Islamabad - A two-day international seminar on “Countering Violent Extremism: Global Action Plan” which opened here yesterday called for resolution of longstanding international disputes and broader international cooperation to prevent the fanatic ideology from spreading. The seminar was organised by Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) in collaboration with German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung for discussing and sharing experiences about countering this menace. The seminar also aimed at exploring the way forward, whereby different countries could work together to defeat this problem by building upon what has already been done.

Speakers on the first day of the event that featured presentations by foreign envoys, national experts, political leaders, and academicians called for cooperation among states both at the level of the government and society.

The speakers looked into the evolution of violent extremism as legal and political challenge; international perspectives and response strategies; and Pakistan’s own experience of fighting the problem. President CPGS Senator Sehar Kamran, while introducing the seminar, said violent extremism was one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, which transcended borders and was now present across the world.

Senator Sehar Kamran called for a multidimensional global response to counter the threat. She likened the problem of violent extremism to a ‘hydra-headed monster’ and said that a comprehensive approach was required for dealing with it by addressing issues like conflicts and disputes; foreign interventions and occupation; religious, racial and ethnic discrimination; and persecution as well as social and economic exclusion that tended to promote this problem. “The complex challenges of terrorism and violent extremism defy simplified solutions. The causes of terrorism and violent extremism are multiple and need a comprehensive response from the international community,” she said.

Senator Mushahid Hussain in his keynote presentation said that in the today’s world, the threat of terrorism and violent extremism is real, and needed to be dealt at various levels, including national, regional and global. He regretted that violent extremism was often presented as a Muslim problem. He said the historical perspective of the problem needed to be kept in mind for its fuller comprehension. He was of the view that actions by big global powers based on their respective strategic calculations led the world to the current state where its security was being challenged. Emphasizing on his contention, Senator Mushahid recalled that al-Qaeda was a product of Afghan jihad, while ISIS was a result of Iraq war. He said Kashmir and Palestine were two festering issues, which in the absence of a just resolution were feeding extremist narrative. “Till we attack the core questions and root causes and are aware of the political context it would be difficult to counter the problem,” he said and suggested speedy resolution of outstanding disputes, criminalizing Islamophobia and promotion of democracy in Muslim countries.

In his assessment Pakistan was reversing the mistakes of the past and moving forward. He said the corrective course being pursued by the country made him hopeful about the future.

Afghan Ambassador Janan Mosazai spoke about Afghanistan’s response to the problem. Mosazai said that Afghanistan’s fight against terrorism was not only for its own security, but that of the entire region. He underscored the need for regional cooperation to counter the growing threat of terrorism and extremist violence. But, he regretted that the states in the region have not still agreed on the basic principles that could form the basis of cooperation. “We have to keep asking ourselves the questions that having suffered so much at the hands of terrorists groups are we ready to suffer from another  group for a further decade. If the answer is no, we then need to rethink our policies and strategies and move towards state to state cooperation.”

He further asked for closing down of centres of propagation of extremist views.

Argentinean Ambassador to Pakistan Rodolfo J Martin Saravia also emphasised on the need for a “comprehensive, cohesive policy formulation around the world” for addressing the problem. He said violence was used by various actors as a strategic tool to further their political or economic interests. He said the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremism has grown in absence of research into the effectiveness of the military strategies for dealing with the problem or looking into the factors behind the phenomenon. The competition over oil, trade and energy resources and media’s inclination towards sensationalism, he said, have contributed to further aggravating the situation.

German Ambassador Ina Lepel said Germany considered ISIS and its support networks as the most important threat to its security. “Germany follows a holistic, whole-of-society approach with a strong focus on prevention. Programmes offered by federal, state and local authorities focus on, but are not limited to, youth and women,” she said adding improving the overall conditions for the Muslim communities and thus the reduction of grievances is an integral part of Germany’s strategy.

Leading international law expert and former law minister Ahmer Bilal Soofi, while speaking about the legal aspect of the issue said the challenge facing the states was how to balance the citizens’ right to freedom of speech against their actions for preventing non-state actors from propagating radical views, particularly the regulation of the cyberspace. The legal treatment of transnational non-state actors is another point of discussion in the legal circles, he added.

Former Director NACTA Dr Manzar Abbas Zaidi while dwelling upon the political nature of violent extremism said that the problem has been misleadingly associated to religion. He emphasised that it had been used as a tool of power politics for achieving political goals.