In the hugely successful Indian movie, Sarkar, Amitabh plays Sarkar, the god of the poor and downtrodden. It is an Indian adaptation of the Hollywood classic, The Godfather. One of his enemies while planning to assassinate him declares, “to kill Sarkar, we need to first kill his repute, his ethos.” And this, pretty much, sums up my argument for crafting and disseminating an anti-extremism narrative as part of a holistic, national effort to complement the on-ground operations. To counter extremism, we need to enact far-reaching reforms in our criminal justice and education systems The most striking motif of Nazi Germany was Adolf Hitler. He sat at the pinnacle of a diabolical narrative that deluded the Germans into embracing the notion of their racial superiority. The consequences were staggering to say the least as the German invasion of Poland set off a chain of events culminating in World War II killing an estimated 80 million people. North Korea is the modern day Germany where limited public access to information and building personality cults was taken to astounding new levels. Leading publications continuously feed into the apotheosis of the Kim dynasty. Pakistan, too, has had a history of using education in tandem with media to shape a national security discourse that legitimises Jihad and fanaticism. Our society is disturbingly fractured along religious lines. This polarisation is further compounded by inequalities in the realms of education, income distribution, and access to opportunity and justice. The outsourcing of religion to the cleric, his empowerment during the Afghan jihad and social engineering pioneered by the Zia regime in the name of Islam gave birth to the Hydra of extremism. The cleric, having tasted power, is now hooked and utterly unwilling to part ways with it. And he has religion, the perfect ruse to justify his intolerance and conceptions of jihad, state and women. Pakistan today fights a war of survival. The ongoing operation will clear the land of the savages for sure but not of the purveyors of extremism nestled in the urban landscape. The convoluted beliefs of the silent thousands will not be challenged. Present day Pakistan seems ambivalent in taking on the daunting but vital challenge of crafting a counter narrative that shuns extremist ideologies as irreligious. Fanaticism and xenophobia are deeply embedded in the bowels of our society and it will take a concerted effort by the state, civil society and scholars to devise a powerful discourse underpinned by citations from Quran and Islamic history and then disseminate the same through the formal education system, mosques, media and madrassas. Can we possibly eliminate an enemy with only guns, an enemy that is well armed, both intellectually and physically? No, we cannot. This is a war we have to wage on multiple battlegrounds concurrently. It will be a slow, long drawn process to weed out the rot that took several decades of nursing and apathy to entrench. The war against extremism has three key dimensions: Operations, Reforms and Narrative. The National Action Plan (NAP) should ideally be an all-encompassing exercise taking tangible, specific and measurable actions in all the three areas. Military operations are effectively purging the ground by the use of force. These will at the most degrade the terrorists’ ability to strike at will. It will also deter potential converts from joining the Jihadi ranks. That said, the operation is at best a short-term fix. Reforms and narrative are long-term measures meant to attack the nurseries which sow the seeds of xenophobia, self-righteous madness and the weird notion of Muslim superiority over the rest. Reforms should zoom in on three key areas: criminal justice system, education and madrassa/mosque network. Regulation of madrassa curriculum would mean expunging the hate material from it and incorporation of subjects like math, science and humanities. Given our population explosion, the ubiquitous madrassa network can be beneficially used to educate our youth. This platform has been abused to craft fiefdoms, breed intra-sect intolerance and purvey religious interpretations beneficial to one’s sect, funding source or the patron political party. Reforming the criminal justice system involves a reengineering processes to empower our Police to successfully prosecute terrorists. It means training and arming our police adequately, forensic capacity building to improve the quality of the investigation and finally installing a credible witness protection programme. Reforming education is a different issue altogether, given its massive scope… There are more than 50,000 public-sector schools in Punjab alone. They need to have a standardised curriculum and engage the young minds encouraging questioning, tolerance, co-existence and conformance to law. Ideally, the books taught in the private-sector schools should be no different from those used in the public sector. Our schooling system itself is contributing massively to polarisation in society, propping barriers between those who speak English and those who don’t… This bears on their ability to hunt opportunity and a failure on that count breeds discontent and anger. We must define the key themes that we wish to wrap our narrative around. The themes could be co-existence with other faiths and tolerance of sect differences. We also need to engage religious moderates and have them frame answers to some contentious issues like jihad, blasphemy and so on, and then have these disseminated through the Auqaf mosques to start with. There are 400 Auqaf mosques in Punjab alone. The imams of these mosques are state employees and must be made subservient to the state line. Imagine the footfall in these mosques five times a day and then the faithful going back to their families, carrying with them the message from the mosque. Fighting extremism is intimidating for its sheer intricacy, breadth of scope, diversity of stakeholders and warrants a breathtaking degree of coordination and intellectual effort. The idea of a dedicated body, NACTA, was mooted precisely to tackle this complexity. Our war against extremism is much more than bullets and tanks. It is a battle to win the hearts and minds and save Pakistan. The writer has years of experience with both corporate and public sectors. He moonlights as a journalist. Published in Daily Times, September 6th 2017.