Written By: Maryam Razzaq
A seminar on “The Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism” was held at GHQ as an initiative by Pakistan Army to devise strategies to bolster the process of youth de-radicalization in the country.
Today extremism stands as one of the greatest security challenge to the world community at large and Pakistan in particular today. It occurs to be the bane of humanity and adversely affects every segment of the society. Passing through the stages of infecting thoughts and behaviors, and plaguing speech and writing, to our misfortune, extremism has touched its peak whereby innocent lives are subjected to mass massacre, bloodshed and terrorism. The ongoing efforts by Pakistan Armed Forces to root out the safe havens of terrorists from Pakistan including areas adjoining Afghanistan have been successful to a greater extent as acknowledged by the world. Yet, the complexity of the issue warrants it to be discussed amongst various segments of the society to reverse the process which involves the youth as a major player.
The youth of a country is an asset if groomed in the right manner through careful parenting and robust educational system based on values and virtues. In the absence of this, it still remains the asset to be exploited by terrorists to realize their nefarious objectives. The control of youth’s mind is a new battle between the civilized society and the forces of evil terrorizing the human beings. ISPR considering the importance of youth in combating terrorism held a seminar on “The Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism” at GHQ, Rawalpindi on May 18, 2017 in order to identify the core issue and suggest remedial actions to root out the menace of terrorism.
The seminar was arranged as a part of the counter-terrorism measures and on-going Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. The speakers at the event included Dr. Shoaib Suddle, Ms. Hareem Zafar (student), Dr. Farukh Saleem, Ghazi Salah-ud-Din, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed (Chairman HEC) and Prof. Ahmed Rafique Akhter. Among the guests were the Vice Chancellors of universities from all over Pakistan, faculty members, officers, senior journalists, media persons and other dignitaries.
The seminar opened with the recitation from the Holy Quran. It was followed by a welcome speech by DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor who warmly welcomed the worthy speakers and guests on the occasion.
Dr. Shoaib Suddle, a renowned bureaucrat identified the fault lines related to extremism in Pakistan which include terrorism, sectarianism, regionalism, sub-nationalism, and ethnic militancy. He said that triggers for extremism are provided internally as well as externally. Externally, international power games, geopolitics of the region, proxy wars through non-state actors and clashing economic interests of countries provide fodder to the cause of extremism. No wonder that several hostile and interested foreign agencies have over time become principal sponsors of instability and violent extremism in Pakistan.
Internally, religious and sectarian groups who denounce Pakistan’s Constitution, clan-based politics, breakdown of critical state institutions, poor governance, poor quality rule of law, fragmented criminal justice system, predatory behavior of the political elite, weak civil society, inadequate institutional capacity, and ineffective accountability mechanism are some of the major factors promoting the state’s failure to effectively deal with the dinosaur of extremism.
As a way forward, he recommended that institutional structural reform has to be a priority on the internal security agenda that merits allocation of adequate political and financial resources. It is also imperative to enhance civil-military understanding at different levels – strategic, operational, and tactical. He said that there is a dire need to advise an astute CVE strategy that takes into account the reasons why people turn to extremism, and, as far as possible, attempt to address those reasons. Kinetic power can kill terrorists, not terrorism. State’s failure to deliver justice is a major contributing factor in promoting terrorism. The speaker at the end recommended promoting the subject of criminology in respective universities to meet the daunting challenges we are confronted with.
Miss Hareem Zafar was a student speaker at the occasion who presented the student’s perspective on the subject of “Extremism”. The speaker attributed lack of social values, recreational facilities and cohesive bond between students and the faculty at educational institutes as the major cause of extremism in the society. She highlighted the root causes as system of education, parenting, and the role of youth itself. Combined and focused, we can get rid of the evil thoughts and counter terrorism which has built deep roots in our society.
Dr. Farukh Saleem, a senior analyst explained the correlation between extremism and economics and pointed out the actual roots of terrorism. He explained how Pakistan is at war with terrorist forces. The terrorists’ signature weapon is fear and their military strategy is unconventional (guerrilla warfare). The terrorists’ goals are to isolate Pakistan; to mutilate governance and then gain complete control over each and every kilometer of 796,095 square kilometers, we call Pakistan. Pakistan Army is the counter-terrorism force fighting to establish Pakistan’s writ over each and every kilometre of its territory. Pakistan Army’s military objectives are: to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the terrorists. Dr. Farukh related terrorism with the example of a tree whose roots need to be cut-off to get rid of the tree. Cutting off branches alone is no sustainable solution. He said that Pakistan Army is responsible for ‘clearing’ each and every terrorist-held geographical safe haven. The civilian institutions, on the other hand, have the responsibility of shutting down the financial pipeline and cutting off the supply of manpower. Counter-terrorism is, therefore, 33 percent military and 66 percent civil effort.
