ISLAMABAD - Reiterating the resolve to weed out menace of terrorism from the motherland, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif on Wednesday paid glowing tributes to the martyrs of Army Public School who had united the nation against terrorists and people of Pakistan.

The COAS along with his spouse visited Corps Headquarters Peshawar, where he had hosted an Iftar dinner in honour of the families of the Shuhada of Army Public School Peshawar. General Raheel Sharif met each family and separately expressed his profound grief and solidarity with the bereaved families.

While talking to the parents and families, the Army Chief paid glowing tributes to the Shuhada, as well as those who got wounded on that fateful day of December 16 last year, for their great sacrifice for the motherland.

General Raheel Sharif reiterated that the whole nation along with the armed forces stand firmly with the affected families, acknowledging their great sacrifice.

The COAS said “The sacrifices of our young martyrs have united the nation. The tragic APS incident cannot be forgotten. No religion and society allows such a heinous act and the terrorists who killed the innocent schoolchildren have no religion.”

Sharing details of incident, the COAS informed the parents that most of the terrorists involved in the heinous act have met their fate. He said the army operation will not stop until the last terrorist is eliminated from soil of Pakistan.

Fateha for the martyred children, teachers and soldiers was also offered. The bereaved families thanked the General and Begum Raheel Sharif for taking it as their personal pain, for reaching out to them in their moment of grief and sorrow, and for providing them all possible assistance and support.

PAKISTAN HELPED SECURE TALIBAN TALKS, BUT AFGHAN MISTRUST LINGERS

Reuters adds: Pakistan army says its role in brokering landmark Taliban peace talks last week proves it is serious about tackling militancy in the region.

The heads of the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were personally involved in bringing about talks between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul government on July 8 in Murree, said two senior officials close to the process.

Doubts exist across South Asia about Pakistan’s true motives. The military has denied the charge. Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif in particular has made Afghanistan’s peace process a “top foreign policy goal,” said a Defence Ministry official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

“For General Raheel, convincing Afghans to end the war is just as important as fighting anti-Pakistani militants,” another senior security source said. “He is the chief who has convinced the army that the militant threat inside Pakistan is as important as the strategic tussle with India.”

Several current and former officials in Afghanistan, who suspect Pakistan of funding and arming the Taliban insurgency across the border, question whether it genuinely supports dialogue.“Pakistan is taking this new step under internal and external pressure,” said former Afghan interior minister Umar Daudzai. “We have to wait and see whether the step is of a tactical nature or is a genuine policy shift.” Pressure from China, a key regional ally and investor, is understood to have played a role in Pakistan’s intervention, as Beijing believes militants from its restive Xinjiang region receive training in lawless areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Changes in leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan also helped pave the way for last week’s talks. In Pakistan, General Sharif became army chief in 2013 and his close ally Rizwan Akhtar took over the ISI the next year. And since Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took office last Sept, he has made improving relations with Pakistan a priority, in contrast to his predecessor Hamid Karzai.

That has led to condemnation inside Afghanistan, however. A May agreement for the ISI and Afghanistan’s spy agency to share information about militants caused a political uproar.

As for India, which fought two wars with Pakistan over Muslim-majority Kashmir and blames its neighbour for fomenting unrest there, mistrust runs high, despite a meeting between the two prime ministers at a Russian summit last week. “India is very sceptical about this entire thing,” said Sameer Patil, fellow for national security studies at Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House.

He added Delhi felt it had been sidelined from the process. US and Chinese observers attended the Taliban talks. Pakistan backed the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s, and many of the movement’s leaders are believed to be hiding in the country. But army attitudes towards proxies have changed with the advent of Pakistan’s own Taliban movement, which has launched attacks in major cities that killed hundreds of people.

One of the worst attacks in Pakistan’s history was on army-run school in Peshawar last December, killing more than 130 pupils. Months earlier, Pakistan military had launched an offensive against militants in the North Waziristan region that is still ongoing. Islamabad wants Afghanistan’s help in capturing or killing Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, who claimed responsibility for the massacre. Pakistan also says Afghanistan quietly supports Pakistani Taliban fighting Islamabad. Afghanistan denies this.

Some Western diplomats, long sceptical about Pakistani promises, say Islamabad now seems serious about promoting Afghan stability.

“This is the most genuine push we have seen from Pakistan,” said one diplomat.

Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid sees “an institutional change” at the top of the Pakistan military favouring ending Afghanistan’s war.

However, he warned powerful hawkish elements may seek to scuttle any settlement unless it is linked to limiting India’s influence in Kabul. “The army will not give up entirely on all of its proxies in Afghanistan until and unless it sees reciprocal actions by the Afghan govt.”