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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday announced a Rs500 million 'Zarb-i-Qalam' endowment fund for the National History and Literary Heritage Division to help counter extremism and root out terrorism.

The premier, while addressing a literary conference in Islamabad, expressed hope that the four-day moot would confront challenges currently facing Pakistan, especially terrorism and propose solutions to tackle the menace.

"In a society where flowers of poetry and literature bloom, the diseases of extremism, intolerance, disunity and sectarianism are not born," Nawaz said. "When literary works dry up, then society becomes embroiled in various differences."

"Thousands of people and innocent children have been lost to such ills. The current government has stared this disease down, and its political will was enforced by the armed forces. We want to cleanse this country of terrorism and make it a place of peace, love and calm," he said.

He said that although Operation Zarb-i-Azb is ongoing, there is also a need for Operation 'Zarb-i-Qalam' to root out terrorism and promote harmony.

"We are forgetting how to speak of mutual love, integrity, compassion and empathy," Nawaz cautioned.

"Through certain media, these things are becoming common and influencing a new generation of Pakistanis. This state of events demands your attention, because such attitudes turn into extremism."

Literary institutions have a pivotal role to play in tackling these challenges, he said, and the government is trying to revive such institutions.

Writers, poets and intellectuals have to play a leading role in elimination of terrorism and promotion of peace, the premier said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his government had created a full-fledged National History and Literary Heritage Division under the leadership of the Irfan Siddiqui who has been tasked with the revival of literary and cultural organisations.

The premier announced the institution of the Rs500m endowment fund for the promotion of art and literary activities. The fund should be used as per the requirements of different institutions concerned besides the resolution of writers' problems, he said, according to Radio Pakistan.

In March 2016, a day after a suicide bomber killed 72 people in Lahore's Gulshan-i-Iqbal park, the PM told a high-level security huddle that Pakistan's goal is not only to eliminate terror infrastructure, but also to get rid of a mindset of extremism which is pervasive in the country.

The PML-N government has tried to get religious scholars, leaders and clerics on board with counter-terrorism measures. PM Nawaz, while addressinga Seeratun Nabi conference in December last year, urged religious scholars to play their role for the elimination of the root causes of extremism in society.

In an interview with DawnNews in December 2016, National Counter-Terrorism Authority's (Nacta) chief Ihsan Ghani said the government has been working on 12 policies in connection with curbing terrorism and extremism over the last year and a half.

Among these is a National Counter-Extremism policy, which is to be ready by this month, and a national narrative, he said.

"I won't say that it [a national narrative] will take decades to bear fruit, but it will take time," he had said, adding that Nacta would take input from various segments of society in this regard.

Scholarships for writers, awards

PM Nawaz said a scholarship for writers and poets will be enhanced substantially, benefitting about 1,000 writers and poets.

Awards for Urdu and regional languages have been increased from 11 to 20 and a literary award under the name of Intizar Hussain will be instituted alongside prize money of Rs1m.

The insurance scheme will now cover 700 writers and artists instead of 354 at the present time, and the premium will be paid by the government, he said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked Irfan Siddiqui to constitute a committee to recommend welfare measures for arts of different disciplines. The Committee should submit its report within a month, he directed.

He said Memorandums of Understanding have also been signed with several countries for cooperation in literature and culture