Religiously stimulated emotions—ensuing mostly from misinterpretation of religion—have been the biggest reason why Pakistan has continuously been falling prey to extremism. The alarm bells however don’t seem to ring, and despite myriad incidents, Counter Extremism (CE) and Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) policies have not been able to deliver the goods. And those that somewhat do, haven’t helped the country in the long run.

Where does the main problem lie then? Countering extremism using force—notwithstanding the fact that it oftentimes makes things worse. Soft approaches towards countering extremism have barely been considered. The very little that our history is a bystander of have not been benefitting this country of ours at large. Resultantly, the militants have been able to restart their struggles with more fervour than before.

To say that a soft approach needs to be adopted doesn’t mean that the hard ones already adopted haven’t been able to yield any benefits—how I wanted not to say it, but had to for the sake those who misunderstand you more than understanding you. Hard approaches do ensure the eradication of extremism, but not with all its elements.

There can be seen a drastic decline in the number of attacks carried out and people killed—from 2586 attacks in 2009 to 370 in 2017 and 3021 killings in 2009 to 815 in 2017. The question that however looms large is; ‘why is the country still faced with extremism whose shackles we seemingly can’t free ourselves from?’

The answer might sound very simple, but will require serious contemplation. The ideological germs can’t be done away with via the use of force. It requires other tools that not only will take time to render benefits but also sincere efforts on the government’s part. ‘Developing intellectual, ideological responses to annul extremists’ religious-ideological dogmas and evolving a comprehensive rehabilitation or reintegration of militants’ are the nulls and bolts the state needs to give ear to before long.

Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) in spite of purporting at adopting non-violent approaches to counter violent extremism has by and large failed to bring home the bacon, and, as per a report brought about by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), has been far from satisfactory leading the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif voicing his concerns over NAP’s performance.

One reason why this policy couldn’t last long is because the extremists have found new avenues in the form of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter using which they propagate and justify violent ideologies and actions, and get recruits and financial support; thereby making the youth more vulnerable to radicalisation than before.

In the midst of such grave circumstances, the state needs to come up with new plans in order to help counter the thesis of extremists with an anti-thesis that can by hook or by crook not let our past be repeated.

Paigham-e-Pakistan—country’s first serious step towards countering violent extremism and terrorism—should be handled carefully, notwithstanding the fact that what this narrative is presently home to is far from enough. Academicians need to know about it. Media needs to propagate it. There’s no other way out.

A national-level dialogue forum to hash out Pakistan’s problems and bring forth scholarly suggestions ought to be established wherein scholars, academics, political and religious leaders and policymakers’ services and faculties should be taken use of.

Besides, a culture based on tolerance, humbleness and recognition of people’s dissenting views ought to be build. Legislative and political measures should be adopted so as to dampen bizarre customs and traditions espoused in the name of culture.

The national education curriculum should focus on fostering the masses to make them good citizens in light of constitution and law while also making the former part of the education curriculum. Principles and virtues of tolerance and acceptance should be taught, and the educational institutions including the madrassahs should be engaged in a beneficial and intensive dialogue to make them places of moderation and innovation.

A high-powered national-level truth and reconciliation commission should be constituted by the Parliament to review militant and extremist policies and to mainstream those willing to shun violence. A deradicalisation drive should be conducted in prisons, and rehabilitation centres need to be established wherein moderate scholars and professionals can be engaged.

NAP has to be made effective, and for it to happen, some hard-line approaches need to be adopted. The terrorist groups need to be dismantled, hate speech ridded, a robust policy formed, militants’ ways of financing cut off, minorities protected and institutions where extremism is propagated barred.

Down to the ones more important. Madrassahs’ curriculum need to be revolutionised, and their curricula revisited. A nationwide deradicalisation drive need to be conducted, and rehabilitation centres built where the smitten can be treated and deradicalised.

Pakistan presently has the largest population of youth ever transcribed in its entire history of 70 years, making it the second youngest country in South Asia, only after Afghanistan. 64pc of its entire population is under 30 which makes carrying through programmes to identify and rid the country from the elements that make them immune to extremist narratives and ideologies two very imperative necessities. Dialogues between students of mainstream and religious institutions should be steered so as to bridge the ever-widening gap. Community circles should be mobilised to promote harmonious values in society and enhanced interaction among the youth.

It’s about time the media also took responsibility and behaved more maturely. The fact that it plays a herculean role in transforming people’s thinking and opinion making makes it a very significant tool in CE and CVE policies. Cyber spaces should also be made aloof of all such elements that make the youth fall prey to extremist ideologies.

Should the leaders of Pakistan want it to be more of a pluralistic state than how monistic it presently is, it mustn’t make a gift of it for the perpetrators of extremism as effortlessly as the past is a witness of. The sins of the past need to be atoned for before long.

 

The writer is doing his Master’s degree at the Department of Political Science, University of Peshawar, and working as a Research Officer at Emerging Policymakers’ Institute (EPI) – an Islamabad based youth-led think tank.

 uzzzair1@gmail.com