Counter-terrorism is not a choice. It is an obligation. Being a part of a global legal system, we find ourselves in a situation that demands action.
International law and UN resolutions, in particular, have outlined terrorism as a threat to ‘international peace and security’, a phrase cherry-picked from Article 24 of the UN charter, placing the responsibility of fighting this threat directly under the mandate of the Security Council— a stern but much needed statement of intent.
UN Resolutions past and present have suggested steps and methods to counter terrorism; from freezing Taliban funds and financial resources in Resolution 1267 (1999) to establishing criminal offences regarding the activities of foreign terrorist fighters in Resolution 2178 (2014). The most recent of these frequent resolutions was Resolution 2396, passed in December last year, which called for the use of border security and international information sharing to curb cross-border terrorist activities.
Over the years, through changing times and threats, there has remained a constant, in all UN resolutions dealing with terrorism— the need for a counter narrative to ‘violent extremism conducive to terrorism’. The most important resolution in this regard is Resolution 2357, which suggests ways in which countries can create narratives to counter extremism. 2357 insists on the importance of ‘dedicated educational programs’ and engaging with the community, even its leaders, on the issue of radicalism. It also emphasises the need to ‘amplify positive narratives’ that can serve as alternatives to existing narratives based on violent extremism.
Most of the suggestions included in such resolutions are commonly overlooked when deciding on how to counter terrorism and fundamentalism. In reality, however, these resolutions form a very cohesive and comprehensive framework to tackle this global threat. Being a UN member state, not only are these suggestions near obligations for Pakistan, but being a state so devastatingly affected by terrorist activities, they are plausible and advisable steps that can be taken to counter these activities.
It is when viewed from the scope of international law and treatise that Paigham-e-Pakistan, the fatwa commissioned by the President of Pakistan, appears to be the perfect response to our obligations under resolutions such as 2357. More importantly for the people of Pakistan, however, the fatwa and other similar government commissioned documents can be used as important tools to counter the dissemination of misinformation and propaganda, especially on the internet.
The creation of fake documents and their consequent dissemination has been a major tactic of terrorist groups to misguide and mislead people, often to help their recruitment processes. These fatwas and statements, issued by extremist clerics and fundamentalist religious leaders appear to carry a false sense of authenticity and the fact that state-sponsored counter-narratives are less commonly found on websites than these unofficial documents enhance their effectiveness in attracting people towards radicalism.
While the existence and commissioning of documents such as Paigham-e-Pakistan is a welcome and much needed step in itself, there remains a need to increase the accessibility of these documents. Whether it be widespread dissemination on social media or television advertisements, an induction of these documents into school curriculums or their translation into multiple languages, the people must be educated about the state’s counter-narrative to extremism and it must be more prominent than the hate and violence incited by non-state actors.
There can always be a debate about the intricacies of the fatwa itself but attention has to be brought to the enormity of the task fulfilled by the Government of Pakistan, considering no such document , at least of this magnitude existed prior to Paigham-e-Pakistan. What’s more, the government has to be commended on bringing on board over 1800 religious scholars and clerics, a feat few would have deemed possible in wake of the surge in extremist activities in recent times. This overwhelming endorsement of progressive Islamic principles by the religious leadership of the country adds further authenticity to the message that the fatwa puts across, appealing to people who have declared their loyalties to this religious leadership.
The role of the Islamic University, considered a hub of youth extremism, is an invaluable one, allowing people to acknowledge the religious authenticity of the state’s principles and the country’s constitution.
One cannot overlook the effort and dedication that has gone into this document. The fatwa is preceded by an explanation of its guiding principles. This part of the document covers the issue of extremism in considerable detail, from talking about the issue with regards to the Pakistan Movement to explaining the state’s interpretation of the concept of Jihad, all through an apt use of quotations from the Quran. The document also underlines the importance of debate and the ‘ethics of disagreement’— a vital principle in a relentlessly intolerant society.
The fatwa itself is nothing like some of the unofficial, fabricated and misguiding documents circulating online. Instead, it addresses the issue of extremism, suicide bombings and jihad in a self-explanatory manner with each statement of the fatwa presented as an answer to a question. And all of the questions included in the fatwa are questions that we, as normal citizens, frequently ponder upon. The lack of authentic, accessible answers to these questions has been a major cause of the rise of extremism in Pakistan.
Paigham-e-Pakistan has to be lauded as a groundbreaking contribution by the current regime. Most international law experts would deem it a fulfilment of our obligations under the UN Charter and its resolutions on terrorism. However, the security situation in Pakistan demanded a step in the right direction, especially one as bold as a government issued fatwa.
It is now a question of ensuring that future generations are made immune to the threat of violent extremism through the use of the counter-narrative present in this directive. Paigham-e-Pakistan must not be treated as a back shelf document, commissioned to appease progressive minds. Its role can extend far beyond that, but only through its widespread circulation and responsible dissemination.