The National Action Plan (NAP) initiated by the Pakistani government post-December 2014 has come under scrutiny, where much of the criticism has been that the NAP has been arbitrarily implemented. Law enforcement agencies, such as the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) have been going on a rampage around the country, picking up and detaining thousands. Those detained are labelled as ‘militants’, ‘violent extremists’, ‘sectarianists’ and ‘extremists’. Such terminology has been regurgitated by columnists and politicians. Many articles have appeared with headlines including terms such as, ‘educated militants’ and ‘militants penetrating universities’. However a fundamental point has been missed, and that is to define these terminologies, as each terminology is distinct from the other and has its own implications for the stability and security of Pakistan.

Let us begin with the term ‘militant’. Upon hearing it one naturally tends to link a militant to militancy – an act that involves the raising of arms against the government, its institutions and the targeting of civilians. Considering Pakistan’s political landscape various movements come to mind when thinking of militancy, such as TTP, LeJ and Sipha-Sahaba. There is little need to provide examples of these organisations and their links to militancy as the cases are well documented in Pakistan’s legal community.

Another frequently used term, ‘violent extremism’, is used when referring to those who ignite or motivate people to take up arms against the government, its institutions and civilians. Western discourse on violent extremism is consistent with this definition. For example the British government has outlawed violent extremism with it including those involved in glorifying, preparation and the commission of violent acts against the British government, its institutions and civilians. As a result a number of movements falling into this definition of violent extremism have been banned, such as ‘Al Ghurabba’ and ‘Al Muhajiroon’.

As for ‘sectarianism’, it is the process of calling the other an ‘infidel’, encouraging hatred and violence towards the ‘other’ due to differences in theological interpretations. Such differences can earn one the title of a sectarianist.

The Pakistani establishment has a track record of backing sectarian Frankenstein’s that have been responsible for the scourge of sectarianism in Pakistan. So it is quite ironic that the Pakistani government and establishment has all of a sudden decided to crack down on sectarian movements that have served their internal politics very well for decades. However, as ironic as it may be, the Interior Minister has declared war against sectarianism and law enforcement agencies have been picking up thousands of people, with little or no evidence to justify their detention and slapping charges of sectarianism on these individuals. This drive has led to much abuse of political activists, not linked to sectarianism whatsoever, who have been rounded up and charged with sectarianism. Surely if the campaign is to clamp down on sectarianism then this should be the focus, penalising the real sectarianists, surely this is something that should be addressed, or is it the case that the cover of sectarianism is being used to settle political scores, with political victimisation taking place while the architects of sectarianism continue with their state sponsored hatred?

Some may wonder why these definitions are being discussed and why they are important. Well they are important, because over the last few weeks some of the main English national newspapers in Pakistan have covered the story of ‘Owais Raheel’ from NED and IBA and professor at Szabist in Sindh. He has been accused of being a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, who were banned in 2003 by President Musharraf (although the legal process has not ratified this ban to date). Now this citizen of Pakistan has been labelled by the media as a militant, sectarianist, violent extremist and extremist. So the question arises, can he be all of the above? Or does he fall into one, two or none of the terminologies mentioned?

According to the world renowned International Crisis Group (ICG), Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a non-violent Islamic political movement with its activity rooted in intellectual and political work. If the allegations linking Owais Raheel to Hizb-ut-Tahrir are true, then he cannot be a militant, sectarianist or violent extremist as the movement of his alleged involvement does not delve into violence, its motivation or theological divisions. This is corroborated by Dr Suha Taji Farouki, an academic from Oxford University, who has written extensively on this movement over the years.

As for Owais Raheel being an extremist, the important question that should be raised in any intelligent discourse is, who defines what is an extremist is? According to the former US Diplomat, Henry Kissinger, it is the Global Capitalistic System that sets the yardstick for what an extremist is or is not. To demonstrate this point, during the Cold War, Communists were referred to as extremist because they politically challenged the Capitalistic System. For this, the communists in the US were witch-hunted, arrested, put through kangaroo Courts where hearings were regularly postponed and several faced imprisonment. Similarly in the post-Cold War period, termed as the ‘End of History’ by the Political Scientist Francis Fukuyama, anyone challenging the Capitalist order through the use of soft power can be termed an extremist. For example the new Labour Party leader in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn, has been labelled an ‘extremist’ by mainstream papers and a National Security threat by the British Prime Minister David Cameron, for his extreme views, such as withdrawing British Forces from Iraq and ending Britain’s Nuclear programme. Likewise in the US, the Democratic Party contender for the parties presidential battle, Bernie Sanders, has been classed an extremist for his pro Socialist and anti-capitalistic views.

These examples are sufficient to make the point that individuals like Owais Raheel can easily be labelled in the media frenzy. Such labels could be avoided through conducting the basic journalistic practice of research. If Owais Raheel is indeed an extremist because he is one who believes in politically challenging the Capitalist systems and institutions in Pakistan that have widened the gap between the rich and the poor and corrupted the institutions of Pakistan, then it is worth scrutinising whether such people are indeed worthy of being labelled as extremists. What the case of this individual has highlighted is how inaccurate terminologies are being used to politically victimise individuals and political movements. It is high time for Civil Society, Journalists and the Legal fraternity to raise their voices, or risk facing the wrath of NAP in the near future. All politicians should be aware of this as the present Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself was politically victimised by General Musharraf under Anti-Terror Laws, which Mr Sharif had himself legislated. Politicians need to think of the consequences of their actions as they could be bitten by the same laws which they have introduced, such as the Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA) which is being used for political victimisation purposes to this day, where politicians and political activists are being witch-hunted under the cover of NAP.