THE country has an extremism problem. To state that is to suggest the obvious. But the state appears to be either in denial of Pakistan’s extremism problem or afraid of its true dimensions.
After each new, grotesque low in the militants’ war on Pakistan, the state responds in the same manner. Emergency meetings, long huddles, promises to double down on the existing militarised security strategy — and some vague promises about doing something about the peddlers of hate. Then, unsurprisingly, as the media gaze turns to the next scandal or atrocity and the memory of the previous attack recedes, nothing of substance is done to crack down on extremism.
That is a fundamental problem because there is an extremism continuum: from the doctrines of intolerance and hate on the non-violent end of the spectrum to the armed militants who perpetrate atrocities such as the Peshawar school attack and the Karachi bus attack. Simply eliminating armed militants will lead to little long-term success when there is still in existence a vast network of extremism busily indoctrinating the next generation of jihadis.
Consider the basic indoctrination that may have led to the murder of some 50 Ismailis in Karachi on Wednesday.
At some point, the killers would have been taught to believe that the victims were deserving of death for their religious beliefs. Perhaps that indoctrination came within the narrow confines of life as an Islamist militant: the physical and psychological training of the killers done directly by the group responsible for the attack. But it is easy for the seeds of that indoctrination to have been laid in any number of ways by the vast extremist mosque-madressah-social welfare network that blankets this country.
Even the largest, seemingly benign alleged centres of learning routinely spew hate against other sects, other religions and even peaceable followers of the same sect deemed too soft on others.
Pore over the literature, listen to the speeches, scan the online message boards and forums where minority sects in Islam are routinely declared non-Muslims, and it will become apparent where the seeds of mistrust that can lead to violent hate are sown.
Can the intelligence set-up be truly unaware of this? Militancy does not exist in a vacuum — it never has and it never will. It was possible for men to fire bullets into peaceful citizens on Wednesday because there exists a milieu that allows hate to masquerade as religion.
Surely, the answers to the extremism problem cannot be the same as the strategy to fight militancy. The first approach is essentially preventive in nature; the latter, curative. Prevention is more difficult — the extremism-fuelling narrative and infrastructure are far more diffuse than militant groups.
And it requires greater will — a willingness to reach into the heart of society and re-engineer it. If it is not fought, however, the country may find itself winning the battle, but losing the war.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2015