Extremism and terrorism in the name of religion has been the most critical issue of Pakistani state and society in the last couple of decades. Because the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam by groups and individuals has posed existential threat to the solidarity of society and the survival of the state. Reportedly 2017 is said to be the most non-violent year in the last one decade in Pakistan with deaths and destruction in terrorist violence the minimum since 2007. However, this does not mean that terrorism has been trounced in Pakistan and the wave of extremism reversed. The decisive war against terrorism and extremism perpetrated in the name of religion could only be won when there is a full-scale societal and state response to counter violence and radicalism.
There have been a host of factors responsible for the rise and proliferation of radicalism and terrorism in Pakistan. However, unlike popular (mis)understanding that poverty and unemployment are the basic reasons for religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, particularly in K-P and Fata, our contention is that economic factors have only been acting as contributory causes or as is termed in the terrorism literature ‘permissive’ factors. In fact, political, constitutional, legal and administrative vacuum is the chief cause of religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, specifically K-P and Fata. The term political vacuum has historically been very important and has not only been the cause of the rise of extremism and terrorism in the country but most of the problems Pakistan has had faced since its existence. Due to political vacuum the decision-makers of the state could not identify and set the national objectives unequivocally, have been unable to come up with relevant policies to achieve these objectives and revisit the objectives when sensing them unachievable.
There are other factors that have also contributed to the rise and proliferation of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. These include social psychology of our population and individual psychological factors like frustration and aggression. Most importantly, the ultraconservative tribal social structure in Fata and even the rest of Pakistan has had deep links to the rise of religious extremism and terrorism in the country. Unfortunately, there is a deep misunderstanding regarding the twin phenomenon within the government departments and the state institutions. This is really a cause for concern for the state and its inhabitants. Despite uncountable martyrs the country takes pride in the war against terror, the state institutions must respond to the challenge in a holistic and coordinate manner. Although after the 2014 loathsome terrorist attack on the Army Public School the government came up with a comprehensive 20-point National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism, this plan needs to be buttressed by following measures. Firstly, building the capacity of government departments to understand the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism. Secondly, making Fata a separate province to plug the political vacuum and dilute the social structure there. Thirdly, launch a full-fledged media campaign with different messages for different target audiences. For instance, the general masses and media personnel must be told what are the real (although concealed) objectives of the insurgents/terrorists, why they employ terrorism for their cause; trying to prove their aims and tactics as un-Islamic. In this regard ideological counterpropaganda could work wonders. Fourthly, special lectures and presentations must be organised for government servants of all departments to tell them about the aims and objectives of the insurgents and terrorists and how they could be useful in countering them. Fifthly, special indoctrination sessions must be organised for the police, intelligence and other law-enforcement personnel making them believe that countering extremists and terrorists not only is their duty towards the state but also towards society and above all Islam as trouncing ‘Fitna’ is a religious obligation. Sixthly, carry out extensive de-radicalisation campaigns in the most vulnerable areas.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2017.
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