Building counter-narratives to violence

Pakistan’s detractors have had a field day in denigrating the country, which is why presenting a strong counter narrative is not going to be easy, but is the need of the hour

Pakistan, which was created so that its citizens could live in peace and harmony without the fear of oppression, tyranny or subjugation, has somehow been overwhelmed with violence, extremism and terrorism. The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had envisaged a country where not only Muslims but all other faiths could reside without fear of being targeted for their religion, sect or ethnicity. He had also dreamed of India and Pakistan coexisting amiably as good neighbours like the USA and Canada but despite his prescience, farsightedness and stern advice to Pakistanis, the country has faced challenges, some of which are of our own making while others have emanated from the ambitions of a belligerent and ambitious eastern neighbour, which perhaps never forgave Pakistan for the partition of India.

It would perhaps be unfair to lay the entire blame on India since there are always two sides to an argument but resultantly, the First Kashmir War of 1948, the 1965 and 1971 Pakistan-India Wars, the dismemberment of Pakistan, creation of Bangladesh, the advent of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Jihad-e-Afghanistan, 9/11, invasion of Afghanistan and onslaught of terrorism have jolted Pakistan badly. It goes to the resilience of the people that Pakistan has survived, though badly bruised.

There is a need to look inwards retrospectively, and analyse where we went wrong and strayed from the course charted by our founding fathers, who were snatched by the cruel hands of death in our formative years. The leaders that followed, devoid of statesmanship plunged Pakistan from one quagmire to another, adding to our woes. The way forward is that instead of blaming each other, we need to identify the core issues, make do with whatever leadership we have, and build on retrieving the situation. Extremism, intolerance and terrorism are our worst enemies. Others may argue about bad governance, corruption and the role of our enemies in destabilising us as being equally major challenges.

International pressure is being built on Pakistan for extremism, intolerance and alleged support for terrorism. This problem needs to be warded off as a first priority, simultaneously building on institutions which may endeavour to rid us of corruption and improving governance. To counter the role of our enemies in destabilising us, we will require firstly a strong defence but also some reflection on how to stem the rot of extremism and intolerance, which has perhaps permeated also in the institutions supposed to defend us both from our external and internal enemies as well as guard our ideological frontiers.

There is a need to look inwards retrospectively, and analyse where we went wrong and strayed from the course charted by our founding fathers, who were snatched by the cruel hands of death in our formative years

The argument that the government, the judiciary, the educational institutions and law enforcing agencies should pick up the gauntlet does not hold water. Every single Pakistani, including the opinion builders, the media and the literati must venture to play their respective roles.

To start with, in order to combat extremism, intolerance and the alleged support to terrorism, we must build counter narratives. The 15 November 2017 initiative by the European Commission to organize a conference titled “Building Counter-Narratives to the Violent Extremism: Lessons Learnt from Outside Europe” at Brussels Press Club must be lauded, where two Pakistani participants, with their counter-narrative, won the hearts of the participants. Ms. Yasmin Syed (victim of terrorism) and Mrs. Sabin Agha (a journalist and documentary film maker), sharing their experiences and showered accolades on Pakistan military and law enforcement agencies’ sacrifices and contributions in the war on terror. They highlighted that there has been 80% decrease in instances of violent extremism in Pakistan. Coming from the well informed Pakistani ladies, their narrative won the hearts of the participants at the Conference, although they expressed their concern regarding sectarian terrorism being still being prevalent.

Sadly, the National Action Plan that was adopted in the wake of the Army Public School attack at Peshawar on 16 December 2014 was quite comprehensive and would have helped if executed in letter and spirit.

The slow pace of reforms has only accentauted the problem. We need to create a soft image of Pakistan at the international level, revise the present education system under HEC after consulting educationist and psychologists while simultaneously bringing the religious seminaries (madrasas) across the country into the national education system.

The role of the media is of extreme importance. It was observed during the December 2017 protest rallies that unbridled media channels only ignited public angst and fury, heightening tension. A national policy should be formulated and all media houses should contribute in its formulation so that they become stakeholders and thus be obliged to follow the policy. Instead of becoming part of the negative propaganda campaign, the media houses should extensively refute the propaganda and shape the domestic public and international opinion.

Pakistan’s detractors have had a field day in denigrating it, which is why presenting a strong counter narrative is not going to be easy, but is the need of the hour.

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China

Published in Daily Times, January 27th 2018.