balochistan. The measures taken in this regard may not be sufficient for some, but they are steps taken in the right direction.”

The COAS said terrorists were externally supported and internally facilitated. They were defiant and cunning. Law enforcement agencies had conducted over 2400 intelligence-based operations in Balochistan since August 2014 and 204 lives had been sacrificed.