When Maleeha Lodhi — Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations — was recently stressing on the global need for developing preventative measures to curb extremism, her own country was going through a shock attack — based on religious extremism — on a serving minister. On Sunday, May 6, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in his hometown of Narowal in Punjab. Abid Hussain, the21-year-oldgunman allegedly belonging to the ultra-right Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), confessed to the attack citing the issue of Khatm-i-Nabuwat (finality of Prophethood), as his primary motivation. Anticipating such attacks, Ahsan Iqbal had recently warned religious clerics against issuing Fatwas of Apostasy and Blasphemy as it was bound to create chaos in the country. The Khatm-i-Nabuwat issue came to the fore in November last year when the ruling PML-Nawaz was accused of secretly fiddling with the text of an oath through legislation. The said legislation, known as Election Reforms Amendment Bill 2017, was initially intended to allow the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to head his political party — the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). However, the bill backfired with some opposition members accusing the PML-N of changing the wording of the oath required to affirm the finality of Prophethood. The PML-N, under pressure, soon retracted these changes calling them a ‘clerical error’. However, the damage was already done. As a state, Pakistan has legitimised the ultra-right over the years, giving it space in the media and political sphere. However, the country is now finding it hard to rein in the monster that was unleashed almost four decades ago. If Pakistan is to survive, sustain itself, and prosper, it can only do so by ridding itself of radical and extremist narrativesThese developments ultimately brought to further prominence the TLP and Khadim Hussain Rizvi; who vehemently supports Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and idolises Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri. Rizvi took Islamabad hostage for weeks, not only inciting violence but also calling for the heads of those responsible for the ‘clerical error’. However, after negotiating with the military and making the ruling party sack the Minister for Law, Rizvi decided to end his sit-in. The widespread media coverage and negotiations with the military gave further legitimacy to Rizvi and his extremist narrative. Moreover, Capt Safdar — Nawaz Sharif’s son in law — in order to regain sympathy from the ultra-right, has since launched several tirades against the Ahmadis, calling them a threat to national security.Violent extremism and anti-Ahmadi hatred are not new for Pakistan. Attacks motivated by religion have remained a norm. Last year’s lynching of a young student epitomised this trend and the gravity of religious extremism in the country. Mashal Khan — a progressive student at Bacha Khan University in Mardan — was lynched by dozens of students for allegedly committing blasphemy. This young student of journalism had a reputation for having the ability to think and reason critically. This ability ultimately led to his demise with one of his colleagues accusing him of insulting Islam. Mashal Khan’s lynching came as a surprise to many, however, for someone brought up in my generation, a calamity like this was always in the making. This is largely due to what is being taught at schools, preached by the religious and ultra-right groups, and promoted by communities at a local level. Such is the gravity of religious hatred in the country that a PEW survey in 2011 found that 75 percent of young students supported the death penalty for apostasy.Even though started under Zulfikar Bhutto’s administration through the introduction of anti-Ahmadi laws in 1974, it was military dictator General Zia’s era (1977-1988) that ultimately fanned the flames of religious hatred in the country. Zia constantly appeased the religious right during his reign, primarily because he needed their support for the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He also conveniently succumbed to anti-Ahmadi protests and introduced further legislation that marginalised the Ahmadis. Ordinance XX (1984),also known as the anti-Ahmadi ordinance, was also introduced during Zia regime that criminalised any expression of Islam by the Ahmadis. Such legislation and state policies legitimised the ultra-right groups and their narratives, ultimately leading to persecution and conviction of anyone accused of blasphemy.Even when radicalisation and extremism present a grave danger to Pakistan’s future, almost no attention has been given to this issue by the policymakers in Islamabad. Even limited de-radicalisation and preventative programmes initiated by civil society and non-profit organisations face intolerance from participants. In one such programme conducted in a major urban city of Pakistan, some participants — mainly school and college teachers — accused the trainers of having an ‘anti-Islam’ agenda. They also believed that opening up to ideas of equal citizenship for minority groups such as the Hindus and Ahmadis went against their faith. This, again, should not come as a surprise especially how the narratives of the ultra-right have been constantly prodded on the mainstream media. Pakistan, as a state, has legitimised the ultra-right over the years giving it space in media and the political sphere. However, the country is now finding it hard to rein in the monster that was unleashed on the society almost four decades ago. If Pakistan is to survive, sustain, and prosper, it can only do so by ridding itself of radical and extremist narratives. This can only be done by limiting space and support for groups that promote such ideas, along with promoting a national culture of critical discourse and discussions.The writer is a Research Analyst and currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Newcastle, NSWPublished in Daily Times, May 18th 2018.