Countering violent extremism

Projecting soft power should be prioritised in Pakistan after its victories in the fight against terrorism

The word extremism is defined as a belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable. In the light of this definition, when a person or a group of persons try to enforce their ideas about a subject or an event on another person or persons using violence, which is against the existing beliefs, and laws of a society or country, it can be considered as an act of violent extremism or terrorism.

Although there are other definitions of extremism also, this definition is the one that can be easily understood. But one has to keep in mind that according to this definition the implied meaning of the world extremism will be different in different societies/countries having different religious and ethnic backgrounds. However, the concern is compounded when violence is used by some person or a group of persons to advance its extremist ideas or ideologies.

Since last many years, various forms of the violent extremism have become one of the major causes of prevalent terrorism in this region and other regions of the world. In our region the occurrence of violent extremism started mainly due to instability in Afghanistan prevailing for the last three decades. However, the violent extremism got intensified as a fall out of the war on terror being fought in Afghanistan in the post-9/11 scenario. As a consequence, violent extremism also proliferated in Pakistan, including sectarian violence, that had taken the form of organized terrorism. In fact, Pakistan was the most affected country being a close neighbor to Afghanistan having age old ethnic bonds with that country. Later, India and other hostile forces started sponsoring this terrorism in Pakistan using Afghan soil.

While Pakistan has been successful in fighting terrorism, it has not achieved much in terms of curbing violent extremism in society

To root out terrorism from its affected areas, particularly the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border, since last about ten years Pakistan has been fighting this war on terror. The military operations against terrorists, have been remarkably successful and as a result of previous operations and operation Zarb-e-Azb, supported by the national action plan (NAP), the affected areas have been fully cleared of terrorists, although at a heavy cost of loss of above 70,000 lives, including 6,000 military personnel and suffering an economic loss of above $100 billion. The military’s success story is evident from the fact there has been a 80 percent decrease in instances of violent extremism in Pakistan. Now, operation Raddul Fassad is continuing to eliminate any terrorists who cross over from Afghanistan to launch terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

Pakistan military’s excellent performance in the war on terror was also well praised during a conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels in November 2017 titled “Building Counter-Narratives to the Violent Extremism: Lessons Learnt from Outside Europe”. The conference was attended by representatives from different EU institutions, media houses and NGOs/INGOs, including two speakers from Pakistan. The Pakistani speakers amply highlighted the achievements of Pakistan’s military in eliminating terrorist networks and defeating their agenda.

Although the Pakistan military has done an excellent job in breaking will of the terrorists to fight, but to discourage the tendency of violent extremism and sectarian violence in some sections of the society in Pakistan, a national effort based on a well structured national policy having a comprehensive counter narrative, in line with the beliefs and ground realities of Pakistan is required To formulate and implement an effective national policy, there is a need to keep many important points in focus.

It is necessary that after its successes in the war on terror, Pakistan’s soft image at international level should be projected on priority. For this purpose there is a need to advance Pakistan’s image projection based on a well structured plan to be implemented by our foreign office and other departments. The effective image projection of Pakistan should be based on its agenda of peace and economic development based on CPEC related regional connectivity, foreign investment and trade related development of agriculture, industry and tourism industry and interstate relations. To make the national policy more effective it is also important to revise the present education system, under supervision of HEC after consulting educationists and psychologists. In this context madaris across the country should also be brought under the national education system.

Moreover, to facilitate proper implementation of the national policy all media stakeholders should be bound to abide by the policy. Instead of becoming part of the negative propaganda campaign, the media houses should extensively refute that propaganda and shape the domestic public and international opinion. In this regard, a team comprising of think tanks should be formulated to orchestrate the national policy and all media facets including film industry be channelised under the realm of this policy to contribute positively towards the national cause. As part of the national policy on ending violent extremism, the existing National Action Plan (NAP) should also be implemented in true letter and spirit.

The writer is a former Research Fellow of Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad

Published in Daily Times, January 29th 2018.