Building communities to prevent extremism

May 21, 2023

Counter extremism cannot be an isolated regional exercise

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o this day violent extremism lacks a comprehensive definition. I propose the following:

when expressions of anger, dissemination of hateful rhetoric and propagation of polarised ideological beliefs negatively impact others, violent extremism results.

Counter extremism in this context cannot be limited to a regional concern as the extremist violence has global repercussions. It is already known to have contributed to numerous historical conflicts. Moreover, it serves as a catalyst for the emergence of militancy. This is evident from the historical context of Pakistan where the pursuit of certain policies has led to problems of militancy and terrorist violence.

Violent extremism and terrorism often go hand in hand. At the time of emergence of Pakistan, its visionary leader called for peaceful coexistence in the country, irrespective of the religious and other differences. His speeches clearly had the message that every citizen of Pakistan should be able to live according to their preferred way.

Following the Quaid’s demise, this imperative was lost sight of leading to new conflicts. During the Zia era, there was a rapid surge towards extremism. The imperatives of Afghan jihad cultivated an environment conducive to the proliferation of violence.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the global War on Terror exacerbated the problem of violent extremism in South Asian, Central Asia and Middle East. As a consequence, Pakistan, too, became a frequent victim of terrorist violence.

Currently, the Pakistani society is fragmented along sectarian lines. Addressing this issue requires a thorough examination at the grassroots level through academic research. Several scholars have previously addressed the topic. Dr Minhas Majeed Khan’s article on violent extremism stands out. It offers a comprehensive discussion by highlighting societal weaknesses, identifying the driving forces behind violent extremism, and shedding light on the most vulnerable regions.

However, it is important to note that the models of countering violent extremism elsewhere may not be directly applicable to Pakistan. Therefore, it is crucial to first explore the ground realities specific to the country. Following the events of 9/11, violent extremism has emerged as one of the most significant security challenges faced by Pakistan.

There exists a significant gap that must be bridged in order to establish a consensus on how to define, address and combat violent extremism. Pakistan must develop a policy to effectively counter this menace. The issue is too complicated to be solved by operations undertaken by the armed forces alone. It calls for the formulation of comprehensive policies tailored to address the problem in its entirety.

Numerous challenges contribute to the lack of social harmony. These include ethnic tensions, sectarianism, economic instability and illiteracy. All of these contribute to radicalisation.

An important factor contributing to the rapid proliferation of violent extremism is political instability. The instability has led to tensions in the country and provided non-state actors with an opportunity to exploit and indoctrinate susceptible youths with violent ideologies. According to the guidebook authored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), societies should adopt a unified dialogue approach at the governmental level to address these non-state actors.

The developed countries have devised certain models for countering violent extremism. However, these models may not be viable in developing nations like Pakistan due to a lack of recognition of the specific context and root causes of the various conflicts. Pakistan faces multifaceted threats at the international, regional and domestic levels that include intolerance, extremism and terrorism within the society.

Numerous challenges contribute to its lack of social harmony. These include ethnic tensions, sectarianism, economic instability and high illiteracy rates. All of these contribute to radicalisation of the youth.

The recent surge in extremism can also be attributed to political intolerance, which stems from the absence of consensus political norms and religious intolerance. Major political actors continue to refuse in practice to adhere to democratic ethics. Several political parties can be mentioned in this regard. Many politicians continue to seek power through unconventional means. This creates a democratic deficit that non-state actors exploit to their advantage.

One of the issue is the sense of insecurity driven by the fear of deprivation, resulting in a lack of cooperation among various stakeholders. The individual insecurity leads to institutional insecurity. The country has seen several institutional clashes as national institutions and their leaders frequently try to expand their influence at the cost of other institutions.

In this free for all vested interests get prioritised over national interests. The lack of commitment to the social contract embodied in the constitution has put the integrity of the state at stake. It is imperative to take consistent, serious actions that promote a cooperative approach. Through a comprehensive dialogue, the mandate of each institution should be clearly defined. Every institution should operate within its designated domain and embrace decentralisation of power.

The writer has a PhD in international relations from Korea. He is an associate professor at the GCU, Faisalabad. He tweets at DrGhula42338538

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