Pakistan counters terrorism through literature

By Amna Nasir Jamal


Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (right) gives a literary award to Irfan Siddique, his adviser on national history and literary heritage, January 5 in Islamabad. [Courtesy of Amna Nasir Jamal]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has broken the backbone of terrorists through military Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and now the country needs Operation Zarb-e-Qalam to spread peace and tolerance, Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif said last week.

The army has been conducting Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan since June 2014.

"Just like Operation Zarb-e-Azb, there is a dire need for Operation Zarb-e-Qalam," Nawaz Sharif said January 5 while addressing the fourth International Conference on Language, Literature and Society organised by the Pakistan Academy of Letters.

Cultural figures have a role to play

"I believe that writers, poets and intellectuals have a key role in elimination of terrorism," he said. "The promotion of literature can create harmony and peace in society and serve as a counter-extremism strategy for deterring terrorism."

More than 1,000 literary figures, scholars, university faculty members, students and people interested in literature from various walks of life attended the conference in Islamabad from January 5 to January 8.

Intellectuals, poets and writers from Afghanistan, Spain, Singapore, the Maldives, Finland, Azerbaijan, Oman, Nepal, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Germany and various other countries, in addition to representatives from all provinces and regions in Pakistan, attended the conference.

"The language of literature is an easy and effective approach to convey even tough topics including war against terrorism," said Nawaz Sharif, highlighting the importance of the written word, which can be used to influence the public, especially youth, with positive values.

Raising financial support for writers

The prime minister announced an Rs. 500 m (US $4.8 million) Zarb-e-Qalam endowment for the Education Ministry's National History and Literary Heritage Division (Qaumi Tareekh-o-Adbi Virsa) and to support the welfare of artists, writers and intellectuals.

In addition, he announced the establishment of the Rs. 1 million (US $9,542) Intizar Hussain Award and greater annual benefits and awards for writers and intellectuals.

"Writers, poets and intellectuals have to play a leading role in elimination of terrorism and promotion of peace," Nawaz Sharif said. "There is a need to get rid of the mindset of extremism, which is pervasive in the country."

Confronting intolerance

Society has become harsh and intolerant, Nawaz Sharif said. "We are forgetting how to speak of mutual love, integrity, compassion and empathy."

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

The year 2017 has been declared the year of Zarb-e-Qalam "to highlight the soft image of the country", said Irfan Siddique, adviser to the prime minister on national history and literary heritage.

"This effort will not only create understanding of literature among people across the country but will also help countering extremism and terrorism in society through educating people about [Pakistan's] rich literary heritage and the importance of preserving their heritage," he told Pakistan Forward.

The government has also planned to support writers who lack the resources to publish their works. "A committee will be formed that will analyse the transcript and make a decision whether to publish it using government funding," Siddique said.

It is time to focus on nurturing the intellectual health of the younger generation through producing quality literature and educating them on the achievements of national heroes, he said.

"Nations can achieve progress only by promoting education and literature," he said.

Observers praise initiatives

Writers and other participants of the literary scene had high praise for the initiatives and for the power of art to overcome terrorism.

Art can combat the psychological warfare of terrorism, writer Mustasir Hussain Tarar told Pakistan Forward.

"We can ensure that another generation of children doesn't have to be tormented [by terrorism]," he said. "It's imperative that we as writers make this happen."

Journalist and poet Orya Maqbool Jan agreed with Tarar about the healing power of art.

"We have to honour human values and literature," he told Pakistan Forward. "Art and culture can play a significant role in this regard."

Operation Zarb-e-Qalam provides encouragement and revives dormant institutions, he said. "Artists and writers, if encouraged, find a way to lift up victims of terrorism," he said.

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