Speaking in Parliament on Jan. 29, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the formation of a four-member committee to negotiate peace terms with the Taliban. The following is an edited transcript of his speech:
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to you and the House for providing me this opportunity. I will take the House into confidence at a later date on the government’s efforts with respect to the issues and challenges that the country is facing. Presently, I want to confine myself to the problem of terrorism, on which the government has reached a clear stand and strategy.
Democracy is about consultation and safeguarding the welfare of the people. We consulted all stakeholders on the issue of terrorism and obtained the opinions of all political parties in the All Parties Conference. I remained in constant touch with state agencies and consulted intellectuals as well as scholars. I also spoke with the people’s elected representatives. Today, I want to share with the nation the results of these collective-wisdom efforts.
Power is a gift of God and the trust of the people. We are answerable for our performance to Allah and to the people of Pakistan. The security and safety of the lives and property of the people and ensuring law and order is the prime responsibility of the government and a constitutional obligation. This is what our religion also teaches us.
The government is, therefore, duty bound to relieve the people from fear and to ensure that their lives and honor are well protected. Today, the people and institutions of Pakistan are the victims of terrorism. Citizens are being attacked and our innocent children are dying. The whole society has been subjected to extreme fear. I consider it my responsibility to protect the lives and property of the people at any cost, and that is the top priority of the government.
Mr. Speaker, you know very well as to how far these terrorists are following religious teachings when they play with the lives and property of innocent people. Every Muslim knows that killing one person amounts to killing the whole of mankind. Every person knows that such an attitude is against the commands of Islam and no religious scholar will ever condone it. All religious scholars, from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, agree that terrorism has no links with Islam.
Islam does not make any religious distinctions and respects every human being equally. It is the responsibility of the state to provide justice to the unlawfully murdered. The Prophet had emphasized this in his last sermon. He asked his followers, “Is this not the month of Haj?” They all replied yes. He then asked, “What day is it today, is it not the day of sacrifice?” They all replied yes. “Which city is this, is it not the city of peace?” Everyone again replied yes. He then said, “Your blood, your property and your honor are as sacred as this day, this month, and this city of Mecca.” The same theme was narrated on another occasion: “The sanctity of human life is superior to the sanctity of the Kaaba.”
Mr. Speaker, no better words can be said to emphasize [Islam’s] respect for human life. Our Constitution also says the same: the protection of the people’s lives and property is a religious and constitutional obligation of the government that cannot be overlooked.
You know that the nation is bearing the wrath of terrorism for the last 14 years. It is primarily an outcome of the decisions of an unconstitutional government and a dictator who created this mayhem. We categorically disagreed with their decisions while in the opposition and maintained that the national interest must come first. Today, we are reaping what was sown in the days of dictatorship. Terrorism has claimed thousands of precious lives—of citizens, religious leaders, scholars, Army and police personnel, women and children as well as of minorities.
Yet we offered the terrorists to come to terms with peace. The all-parties conference authorized the government to hold talks with the militants. We invited them to talks so that they do not kill innocent citizens, refrain from disturbing the peace, and respect the country’s Constitution. Unfortunately, they did not respond positively to our offer and continued to hit the Pakistan Army and our civilians.
Let me tell you what happened after the all-parties conference. Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi and soldiers of the Army were assassinated, and this was proudly owned [by the terrorists]. A church was attacked in Peshawar and our innocent Christian brothers and sisters were killed. Innocent citizens and soldiers were targeted in Bannu and R.A. Bazaar, Rawalpindi. Many innocent people were massacred in the Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Peshawar. Aitzaz Hasan and six children were martyred in Hangu. Polio workers, who are saving children from disability, are being targeted. Media persons are being assassinated. A number of terrorist incidents took place after the all-parties conference in which hundreds of people, including women and children, were killed and wounded.
Neither Islam nor any other religion accepts or tolerates such brutality. The government, however, did not lose patience. Every single terrorist incident was extremely painful for me. I can feel the agony of a mourning mother when she kisses her dead son’s body. I can feel the anguish of the father who lowers the body of his son into an early grave. I have seen innocent children bathed in blood. To me, every mother is the same whether she is the mother of an innocent child killed by a drone in the tribal areas or the mother of a bombing victim in Peshawar or Rawalpindi. Their pain is my own, and I feel it as they do.
Mr. Speaker, the government is doing what it can to stop drone attacks. But we cannot ignore those who are killing innocent Pakistanis on this premise. Are Pakistanis behind the drone attacks? Are the innocent school-going children killed in suicide bombings responsible for these? [Drones] cannot be accepted by law, morality or religion.
The situation is not acceptable anymore. We can no longer allow the massacre of innocent citizens. The reputation of the country is being questioned. Our existence is at stake. We cannot allow the terrorists to take the country and nation hostage. Peace is our ultimate goal, it will be obtained at any cost, and the nation is united on this.
Mr. Speaker, I know that if the state decides today on the use of force to eliminate the terrorists, the whole nation will stand behind it. However, as the desire for peace has been expressed on the other side, we want to forget the unpleasant past and give another chance to peaceful talks. In order for the talks to succeed, it is, however, necessary that these should be carried out in good faith, which as a first step requires complete stoppage of terrorist activities. Talks and terrorism cannot go hand in hand. All state agencies and the whole nation are united on this. This is our joint mission and we have to work on it with complete sincerity of purpose.
Mr. Speaker, the protection of lives and property is the state’s prime responsibility. We can no longer lift the dead bodies of our children, but we continued doing so during the last seven months in order to pave the way for peace. I am announcing a four-member committee comprising Mr. Irfan Siddiqi, [former] Maj. Amir, Mr. Rahimullah Yousafzai, and Mr. Rustam Shah Mohmand to carry forward the peace talks. Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan being the focal person will assist the committee; I will personally supervise progress. I am doing all this in good faith. This play of fire and explosives should come to an end now.
I am grateful to the opposition leader, friends, and all those who lent their wisdom to guide us in this respect. It was agreed in the all-parties conference that we will not politicize the issue of terrorism. I expect the opposition to respect this understanding. I have the same feelings as those of a common citizen and I assure you that I will move forward with full sincerity and earnestness. You shall guide us. Mistakes are likely to occur, but it is your right to point them out and suggest their remedies. I am grateful to those in the opposition who have commented positively on our policy. As for those who criticized us, I am sure that they have done so in good faith and sincerity. I am thankful to them also. Long live Pakistan.