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Nawaz offers dialogue to militants

Updated August 20, 2013

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 19: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered on Monday dialogue to “armed militants” in an attempt to root out terrorism, which he termed the biggest menace confronting the nation.

But in the 55-minute address to the nation, his first since assuming office in June, the prime minister did not spell out how and when the government intended to go ahead with the dialogue.

Mr Sharif’s speech dwelt at length on two issues — terrorism and loadshedding — and how the two problems were weakening the country. He was candid on the energy crisis, conceding that it was impossible to solve the problem in the immediate future. He, however, said the government was determined to end loadshedding in five years.

“The government has more than one option to deal with the problem of terrorism, but wisdom demands a cautious way in which no more lives of innocent people are lost as the country has already suffered 40,000 causalities of both civilians and security personnel,” Nawaz Sharif said.

He said that soon after taking over the government he had invited all political forces to join hands to steer the country out of its current problems and put it back on the track of development, and “now going one step ahead, offers dialogue to those elements which unfortunately have taken the course of extremism”.

About the government’s plans to end loadshedding in five years, Mr Sharif in is recorded speech referred to a 6,600MW project in Gadani, 970MW Neelum-Jhelum project and 425MW Nandi Pur project and use of Thar coal for production of electricity. He also spoke how the government in the past two and a half months had dealt with the issue of circular debt.

But on terrorism, the prime minister only talked about how the menace over the years had destroyed the country. He didn’t mention the all-parties conference his government had announced to evolve a national policy on terrorism. He also avoided speaking on the much talked about national security policy the government was working on for better intelligence sharing in the country.

The prime minister instead spoke at length on how the institutions concerned had failed to take the issue of terrorism head on and now militants were killing people on busy roads at freewill in broad day light and safely going back to their hideouts. He condemned the terrorist attack on the Quaid-i-Azam’s residency in Ziarat, the recent killing of mountaineers in Gilgit-Baltistan and ongoing blowing of girls schools.

“Even if these extremists are arrested, those who arrest them seem scared and don’t investigate them on professional lines. And when these cases are presented before courts judicial officers are reluctant to take them. Out of fear, witnesses also don’t come forward,” the prime minister said, adding that because of all this now militants are breaking jails to get their companions freed. He was referring to the D.I. Khan jailbreak.

“All government departments have failed in the past,” he added.

The prime minister reiterated Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s stance that the government wanted to end terrorism be it through dialogue or using full force of the state. “To end terrorism in the country, all state institutions are on the same page,” Mr Sharif said.

However, there was no mention in the speech about a government plan to tackle terrorism.

A professor of a local university, who didn’t want to be quoted, said the prime minister should have directly addressed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to send a clear signal to militants what his government wanted.

“Just to say that time has come to differentiate between right and wrong, white and black will not serve the purpose. If the prime minister believes terrorism is a key problem of the country, he should address it in categorical terms,” the professor said, adding that there was nothing wrong to hold an APC to evolve a national consensus on certain issues, but at the end of the day, it’s the government which had to take decision and responsibility.

More than one TV channel reported that Prime Minister Sharif had shared his speech with Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani during their meeting earlier in the day before its recording. Foreign policy: The prime minister said national security directly or indirectly was connected with Pakistan’s relations with other countries which needed a serious review. “Otherwise, we will keep on wasting our national resources.”

Recognising the importance of Kashmir issue for Pakistan which he said his government continued to declare as jugular vein of the country, Mr Sharif said India and Pakistan couldn’t afford more wars. “I have always supported good relationship with India, and my stand has also been endorsed by people in the recent elections. Therefore, I strongly believe both the countries should sit together for resolving all outstanding issues between them,” Mr Sharif said. It’s good for the two countries.

About Afghanistan, the prime minister said his government had taken a principle stand that it was for a peaceful Afghanistan through dialogue which would help Pakistan progress.

On drone attacks, he said during his recent meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, he told him that such attacks were violating the sovereignty of Pakistan as well as international law. The stance has recently been supported by the UN secretary general during his visit to the country.

In the end, Prime Minister Sharif assured the provincial governments of his full support in their development programmes and in their efforts to improve law and order in the provinces.