Counter Narrative

The Most Effective Way to Combat Terrorism


On the way towards fighting militancy with force, it seems Pakistan has finally realized that terrorism cannot be defeated by employing kinetic measures only. It’s a highly complicated phenomenon, and the increased degree of its complexity makes it next to impossible for any ‘single-step’ strategy to succeed. Ideology may not be the only reason behind the indoctrination of a terrorist; it is, by any means, more appealing and stronger. The driving vitality of an ideology calls for the measures to counter it on the ideological fronts rather than always pitting the military force against it.

Surgical strikes are definitely important, especially when it comes to eliminating important figures and top leadership of the militants. However, it may become totally ineffective in the social realm of an ideology because it becomes extremely hard to curb the militancy when its ideology becomes a social network. Pakistan is facing different fronts and outlets of militancy; ranging from the localized sectarian groups to the organized global networks. To eradicate them highly-credible as well as most appealing counter narratives are more than necessary.

Counter-Narrative2Global war against terror is now in second decade, and the alarms have been raised that the war will prolong; the conscious minds are persistently negating the use of kinetic measures as a solution to this perplexing problem.

It is the radical mindset that is the real threat as more and more people are joining the militants. Militants’ ideology, in fact, acts as a centripetal force to attract individuals towards a sphere where its influence characterizes the radical Islamist life. Currently, it is in full operation.

Current dominant discourses and ethos of the modern world call Pakistan for the recognition of the importance of intellectual eminence and require Pakistan to build her civilization on values that excel in economic, cultural, political and military affairs; the prospects of which are continuously being diminished by the militants.

The economic imperatives may have forced a few individuals into joining the modern militant networks, especially the ISIS, however, most of the recruits belong to the urbanized middle class and come from the Western societies — supposedly the centre of modern education, facilities and luxuries. It’s, actually, the ‘radicalized’ Islam that acts as a cohesive force for the heterogeneous masses. Economic causes reverberate more dangerously when in consideration are the deprivations of major chunk of the population, and the frustrated desires for the comforts and facilities enjoyed by the civilized world.

Intense military campaigns may yield a swift victory if the battle-grounds are defined. However, the blitzkrieg could embrace opposite or even humiliating results if the confrontation is with the nexus of proxy elements. One must acknowledge the potential capabilities and the ingenuity of the extremist to inflict the catastrophic damage on the opponents, of which Pakistan is the prime — and the most afflicted — witness.

Confronting militant ideology and scaling it down sans counter narratives will always be a distant dream. These are also crucial in reforming individuals so as to make sense of their lives. Countering the ideology that begets extremism also becomes critical in efforts to thwart and curb the ensuing violence. Let it be clear, though militants’ arms and ammunition capacities as well as number of fighters are not even close to those of Pakistan, militants’ ideology poses unacceptable risks to the fabric of society. In all Muslim states, especially Pakistan where national narratives are ill-defined and absurdly-structured, militants’ ideology on the score of its seemingly appealing state of purity threatens to permeate the society. The gravity of the situation must be timely felt, and checked so as not to allow the radical ideology to draw a space and consolidate itself therein.

Militants portray Islam as a religion that is extremely aggressive and encompasses the revolutionary agenda, and the followers of which are undaunted and bigots. Trained over decades — or perhaps over centuries — militants seemingly struggle to achieve heaven, as soon as it could be. Militancy draws its perpetual strength from the idea that there is a huge schism between the Islam and the West. The radical clerics argue that the West considers Islam a potential threat to its civilization. And in a quest to neutralize this threat, the West has always remained at war with Islam. The fateful 9/11 event is an example as it is now evident that the attack was planned by the West to deploy forces on the Islamic World and to bring it under its claws. It is also proved further when we see that the US and her Nato allies had never allowed Muslims a space where they could rejuvenate themselves to play a global role. The militant narrative manifested itself long before Osama bin Laden and his affiliates like Sayyid Qutb
of Muslim Brotherhood, who, in 1964, described this ‘schism’ as:

“The Western ways of thought … [have] an enmity toward all religions, and in particular with greater hostility toward Islam. This enmity toward Islam is especially pronounced and many times is the result of a well-thought-out scheme the object of which is first to shake the foundations of Islamic beliefs and then gradually to demolish the structure of Muslim society.”

Militants’ propaganda magazines and literature squared around the agenda to enforce a global Caliphate. In Pakistan and the whole Muslim World, the era of ‘Orthodox Caliphate’ is regarded as the ‘Golden Period’ that brought Muslim Civilization to its zenith. Among the leading Muslim rulers, the lives of the four Orthodox Caliphs stand as the most glorious, unrivalled and unparalleled. Therefore, Muslims generally conceive Caliphate as the only way towards a shariah-compliant society, and also as the sole remedy of their current melancholies. Democracy, in its current form, is viewed as the Western conspiracy to corrupt Islam and its values.

Counter-Narrative1Undoubtedly, Muslim World is grappling with the leadership crisis. Militant organizations actively manipulate socio-political spaces to their own favour. At one hand, autocracies rule in many Muslim states, and the populaces, especially the youth, are excluded from the political and social spectra. In remaining Muslim states, the prevalent form of democracy is too degraded and too corrupted to deliver. Besides, even the well-off and well-educated Western youths face the problem of belonging and ownership and this increases their vulnerability to militancy. The wide success of militants is associated with their ability to connect local grievances to the global level.

Every religious group in Pakistan can provide a set of Islamic imperatives of its own interpretations — their model for every Muslim. Perhaps, only thing that may describe it more appropriately is the ideological predisposition of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Had the radical Islamic version not been confused with the state’s own Islamic predisposition, militants’ power would not have gained so much momentum. Greater threat, therefore, emerges not from the hardcore militants but from the complete openness of the state’s Islamic predisposition for any kind of interpretations. Unfortunately, the state seems indifferent towards the growing need to set precedence and principles to relate and define the dimensions of the Islamic provisions in the country’s constitution.

Today, Pakistan stands at crossroads. It has achieved a phenomenal success over the militants’ hordes by combating them with the military force. But with the limitations, especially that of meagre financial base coupled with complex security challenges and more importantly its indifference towards framing a counter-narrative strategy, Pakistan is unlikely to move beyond the current state.

At this critical juncture, when sovereignty and security of the country are frequently being challenged and when militants are deliberately attempting to design narrative so as to corrode Pakistan’s domestic consensus, concerns for crafting counter narratives are magnified. Systematic assertions for crafting counter-narratives also emerge from the reality that Pakistan cannot afford prolonged confrontation with the militants otherwise militants are trained over decades in using prolonged conflict as a strategy and their doctrine emphasizes the psychological exhaustion of the opponents. The way towards countering the militants’ narratives will become easy if the guidance is sought from the Quaid’s vision of a Muslim state. In his address to Gaya Muslim League Conference in 1938, Quaid-e-Azam said:

“The foundation of our ‘Islamic Code’ is that we stand for liberty, equality and fraternity.”

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