The Challenge of Countering Violent Extremism in Pakistan

Published in Hilal English May 2017

Written By: Dr. Minhas Majeed

Violence is mostly understood and associated with religious extremism despite the fact that it has many shapes and forms – and all need to be condemned and countered. This is more so when a Muslim commits an act of violence, which as a result is associated with Islam. The widespread violent extremism in the Muslim world and the individuals or groups involved in or supporting violence has been a subject of interest for policy makers and practitioners. Unfortunately, there is dearth of comprehensive approach to explore the drivers of violent extremism in the Muslim World.
It is an accepted fact that terrorists in their anxiety for validation and justification cite religion – Islam – for justifying their acts of violence. Frustration with the local and global political milieu, besides ideologically motivated thoughts is behind violent actions. Additionally, in many cases, shared dedication to a particular vision about how a society ought to be organized and moral justification for it, bring violent extremists together.

 

countervoilentext.jpgAt present, besides terrorism, the phenomenon of violent extremism, in the form of religious, sectarian and ethnic strife is a major challenge that Pakistan faces today. In recent years, the incidence of violent extremism by terrorist organizations and their linkages to hostile foreign agencies are not only disrupting the social fabric but also adversely affecting national economy and development. Moreover, Pakistan is also facing the effects of crises in Syria, Yemen and other sectarian conflict-prone sub-regions in the Middle East.


Since independence, Pakistan has seen phases of diverse but inter-related conflicts of all sorts, resulting in violence. Pakistan endures the most of ethnic, sectarian and religious radicalisation that is aided by both internal and external actors who are not only providing a narrative but also funding for both religious and non-religious militancy. However, the intensity of violent extremism has increased manifold since Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S. in the WoT as it has deeply shakened the social fabric of society.


The rise of terrorism after 9/11 has badly affected the security situation in Pakistan. Pakistan has suffered a great deal in terms of lives, economic opportunities and has also borne damages to schools, hospitals and other infrastructural facilities. However, the yearly losses from terrorism declined in 2014-15 by a third to U.S. $4.5 billion, in part due to military operations in tribal areas and the Karachi Operation.

 

However, the global image of Pakistan is largely defined by the misperceptions about its role in international terrorism. Pakistan has been rejecting these allegations, insisting on the role of foreign interferences in its territory resulting in disorder, which unfortunately, has been ignored by international community. These concerns were raised when Pakistan shared three dossiers with the UN, carrying evidences about Indian interference in Balochistan, FATA and Karachi to fuel ethnic and religious violence.

 

Sandwiched between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan is a geo-strategically important country in the South Asia. With its strategic importance for the U.S. and the rest of the world, Pakistan can play a constructive role with regard to CVE (countering violent extremism). Pakistan’s importance and its stance on countering violent extremism was highlighted in an article in Forbes as:


Pakistan has the potential to be a global turnaround story, and that the U.S. will need to view Pakistan not as a problem to be solved but as a potential partner. Because the Western headlines on Pakistan today gloss over the progress on the security front, the increased political stability, and incremental progress on the economic front. In spite of this potential for Pakistan, it continues to suffer from a terrible country brand that has not caught up with realities on the ground. Pakistan’s improving security dynamic is the first change to note. What has not sunk into international perceptions about the country is the tangible consensus among government, military, and Pakistani citizens against violent terrorists including the Pakistani Taliban and the alphabet soup of other terrorist groups in and around the country.


Initiatives
Despite heavy losses, Pakistan has remained committed to eliminating terrorism and violent extremism. Considering the factors contributing to violent extremism, countering it is a huge task that not only depends on the intent of government of Pakistan but also on international support.


Realising that violent extremism in all its manifestations poses a serious threat to national harmony in Pakistan, the Government made an effort to apply a comprehensive CVE strategy. This strategy can be said to have adopted an international model of CVE, i.e., of engagement and de-radicalisation on one hand, and counter-radicalisation in the form of use of force, on the other. Pakistan’s CVE policy is two pronged: de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation. Rehabilitation programmes for indoctrinated youth are introduced under the supervision of Pakistan Army. Similar programmes are introduced in parts of the Punjab, some supervised by Counter Terrorism Department, others are conducted in collaboration with some non-governmental organizations.


