Countering extremism

WHILE the national counterterrorism effort sputters along, it is welcome that initiatives to address extremism militancy`s attendant evil are also being taken.

As reported in this paper recently, a national counter-extremism policy is being hammered out by a steering committee and a draft document should be ready by November. Those familiar with the process, being steered by Nacta, say the draft will then go to the interior minister for further action. The committee members will also get the input of administrative and law-enforcement officials, while deliberations with political and religious elements, academia as well as other civil society groups have already been held. From the reports, it appears the policy will be a comprehensive document, covering all the necessary bases needed to counter extremism. For example, included in the `policy themes` are educational reform, reviving culture, media engagement, etc.

Many experts and observers have long called for a policy to address extremism that complements the counterterrorism plan.

Indeed, terrorism and militancy have a symbiotic relationship with extremism; in fact, extremism can be described as the `gateway` to terrorism and is more insidious. The reasons for the present high levels of extremism are obvious as during the Ziaul Haq era religion was misused for geopolitical ends mostly through the promotion of a narrow-minded curriculum and space given to jihadi forces. These myopic policies have resulted in today`s divided and intolerant society. Correcting the mistakes of three decades will not be a quick process, but an effective, realistic counter-extremism policy can be a starting point. Some experts have called for a `national dialogue` between sects and religions to promote harmony, while it has also been argued that religious justifications used by militants need to be deconstructed and countered. Along with these suggestions, as the steering committee has discussed, changes must be brought about in the curriculum, while the media must not be used by extremists to preach hatred. Moreover, to address extremism at the grass roots, the state must pursue madressah reforms regardless of the clergy`s pressure tactics. But welcome as the initiatives to mould a counter-extremism policy are, we must ask how serious the state is when many of the very elements primarily responsible for the spread of sectarian and extremist venom in Pakistan are able to secure an audience with a senior state functionary, such as the interior minister. For a successful policy, it must move beyond statements and be implemented throughout Pakistani society.

Source: Daily Dawn

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