ISLAMABAD - Ahead of Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s upcoming retirement on this month’s 29th, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had a detailed interaction on Tuesday with the top military commanders, especially with the reportedly finalised candidates for the slots of chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), and chief of army staff (COAS), during his maiden visit to the General Headquarters (GHQ) after assuming charge as premier.

The visit came a couple of days after Nasiruddin Haqqani, a top commander of the Haqqani Network, was shot head in Islamabad in an attack Sunday night.

During his GHQ visit, the prime minister is said to have interacted with Chief of Logistics Staff Lt-Gen Haroon Aslam and Chief of General Staff Lt-Gen Rashad Mehmood, the two senior most generals after General Kayani, who are being rated the foremost candidates, respectively for CJCSC and COAS slots. Inspector General Training and Evaluation Lt-Gen Raheel Sharif, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt-Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam and Rawalpindi Corps Commander Lt-Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa were the other officers who met with Nawaz Sharif and his delegation comprising Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and Special Assistant to PM Tariq Fatemi.

The COAS, the CGS and the DG ISI are said to have briefed the premier on the security threats, particularly on the Western border. Reportedly, the PM was informed that in the presence of a hardened terrorist as Fazlullah, who had mounted terror threats in different parts of Pakistan, the prospects of peace talks had dimmed. Intelligence reports and alerts were cited to tell the PM that the new TTP chief was planning to target defence installations, government offices and public places in the ongoing holy month of Muharram in pursuit of his violence-driven designs.

The TTP has threatened the Pakistani government and the establishment with attacks to avenge the killings of Hakimullah Mehsud and Nasiruddin Haqqani.

Relaying signals of caution amid potential security challenges, emanating from the elevation of another hardliner terrorist as TTP chief, the military command sought the political leadership’s backing by means of consensuses and unity to defeat the menace of terrorism.

According to an intelligence official, General Kayani referred to the prevalent political divide between the political circles over peace talks with the militants, in general, and killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, in particular, saying such kind of developments were adversely affecting the armed forces’ morale in the war on terror.

The military command is also reported to have conveyed to the PM that consensus and unanimity in political leadership’s approach towards terrorism and support for the armed forces was vital to map out a decisive line of action against terrorism.

Officials believe that the PM’s visit to the Martyrs’ Monument at the GHQ was a ‘reprimanding gesture’ for those circles that were repeatedly conferring the title of ‘shaheed’ (martyr) upon the slain TTP chief.

The military on Sunday had slammed Munawar Hassan, Jamaat-e-Islami chief, for “insulting the shahadat (martyrdom) of thousands of innocent Pakistanis.” Hassan, in his television interviews, had termed Mehsud a martyr while refusing to use this word for the Pakistani soldiers who had laid down their lives in the war on terror.

“The nation holds Pakistan Army in the highest esteem as they have always shown professional excellence in times of war and peace,” a media release quoted the PM as having said during Tuesday’s visit.

“Pakistan Army’s soldiers and officers have set a historic example by sacrificing their lives for defending our motherland. Those who have fought for Pakistan, living and martyred, have sacrificed their today for ensuring a better tomorrow for our future generations, and all of them are our benefactors,” the PM said.

He added, “Each soldier of Pak Army enters the battlefield with the passion to lay his life for the country and desire of attaining martyrdom. It is this passion and high morale that is the biggest strength of our forces. Those who have laid down their lives in the fight against terrorism would be remembered forever.”

On July 11 this year, when the PM visited the ISI headquarters in Islamabad, the military command had briefed him that any letup in violence was not possible unless terrorism was tackled with iron hands.

Meanwhile, the PM, during his GHQ visit, said Pakistan was a democratic and peace-loving country and wanted stability in the world. “The people of Pakistan repose complete trust in democracy and believe that strong defence and stable democracy are essential for the country,” he said.