Pakistan’s National Assembly passed the National Counter-Terrorism Authority Bill in 2013. Taking another step on February 25, 2014, Pakistan announced its first ever National Internal Security Policy (NISP) based on three elements: 1) dialogue with all stakeholders; 2) isolation of terrorists from their support systems and; 3) enhancing deterrence and capacity of security apparatus to neutralise the threats to internal security of Pakistan.


Of capital importance is the decision to launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, 2014, in the tribal areas and recently Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad on February 22, 2017. These operations are proving to be successful in debasing and dismantling the organisational structure of militant outfits active in different parts of the country including FATA. It helped in improving the security situation inside the country and provided space for better regional coordination to counter-terrorism and promote stability in the region.


Another step to counter the violent extremism was initiation of National Action Plan (NAP) after the brutal attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The 20 point NAP very clearly defines the government’s counter-radicalism and counter-terrorism strategy. Various steps including raising a counter-terrorism force, conviction of the terrorists through military courts and reformation of criminal system were suggested in NAP. To counter violent extremism of all shades, madrasah reforms and scrutinising of religious material were made necessary to prevent the spread of hate speech and material. FATA reforms, issue of Afghan refugees, Balochistan reconciliation and taking the Karachi Operation to its logical conclusion were the other major steps that NAP vows to accomplish. However, the general perception is that the military component of NAP has been implemented efficaciously and there is a strong expectation that civilian aspect of the NAP be flashed out and operationalised. This would help the government to deal with the threat of violent extremism.


The government’s decision of zero tolerance with regard to hate speech and fanning of sectarianism is a step in the right direction but it is to be implemented fully and comprehensively. Moreover, auditing of madaris accounts and transfer of their fund through banks will go a long way in monitoring of madaris. In addition, the efforts of the government to block terrorists' funding through Hawala and Hundi have proved successful. Statistically speaking, the past two years showed positive trends from a security perspective as a downward trend was noted in the number of overall incidents of violence.

 

Realising that violent extremism in all its manifestations poses a serious threat to national harmony in Pakistan, the Government made an effort to apply a comprehensive CVE strategy. This strategy can be said to have adopted an international model of CVE, i.e., of engagement and de-radicalisation on one hand, and counter-radicalisation in the form of use of force, on the other. Pakistan’s CVE policy is two pronged: de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation. Rehabilitation programmes for indoctrinated youth are introduced under the supervision of Pakistan Army. Similar programmes are introduced in parts of the Punjab, some supervised by Counter Terrorism Department, others are conducted in collaboration with some non-governmental organizations.

The growing radicalism leading to violent extremism calls for strengthening of internal security based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders. It is because the major hurdle for Pakistan in tackling this menace is weak governance. Good governance will help in building institutions besides bringing systematic unity among all relevant institutions and society as a whole. It will also help in bringing political and economic stability, a prerequisite to meet external challenges.


All the factors discussed are interdependent, which need to be addressed as it is in the interest of Pakistan to grow economically and politically. To tackle the menace, it is the responsibility of civil, political and religious leadership to refute the notion that terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Taliban represent Islam, because it is a misrepresentation that holds the terrorist narrative. If such ideas are not contested and condemned, extremist groups will continue to regroup no matter how many terrorists are eliminated.


It is important to introduce political, economic and educational reforms and take bold initiatives to prevent future threats. It is an accepted fact that investing in education and socio-economic development can lead to development and stability and hence a peaceful and harmonious society.


We, as Muslims, have to put our own house in order. Unless we devalue the notion that the West is at war with Islam, we will become fodder for extremists’ propaganda and will never be able to address our own problems. In nutshell, there is no magic bullet to cure the problem, but we must continue our quest for a peaceful harmonious society by investing in education and socio-economic development.

 

The writer is Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at University of Peshawar, Pakistan.

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