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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

A Holistic Approach to Counter Extremism

The radicalization of minds, progressing to ever expanding extremism and terrorism needs a fresh holistic approach to counter and overcome this menacing problem. It is a well-established fact that radicalization of human minds points towards failure of education and religious institutions as well as society and country as a whole. What commenced as a Jihad in Afghanistan in 1979 on behest of America struck back as a global war against terrorism in the post 9/11 incident; this time led by the USA duly supported by all NATO and other allies against yester years Jihadi friends labelled as terrorists. The 20 years war against terror resulted in total annihilation of Afghanistan, besides devastation of other Muslim countries on false and concocted pretexts e.g. Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Sudan. However, both times, the situation in Afghanistan posed serious ramifications for Pakistan that remained rightly or wrongly on the side of the USA from 1979 to 2021. Today, Pakistan as a country and as a society is facing existential social, political, ethnic, sectarian and economic challenges despite greatest kinetic and non-kinetic success by Pakistan Armed Forces in the erstwhile FATA and Balochistan and at a heavy human, social, economic and political price.

The big power contests on Afghan soil particularly in the last four decades have inflicted serious scars on the face and soul of Pakistan for the deliberate choices we made under unavoidable circumstances. As the adequate strategy for de-radicalization and rehabilitation of Jihadi organisation could neither be perceived nor afforded; it soon resulted in embrace of extremists by the political parties and other hostile proxy runners for respective misuse of vast human resources looking for hands to feed them. That has resulted in the most dangerous mainstreaming of religious fanaticism, radicalism and extremism in the political domain, as frequently demonstrated by sudden swarms of ferocious firebrands appearing on the roads and streets of Pakistan under strange flags and with even stranger demands and slogans. The sane minds in Pakistan are at a loss as to what and who brings hundreds and thousands of people suddenly on the roads, create mayhem and destruction of public and private properties, injuring and killing law enforcers and citizen and then disappear with same alacrity without any scrutiny by the law of the land, let alone apprehending and punishing the scoundrels. It is appalling to note that not only the so called politico-religious parties have recruited this directionless ferocious breed; but the main political parties after losing their public appeal due plunder of national wealth are also capitalising on the same variety for show of force and for vote bank. A destructive course nevertheless as amply highlighted in my earlier published piece ‘State versus Bigots’.

However, Pakistan is not alone in its sufferings; today USA and allies are also facing similar phenomenon of radicalism, extremism and terrorism as a backlash of their international policies as was discussed in ‘Revisiting Newton’s Third Law.’ On January 6, 2021, the real-world consequences of this deception and delusion became clear, as thousands of pro-Trump rioters launched a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, intent on stopping the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Presently, there is greater realisation that the US needs a new approach to preventing far right violence that shook America. According to American experts, the siege of Capitol Hill reflected two important trends that will continue to shape American politics in the coming years. The first is the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism; the majority of the rioters were ordinary Americans who had only recently embraced radical ideas as a result of propaganda, social, print and electronic media influence and due political exploitation. The post-9/11 era was fertile ground for the far right, when law enforcement and intelligence services focused almost exclusively on the jihadist threat, and the fear of Muslim terrorists played into the hands of xenophobes, white supremacists, and Christian nationalists. Trump took advantage of those developments in his 2016 campaign, and by the time he took office, ideas that had long been relegated to the fringes of American society were rapidly becoming central to the country’s political ecosystem. The mainstreaming of extremism has itself led to the second trend: a scrambling and recombination of extremist groups and ideas. Thanks not only to disinformation about the 2020 election but also to the polarisation fed by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests in the USA.

Keen minds in Pakistan can see a lot of similarities in the rise and growth of extremism in the society and politics by manipulation of radicalised minds mostly in the garb of unfounded or misguided religious, ethnic and sectarian fault lines by hostile forces as well as by indigenous power hungry stakeholders. The upheavals created in the recent past in Pakistan by various politico-religious parties and groups in connivance with mainstream political parties have rendered violent extremist movements less coherent and more unpredictable than ever before. Like in the United States, such groups have generally been defined by relatively clear ideological leanings that align with specific intelligence and law enforcement strategies, training needs, and fields of expertise. But tactics such as monitoring, surveillance, and infiltration are harder to apply in an environment that is more spontaneous, fragmented, and characterised by rapid evolution and surprising coalitions. Simply put, the tools that authorities use to combat extremists become less useful when the line between the fringe and the centre starts to blur. In dealing with this kind of extremism, a number of other countries are far ahead of the United States. They have recognized that the only way to address the mainstreaming of extremist ideas is to focus on the mainstream itself. For example, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Norway have all adopted multi-sectoral approaches, drawing on resources and expertise from as many as a dozen federal agencies, including not only security and intelligence services but ministries of education, labour, health and human services, youth and families, social services, and culture and the arts. They have committed billions of dollars to efforts that build community trust, increase equity and social inclusion, combat racism, and improve media literacy and civic education so that citizens will be more likely to recognize and resist propaganda, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. These approaches treat violent extremism less as a security issue than as a societal problem more akin to a public health threat. They integrate counter-extremism and violence prevention into community arts programs, sport clubs, and interfaith dialogues. Educators, youth social workers, and other practitioners receive regular training—including through state-funded workshops, retreats, and seminars—to improve their knowledge of warning signs, learn about extremist culture, and develop pedagogical strategies. Public funding supports family counselling for people who have relationships with radicalised individuals, including their parents, siblings, teachers, and employers.

It has been well established that Pakistan is likely to remain a target of Hybrid or 5th generation warfare. As long as the ruling elite continues to use/ misuse the extremist groups for shortsighted gains, any meaningful top-down strategy is least likely to fully realise despite comprehensive National Internal Security Policy 2014-18(NISP),which is already overdue for updating in view of the recently announced National Security Policy(NSP 2022: A Consensus Document?). The Government of Pakistan needs to capitalise on the successes gained by the Pakistan Armed Forces, law enforcers and Intelligence Agencies by rendering supreme sacrifices without further delay through a comprehensive approach under direct supervision of National Security Committee and through a holistic approach as adopted by above mentioned developed countries.

20th January 2022

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