On account of the great promise of the advanced technology for communication, it has become a norm to communicate effortlessly and efficiently beyond the borders. Technology as the foundation of today’s modern society also governs its dynamics. It is only normal that terrorists also benefit from it and have reached the global dimension, with only a few tools and a free internet network forming the pillars of this new strategy to disseminate terror. Technology has assumed a crucial role for terrorists who optimize the use of social media and communication platforms to elude monitoring by the intelligence agencies. The violent extremists have also become increasingly adept at creating dense networks to garner support online at a global scale, creating networks that help them run virtual circles without any economic constraints and offer unrivaled outreach opportunities.
Countering violent extremism (CVE) has been a challenge for many states. It reflects the growing focus on preventive approaches to dissuade individuals or groups from mobilizing towards violence, including terrorism, organized crime, and conflict by the non-state actors to further their negative objectives. The threat at home has subsided but it isn’t yet over. We can defeat terrorism, but unless we extinguish the underlying extremist ideology and grievances which help motivate scores of recruits to join these violent extremists, we cannot succeed. However, until recent past, our primary focus has been on kinetic threat which is essential for removing terrorists from the battlefield and disrupting their plots, whereas, awareness about the shifting labyrinth of non-kinetic challenges and the threat they pose to our national security has now been placed under critical scrutiny and is being responded to in a comprehensive manner i.e., launching of Operation Radd-ul-Fassad. The Operation is achieving successes on various fronts, however, the challenge is enormous and demands a determined national response. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a recent message to the nation has vociferously enunciated that each member of the nation is a soldier of Operation Radd-ul-Fassad. This personifies will of the nation to fight alongside the armed forces of Pakistan to defeat this menace.
It goes without saying that our defense forces and credible nuclear deterrence promise a formidable response in the kinetic domain. Hence, we need to focus on the non-kinetic approach where ideology beats ideology and for that we need the whole-of-nation approach where civil society, government, media, academia and other segments of society play their part. Our books, television, films and online media should support a strong state and peaceful society that believes in peaceful dialogue thereby eroding the acceptability of militant groups by challenging their narratives within an appropriate nationalistic framework. That should help with the fundamental issues such as where to draw the line between the core doctrines of Islam and the interpretations and distortions of Islamic teachings by militant violent extremists. There is also a need to ensure enforcement of Article 5 ‘loyalty to State and obedience to Constitution and law’ and Article 256 of the Constitution ‘private armies forbidden’, which clearly states that “no private organization capable of functioning as a military organization shall be formed and that any such organization shall be illegal”, to prevent such groups from functioning.
The long term solution to CVE requires more creative ways of assessing attitude and behavioral changes over time. In the meantime we must invest in social cohesion, peace building and conflict mitigation which in turn will play a role in preventing marginalization, social exclusion and radicalization which leads to violent extremism.