[The writer is Prime Minister of Pakistan and Vice-Chairman of the
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ]

It is important for Pakistan — which has transited from an authoritarian regime to democratic governance –that the message of this first critical post-election period be bold and clear. Like newly elected governments in other democratic societies, we intend to set the tone and agenda. We want to show the world that our nation is back in business, with an overwhelming
mandate from our people.

This is not an easy transition. The scars of the past decade are deep. The problems facing our country are great. But the sacrifices of millions of Pakistanis — including Pakistan’s quintessential democratic leader, Benazir Bhutto — were not made so that our new government could be timid. We know our people expect action and progress. Our boldness is a manifestation of our awareness of the stakes — both of success and failure.

My government is a coalition of modern, moderate, innovative, progressive democratic forces determined to jump-start the economy and to rebuild the social fabric of Pakistan. We have already freed political prisoners and lifted press censorship. We have released detained judges and will restore an independent judiciary, the centerpiece of civil society. We will strengthen and protect our neglected democratic infrastructure, especially Parliament. We will reform our tribal areas economically, politically and socially through
measures that address the needs of the people and will integrate these
areas into mainstream society.

The world is rightly concerned about the threat of terrorism and
expects its elimination to be our government’s highest priority. We
intend to vigorously continue the  ‘war against terrorism’ with the support of the people. Pakistan must fight terrorism for Pakistan’s sake. Past efforts have suffered because of the view that Pakistan sought to combat terrorism only in response to international pressure.

Our strategy against global terrorism will be multifaceted. We will
combine the use of force against terrorists and civil dialogue with
those who, because of religious or ethnic considerations, were misled
into supporting extremists. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001,
people and tribes along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan were swept
into a wave of violence and anti-Western sentiment. Pakistan will not
negotiate with terrorists, but it will not refrain from talking to
insurgent tribesmen whose withdrawal of support could help drain the
swamp in which terrorists fester and grow. Yet no talks will be held
with anyone refusing to lay down arms.

Our policy aims to marginalize militants in the Federally Administered
Tribal Areas (FATA) and our North-West Frontier region, where the rule
of law had been abandoned and territory all but ceded to ‘al-Qaeda’ and the ‘Taliban’. Negotiations with the various tribes are being pursued with the help of the secular Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), which has intimate knowledge of tribes and clans in the area and which, along with my Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), received the bulk of the votes of ethnic Pashtuns in the February 18, 2008 parliamentary elections.

Erroneous comparisons have been made between our new policy and the
failed deals reached with tribal militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2004 and 2006. Those agreements were signed after militant groups bruised Pakistan’s security forces in battle. Now we are negotiating from a position of strength. Militants have been asked to surrender their weapons and unequivocally give up violence. We will not cut off our ability to use force or lower the vigilance we maintain to guard against violations of the peace agreements.

We intend to restore order and to give the people an option other than
collaborating with murderers whose sole goal is chaos and anarchy. We
will welcome our tribes back into society while respecting their
conservative interpretations of Islam, as long as they give up
violence and refuse to acquiesce to the intimidation of terrorists.

Since the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s, the security and
prosperity of Pakistan and Afghanistan have become interdependent. The
border between our countries is porous, not least because some 3 million Afghan refugees still in Pakistan need to maintain ties with their kin. We intend to work with the Afghan government to secure the border and to ensure the repatriation of the refugees with dignity, security and full economic opportunity.

We understand that unemployment, inflation and poverty are corrosive
elements that, if left unaddressed, can create hopelessness and ennui
that undermine authority. Our government confronts high global food
and oil prices and has inherited food shortages exacerbated by the
smuggling of Pakistani wheat across our borders. Yet our government
plans to be the safety net that ensures equity and protects people. We
seek and expect the support of the international community in
attaining these objectives.

There are moments in all nations’ histories that divide the past from
the future, that define nations’ souls. This is such a moment for
Pakistan. God willing, we will demonstrate to our people and to the
other 1.9 billion Muslims on this planet that democracy works and is
the best guarantee against terrorism, injustice and hopelessness.