No century in recorded history has experienced so many social transformations and such radical ones as the twentieth century has. This trend is likely to continue at unprecedented pace in this century as well. The phenomenon of social transformation has become a part and parcel of every society. In social scientific literature, the term is being increasingly used to describe societal changes and generally indicates a critical stance toward older notions of the idea of development.
Social transformation is a deviation from the ideas and beliefs of the past to find a new course of action for the future. Every society passes through these stages either smoothly — most desirable — or abruptly, and violently, in most cases. However, the journey of social transformation from a radicalized society to a moderate and tolerant one in Pakistani society has been tumultuous, to say the least. In large parts, these impediments to the development of a progressive society were either willingly created by the ruling elite for its vested interests or it was the need of the hour to go with the flow for the greater interest of the nation, as they say.
Previously, our domestic and foreign policies, one way or the other, were behind the creation of a society plagued with moral and social degradation. Almost every day, we see a family lamenting the loss of the loved ones, falling prey to religious extremism and sectarian fanaticism. But, every time, the promises of bringing perpetrators to justice, curbing terrorism and eradicating extremism prove false. During this unending ordeal, countless precious lives have been lost; making the mockery of the tall claims made by successive governments, democratic and dictatorial alike. While the situation is becoming more perilous day by day and society is slipping under the claws of the radicals and the fanatics, no solid action is being taken to stem this rising tide.
Our policies like sponsoring Afghan jihad, Islamization spearheaded by General Ziaul Haq, and then harbouring Taliban under “strategic depth” compulsions and the recent anti-Taliban episode has thrown the society into a bottomless abyss of ignorance and irrationality. This has led to deep entrenchment of extremism and fanaticism in our society, paving the way for its rapid radicalization. The surge of zealots and fanatics, who are ready to kill and to be killed for religion — their concocted version — has altogether altered the socio-religious landscape of the country.
These are the complexities and contradictions that are a major stumbling block to the development of a progressive society.
In the recent weeks, some bold decisions on the part of the government have been witnessed e.g. hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, banning Tableeghi Jamaat from entering the premises of educational institutions, launching crackdown against militants and the recent progressive legislation, etc., all depict a departure from the narrative of the past. The politico-religious parties, which were traditionally thought of as the protégées of the establishment, are in a fix now as they can increasingly sense a looming threat to their very existence. To thwart any such move, these parties themselves, and by using the platform of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), pressurized the government on the matter of “Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, 2016” by calling the legislation as against the precepts of Islam. Later, on March 27, a violent mob, on the pretext of holding the Chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri, marched on the Capital, causing huge losses of infrastructure. In the meanwhile, a disastrous explosion at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park of Punjab’s provincial capital rocked the country as more than 70 innocent people lost their lives. In the wake of this carnage, the military establishment decided to launch a decisive operation against terrorist elements in Punjab also.
Seemingly, the state and the religious right both are on a collision course. Though, the recent decisions on the part of state appear largely induced by economic and trade factors, yet it’s no less than a blessing as trade is the main driver of economic growth. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being considered a key to the economic stability of the country. But, extracting maximum benefits from this ‘game-changer’ project also demands domestic stability, national unity and cohesion as well as elimination of extremism and terrorism.
Due to dynamic — rather chaotic — nature of our country’s politics and realizing the importance of soft power, it is high time that we put an end to the policies of past in the best interest of country and for promoting regional trade to achieve economic stability. If the state genuinely wants to eradicate extremism, it ought to take substantial measures from bottom to top, instead of top to bottom. Crackdown on militants or any campaign against intolerance may prove counterproductive unless policies to introduce a change in attitude, behaviour and norms are implemented.
The prevalent environment of terror requires an immediate focus on the root causes of this evil i.e. the proliferation of radicalism. While radicalism is a speedy process, de-radicalization, contrarily, is a slow and painstaking one. It is an arduous yet a doable task. Many nations have borne the pangs of de-radicalization, and most of them were able to do so successfully. All that needs is political will and determination, consistency and a composite state-society venture.
The direst need of the hour is to frame a comprehensive national de-radicalization policy encompassing a whole lot of factors. Why and how the common and innocent people turn into radicals and are compelled to take arms up against state and blew them up? It needs a compelling reason and most likely a strong and robust cause for such activities. Bad governance, injustice, poverty and polarization of society are some factors that make the society vulnerable to radicalism. Precisely, any such policy must address all these issues that are leading our society toward intolerance and ignorance.
Despite the hurdles and resistance shown at various levels by segments of society, the state must fulfil its prime duty of restoring peace and politico-economic stability before it is too late.
Written by: M. Shoaib Latif
The writer has done his MSc in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.