UNITED NATIONS, Sept 27: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the UN General Assembly on Friday that he had offered dialogue to the Taliban to end violence and to wean young extremists away from terrorism.

“Winning hearts and minds, particularly of the youth, is as important as using guns to deter terrorism,” said the prime minister who also warned that “dialogue should not be seen as a sign of weakness or a tool of appeasement.”

Also for the first time since 2004, when the drone strikes began, the prime minister raised the issue inside the UNGA, telling world leaders that the attacks were a continued violation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity.

While expressing his determination to fight extremists, the prime minister reminded the international community that the war against terrorism must be waged within the framework of international law.

“The use of armed drones in the border areas of Pakistan is a continued violation of our territorial integrity. It results in casualties of innocent civilians and is detrimental to our resolve and efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism from Pakistan,” he said.

“I have urged the United States to cease these strikes, so that we could avert further casualties and suffering.”

He defended his decision to engage the Taliban, telling the international community that at a recent meeting in Islamabad, all major parties in the country had urged the government to open dialogue with the militants.

The all-party conference, he said, was a part of his efforts to “forge national consensus on a cohesive policy to eliminate terrorism from our soil”.

As a country that had suffered grievously for the past many years, Pakistan condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, he said.

“We are resolved to oppose the forces of terrorism, by all means at our disposal. At the same time, we have offered dialogue to end violence, wean young extremists off extremism, and integrate all segments of our society into the national mainstream,” the prime minister said.

Mr Sharif noted that in the past 12 years, Pakistan had given huge sacrifices in blood and resources.

“We have lost 40,000 precious lives of men, women and children, which include 8,000 defence and security personnel. There has been colossal damage to social and physical infrastructure as well. Our economy has been denied the opportunity to grow fully,” he said.

“This must change now.”

Church attack

The prime minister also spoke on the Peshawar Church blasts which killed more than 80 people.

“We are deeply saddened by the recent terrorist attack on the members of a minority community in Peshawar. This heinous attack has united the entire Pakistani nation in support of our brothers and sisters of all faith in Pakistan. We share their grief and declared three days of mourning,” Mr Sharif said. He said that the attack was carried out by the same elements that had attacked mosques, shrines, innocent citizens, and members of the security forces. The Peshawar blasts, he said, had further strengthened his government’s resolve to deal with terrorism and extremism in a resolute and comprehensive manner.

“Terrorism knows no borders. It has no religion or creed, which is why maligning a whole people or a religion on this account, is unfair and unwise,” the prime minister said.

“Islam is a religion of peace, compassion and brotherhood.”

Mr Sharif said that although extremism was not specific to any religion, “the most insidious form of contemporary racism in the name of religion is on the rise”.

“Peaceful Muslim communities are profiled and subjected to discriminatory practices. Their faith, culture, holy personalities and scriptures are under attack.”

This stereotyping of Muslims as extremists and terrorists must stop, he warned. “We must all use the influence and reach of the United Nations to avert a clash of civilisations and promote harmony among followers of diverse religions, all around the world.”

Talks with Singh

Mr Sharif, who is meeting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said India and Pakistan already had “a solid basis” to build up a relationship.

“We can build on the Lahore Accord signed in 1999, which contained a roadmap for the resolution of our differences through peaceful negotiations,” he said.

“I am committed to working for a peaceful and economically prosperous region. This is what our people want and this is what I have long aspired for.”

The prime minister said he had an aspiration for regional peace and stability and had shared his vision with other South Asian leaders, including the prime minister of India.

“Our two countries have wasted massive resources in an arms race. We could have used those resources for the economic well-being of our people,” he said.

“We still have that opportunity. Pakistan and India can prosper together; and the entire region would benefit from our cooperation. We stand ready to re-engage with India in a substantive and purposeful dialogue.”

The Kashmir dispute

As in the past, Pakistan once again raised the Kashmir issue at the General Assembly, urging the international community to give Kashmiris an opportunity to decide their future peacefully, in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Noting that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir was presented to the Security Council in January 1948, the prime minister said: “And yet the issue remains unresolved after nearly seven decades.”

Mr Sharif said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Islamabad last month, allowing Pakistan to reaffirm “our shared goal of a peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan.”

The Pakistani government, he said, supported an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, leading to national reconciliation.

The prime minister said the United Nations needed reforms and Pakistan believed that the Security Council’s composition should be made more representative. The intended reforms must, however, plan for a dynamic future, not entrench or replicate outdated historical patterns, based on privileges, he warned.

He also stressed the need to fully restore the role and authority of the General Assembly.

Palestine

The prime minister welcomed the resumption of the Middle Peace process, hoping that it would lead to the consolidation of an independent, viable and contiguous state of Palestine, based on the pre-1967 borders, with Al Quds Al Sharif as its capital.

Syria

The prime minister welcomed the US-Russia agreement on Syria and appealed to the Syrian government and opposition groups to work on a roadmap for national reconciliation and the necessary political transitions.

Nuclear disarmament

Mr Sharif said that Pakistan would continue its adherence to the policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence, without entering into an arms race.

“We would not, however, remain oblivious to the evolving security dynamics in South Asia, nor would we agree to arrangement that is detrimental to our security and strategic interests,” he said.

“Our position on the proposed Fissile Material Treaty is determined by our national security interests and the objective of strategic stability in South Asia.”

The prime minister said Pakistan qualified for full access to civil nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, to meet its growing energy needs, for continued economic growth.

Pakistan also had “impeccable credentials” to join the multilateral export control regime, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group, he added.

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