KARACHI - Religious extremism is just one strain of a virus that is not limited to the Islamic world, said chairman, Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

He was addressing a moot organised by the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

According to complete text of the speech released by PPP media cell here on Monday, the party chairman also categorically stated that while extremism dominates the post-9/11 narrative, other forms of religious extremism are equally dangerous.

Bilawal mentioning that all forms of religious extremism are a serious threat to the nation said his mother in her final election campaign and her posthumously published book “Reconciliation,” had laid out a road map to combat religious extremism through reconciliation, democracy, social justice, and a new Marshall Plan. However, distracted by the great recession and exhausted by nearly a decade of wars, the international community once again ignored her advice, regretted the PPP Chairman.

He also alleged that extremism in Pakistan was founded by opponents of his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and that world then had myopically funded his policy because of Pakistan’s strategic importance in the first Afghan War.

Bilawal regretted that world also ignored his mother Benazir Bhutto in the 1980s when she warned that supplying arms, training and support to the mujahadeen to fight the Soviets had created a Frankenstein that would come back to haunt us. “Many declared these men freedom fighters and dubbed them the moral equivalent of George Washington,” he added. “After 9/11, again the international community ignored BB when she warned that we must not run with the hare and hunt with the hound,” he said, mentioning that supporting dictatorship on the one hand while preaching democracy with the other was counter-productive.

Expressing his gratitude to USIP for the opportunity to engage with the policy community in Washington, he said as a representative of a frontline country and its democratic vanguard, the Pakistan People’s Party, has forged a path to possible futures of stability and peace in a tough neighborhood. “I believe that these experiences could shine a light for others to avoid the strategic whirlwinds reaped by unintended consequences,” he said.

Bilawal said more than a decade after the devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre, the world has paid a heavy price in

blood and coin to counter this threat.

“At some point, we need to inject a reality check into this narrative,” he said. Despite heavy military and civilian sacrifices, it is heartbreaking to still see no light at the end of this tunnel. “Can anyone, in all honesty, tell me where these long wars are being won? This is a question that often keeps me awake at night,” he said. “From the Taliban to Al Qaeda, to Boko Haram to ISIS, no matter what the world throws at them, like the legendary Hydra, every time one head is decapitated another two emerge,” said the young chairman of PPP.

He reminded the audience that despite the audacity of their attacks, the heinous massacres, and the hundreds of thousands who have died in the wars they have ignited, it seems that many outside this room still do not see them as a serious ideological threat.

Bilawal said something must be catastrophically wrong if a decade after this battle began they have managed to push much of the Muslim world into a dangerous civil war and have continued to carry out meticulously executed terrorist attacks in the US and Europe.

“Religious extremists murder doctors, women’s healthcare providers and even the schoolchildren here in the United States,” he said. He mentioned that religious extremist’s most potent weapon is fear. “They spread fear through terrorism, provoke us into unending wars, scare us into compromising on our ideals, into surrendering our fundamental freedoms, and into diverting our limiting resources away from crucial welfare programs.” he said.

They infect our societies with fear, hate, and violence. They weaponise faith, manipulate religion, and terrorize societies to extinguish hope, he said. “I firmly believe, that no matter where the head of this hydra emerges, be it Pakistan, Iraq, France, the UK or the USA, the best antidote to the poison of religious extremism is democracy,” he said. He also maintained that democracy alone cannot challenge such dogma, but it is the only system that allows open societies the legal sanction and legitimacy to challenge this assault on liberty and civilization. Bilawal said democracy was the greatest ideological force humankind has to offer and nations must harness its full potential to vanquish the evil of extremism, in all forms and shades.