Ghazi Salahuddin presented his arguments on the role of media in curbing extremism from the society. He stressed upon the fact that media is in crisis as it is in a transformational phase; transforming from electronic media to social media. He also said that Pakistani media lacks intellectual infrastructure. A national debate on media seems impossible due to illiteracy and the deficiency of intellectual resources in the society. The problems of youth are paid very little attention and there is no understanding of the psychological problems that the youth has to deal with. There needs to be more interaction between media and the intelligentsia to empower critical thinking.
Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed, Chairman Higher Education Commission, gave his input regarding the role and purpose of educational institutions. He said that universities are the crucibles to refine the talents of young scholars where they may encounter diversity of ideas, gleaned from great books, reflective scholars and people who may challenge one’s preconceived ideas and beliefs. Universities also create a safe and secure environment to resolve any tension coming out of diversity of views, opinions and beliefs. Wealth of intellectual diversity on a university campus is a boon and not a bane.
Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar outlined the relation between extremism and the religions. The historic references were quoted to support that human beings are intrinsically violent and extremist. The role of religion is to tame human beings and teach them respect for humanity. He clarified that Islam has never promoted extremism, but in fact the divine teachings in Quran forbid Muslims to force their religion on the non-Muslims. Islam preaches tolerance and regard for human life. Allah says in the Quran in Surah Al-Maida, verse no.32 that,
“And whoever saves one – it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.”
The misinterpretation of Islamic teachings to sway youth’s mind can be effectively countered through composite dialogue of Islamic scholars and their learned teaching in educational institutes, be it government educational institutes or Madrasas.
The speakers’ presentations were followed by an interactive session whereby guests and audience presented their queries to the speakers on the occasion. The freedom with which questions were asked inside GHQ was a testimony to the fact that youth has superb knowledge of current affairs and is keen to effectively participate in the fight against terrorism. Given the clear mandate in the social and academics fields, the youth is much eager to learn and disseminate the vital information and literature to other segments of society to root out extremist thoughts from the tender minds and become useful organ of state for prosperity and well-being of our beloved country.
The interactive session was followed by a keynote address from the COAS, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. COAS, in his address thanked the speakers for their excellent presentations and valuable inputs. He pointed out that despite incessant propaganda, Pakistan as a nation has rejected terrorism. He said that this nation has fought the menace of terrorism most valiantly, giving unparalleled sacrifices. He praised the Army for its fight against terrorism and appreciated every segment of the society, especially LEAs and the media, for their consistent support in helping Army cutting these monsters to their size.
COAS said that 'the youth is taking part in political discourse in unprecedented numbers and are active in the social arena as well. They are winning accolades for academic achievements abroad.' He further asserted that 'our youth is our asset and we will make every effort to protect them from falling prey to the extremist ideologies.'
The seminar thus concluded with the COAS address. Speakers were presented souvenirs by the COAS as an appreciation for their worthy inputs on the occasion. Following that, everyone rose to their seats in respect for the National Anthem and the wonderful effort made by Pakistan Army to gain insight into strengthening the ability of youth to reject extremism in all its forms, came to end.
Excerpts from COAS Speech
• Pakistan is a young Nation, both in historic and demographic terms. Demographically, over 50% of our population is projected to be less than 25 years of age. The future of our country literally lies with the direction that our youth take over the next few years.
• Most important stimulus driving a young adult is to find purpose and meaning in life. It is during this stage that one is ready to commit; to professions, to relationships, to causes and to ideologies. It is a wonderful stage in life; but it is also the most vulnerable.
• The term ‘extremism’ is often unjustly applied to devout sections of Muslim societies, alienating them in the process. Although it is not always out of malice, but misunderstanding; yet it is imperative that we understand extremism in our own context.
• Just next door, India seems to have given in to extremism to such an extent that it has become the new normal. Hate has been mainstreamed in India and it is distorting their national outlook. The Hindutva extremism of the RSS and their Gao Rakshaks, deprivation of Palestinians, the burning and desecration of mosques or gurdwaras in western capitals, the rise of hyper nationalists and the monster of racism, are all manifestations of extremism. We can easily say, it is emerging as a transnational phenomenon hence warranting a transnational, unified response.
• Extremism is also related to the environment and the time we live in. From that perspective, we must admit that Pakistani youth is getting exploited due to poor governance and lack of justice in the society.
• Despite incessant propaganda, the fact is that as a Nation, Pakistan has rejected terrorism. That speaks of the robustness of our social and religious values and I have no doubt that we equally reject extremism in all its manifestations.
• With Pakistan becoming securer and promising by the day, it is perhaps time to reverse brain drain. Your country needs you more than any other country in the world.
• We are being targeted by not only terrorists but also spin masters of multiple hostile agencies, trying to subvert our minds, particularly that of our youth. Being denied opportunities in the mainstream media, they are using faceless platforms on the internet and smart phones.
• We are cognizant of these threats and are actively countering them with the support of the whole Nation. In fact, our homes, educational institutions and media houses are the first line of defence against extremism in the society. When I say educational institutions, they include schools, madrasas and even institutes of higher learning.
• We have defeated terrorism together, now we will go after extremism too and rout it with our values, mental faculties and physical energies.
• Let’s help each other in identifying, curtailing and defeating any attempts to pollute the minds of our youth.