POLITICAL turmoil is fast becoming a permanent feature of Pakistan’s state of affairs. While political opposition and dissent are generally deemed positive democratic norms, in Pakistan’s context, however, these are increasingly becoming non-events that merely consume the energies of the people, state institutions and policymakers.
Political turmoil also distracts us from other formidable issues. Reviewing highlights from the print and electronic media over the past month reveals that many important issues did not get due attention: tensions with neighbours; unrest in India-held Kashmir; the provinces’ concerns over CPEC routes; terrorist attacks in Quetta and Karachi, and poor security responses to it; civil-military relations and their implications for internal security and foreign policies, etc.
Given the media’s interest in sensationalism, in particular the dissection of the government’s ‘failures’, reports on the formation of a national ‘countering violent extremism’ strategy got the least amount of attention. As a result, we missed an opportunity to initiate debate on the subject of CVE, which is a serious global concern, in terms of strategising soft approaches to counterterrorism.
Internal security reforms should be the priority of any CVE initiative.
According to media reports, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) has taken up the task of evolving a CVE model for Pakistan, which, it is believed, will cover the following: national security, building community resilience, media engagement, promotion of culture, education reforms, and [creation of an enabling environment for] rehabilitation and reintegration of militants.
It is not clear whether the government will accept Nacta’s forthcoming recommendations. Nor is it clear whether it has any intention of announcing a CVE policy. The recommendations could also become a casualty of the government’s political considerations. As it confronts strong opposition on the issue of accountability the government finds a major ally in the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl. Representative of the majority of Deobandis and traditionalist religious discourse in Pakistan, the JUI-F can have objections, especially on education reforms, including in madressahs. Another major player, the Jamaat-i-Islami, which has always influenced the state’s education policy and still enjoys influence in the education sector, can also join the JUI-F in this.
The establishment has its own priorities. In an effort to protect the status quo and its authority, the establishment would also find it difficult to accept any shift or revision in the national security (one of Nacta’s six CVE themes) paradigm. Nonetheless, the subject requires intense thinking and serious attention, without considerations of the fate of the policy recommendations.
Although CVE around the world continues to evolve, three components are considered vital in its modelling: intellectual responses to critical ideologies; education reforms and cultural revivals; and rehabilitation and reintegration of extremists/militants. Community resilience is another important CVE factor among nations that have diverse religious and ethnic compositions.
In Pakistan’s case, the intellectual challenge for CVE is of the utmost importance. This is compounded by the fact that traditionalist religious thought appears unable to respond to modern challenges and growing faith-based discord and sectarianism. There is a need to review afresh the political construct of religion as well as religious thought, including on collective order such as state and society.
We know that the strength behind militants’ narratives is hidden in their religious arguments or their interpretations of Islamic precepts. Therefore, it is necessary to first understand intellectual and/or jurisprudential contexts of these narratives, and to then counter it from the same perspective. This is not an easy task to undertake — it requires continuous research and intellectual exercise — and formal, private and religious educational institutes do not have such capacities. The state can set up a dedicated CVE research centre with experts from relevant fields in social sciences and religious studies.
The government was also working on the formulation of a new cultural policy, but the fate of this policy is also not known. If found, policymakers may greatly benefit from such a policy. According to informed people, the cultural policy stresses the importance of building the foundation of Pakistani culture on positive cultural expressions that accept and tolerate diverse cultural identities, and accept local cultures as part of the national heritage.
Reforming the education sector is a critical component of any CVE policy, especially reviewing key principles of curriculum development. Even though there is a lot of academic input available on the subject, there is still a need to establish dedicated and permanent research and educational centres. Experts also advocate for and stress the importance of critical thinking as one of the fundamental purposes of education; that the subjects of ‘citizenship’ and ‘civic education’ should be made mandatory and taught in primary-level institutions (whether public or private schools or madressahs); and that nurturing the youth to become good citizens, who uphold the Constitution and the law, should be given central place.
Internal security reforms should be the priority of any CVE initiative, and should focus on a realistic reassessment of critical strategic priorities and their links to the internal security framework. There is also a need to ensure complete enforcement of Article 256 of the Constitution, which clearly states that no private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed and that any such organisation shall be illegal. At the same time, there is a need to make efforts to bring people or groups who espouse violent ideologies into the national mainstream. To that end, steps need to be taken on governmental and non-governmental levels.
Pakistan’s situation is peculiar in terms of its ethno-political, socio-cultural and religious cohesion and needs special emphasis on the sanctity of the Constitution of Pakistan. The Constitution is a comprehensive social contract on which most parties, despite espousing different thoughts, agree. Both state and society ought to seek guidance from it. This document should be the source of the country’s positive narratives and the teaching of the Constitution should gradually be made part of the education curriculum.
These are only a few suggestions; experts and others may have much more to contribute and advise on. The government should evolve some mechanism to collect such observations and suggestions.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2016