Pakistan parliament seen united against militancy

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s parliament has for the first time united to condemn terrorism, which members said posed a grave danger to stability, and has begun to “take ownership” of policy to tackle it, analysts said on Thursday.

Paramilitary soldiers guard the President House during Asif Ali Zardari's oath-taking ceremony in Islamabad September 9, 2008. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Nuclear-armed Pakistan, a major partner in the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, is grappling with militant violence and an economic crisis that have raised fears for its stability.

A joint session of parliament ended a two-week debate late on Wednesday with the unanimous passage of a resolution that essentially backs the stand of the government led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

“Extremism, militancy and terrorism in all forms and manifestations pose a grave danger to the stability and integrity of the nation-state,” the members said in their resolution.

Support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis who say the country should not be fighting what they see as America’s war.

The government has vowed to maintain support for the U.S. campaign and adopted what it calls a three-pronged strategy to fight militancy.

It says talks should be held with militants who lay down their arms, northwestern regions on the Afghan border where militants flourish should be developed and force used as a last resort.

During the debate, some opposition members of parliament had called for an end to support for the United States.

In the resolution, parliament urged a review of the strategy and said dialogue must be the highest priority.

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But that did not represent a departure from government policy nor would it signal an end to offensives in the northwest in which the army says more than 1,000 militants have been killed, analysts said.

“The good feature is they all seem to be united in saying ‘this is the greatest threat’,” said retired general and security analyst Talat Masood. “They own the threat at least. Previously, they had been saying this is an American war.”

Former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last month, single-handedly set security policy during his nine-year rule and it was never debated in parliament.


The parliamentarians highlighted the importance of negotiations.

“Dialogue must now be the highest priority as a principal instrument of conflict management and resolution,” they said. “Dialogue will be encouraged with all those elements willing to abide by the constitution of Pakistan and rule of law.”

Parliament also said: “We need an urgent review of our national security strategy and revisiting the methodology of combating terrorism in order to restore peace and stability.”

Echoing the government that has condemned recent cross-border strikes by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, parliament said it stood united against incursions.

At the same time, Pakistan could not be used as a base for attacks on other countries and foreign militants should be expelled, it said.

“It really has in it the elements that are already at work,” security analyst Nasim Zehra said of the resolution.

“It is not a radical departure from anything that’s being done but it’s a significant step in working toward ownership of the policy, fine-tuning the policy,” she said.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told parliament he welcomed the resolution, which he said gave the government a fresh mandate to reorganize its war against extremism, the state news agency quoted him as saying.

The United States has been pressing Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries in the northwest from where Taliban insurgents infiltrate into Afghanistan to fight Western forces.

The United States has been critical of past negotiations and pacts with militants in Pakistan, saying they merely gave the militants the opportunity to reorganize.

Zehra said she did not expect any review of policy to result in major changes: “They may push a little more for efforts to try and hold dialogue with those who surrender their arms. Those kinds of nuances you’ll see, but I don’t see any radical departure.”

“This is obviously a very difficult situation. We’re in it for the long haul but I think the process of containment (of militancy) has begun and it was critical to bring all the politicians on board,” she said.

Editing by Bill Tarrant