ISLAMABAD - Former President Asif Ali Zardari has appealed for an urgent and peaceful end to the standoff in Islamabad to release the creative energies of the nation to fight the true enemy, namely militants and extremists.

"The underlying spirit of Defence Day is the unprecedented unity of the people that inspired our defence forces to the highest levels of valour, courage and sacrifice in the defence of the motherland," he said in a message on the eve of Defence Day falling on Saturday (today).

"Today more than ever we need to revive our spirits and join ranks to defend the country against all kinds of threats, particularly the existential threat from the militants," the former president said.

"On this day in 1965 the people of Pakistan from all provinces and representing all shades of opinion joined hands in thwarting aggression. Today the nation needs unity and an end to the agonising standoff in the federal capital through peace and reconciliation to thwart new kinds of aggression against the state," he said.

He said, "On this day we salute the people for their show of unity in 1965, the armed forces for their courage to defend the country and also pay homage to our martyrs who laid down their lives in upholding the honour of the country. Today extremism, militancy and sectarianism on the one hand and machinations against democracy on the other pose a far too serious challenge to the integrity of the nation. Let us pledge that we will never allow anyone to endanger our existence as a moderate, democratic, tolerant and peaceful nation where political choices will be made by the ballot and not through force, coercion and intimidation."

The former president added, "On this day we pay homage to our great sons and daughters who laid down their lives in the defending our frontiers. They sacrificed their lives so that we lived in freedom. They did not die in vain."