AT long last, it seems there is some movement towards laying the groundwork for a counter-narrative to extremism.

On Tuesday, the government launched the Paigham-i-Pakistan, a document signed by 1,829 religious scholars — belonging to nearly all mainstream sects in the country — that declares several actions un-Islamic. These, among others, include suicide attacks against the state, spreading sectarianism and anarchy in the name of religion and issuing a call to jihad without the consent of the state.

Compiled through the efforts of the International Islamic University Islamabad, the document denounces the use of force on the pretext of imposing Sharia, waging an armed struggle against the state, or employing violence and terrorist tactics to settle ethnic, geographical, religious and sectarian conflicts.

The Paigham-i-Pakistan also includes decrees issued by various schools of thought pertaining to suicide attacks, calls to jihad by individuals and sectarian killings.

To bring all shades of religious opinion together to commit to a unified stance against extremism in Pakistan is a much-needed and symbolically significant first step.

Religious differences have for too long been exploited by various groups to acquire influence over society and in the political arena. Violence stoked by bigotry and prejudice has pitted Muslim against Muslim, sect against sect — aside from being the driving force for depredations against the minorities.

There have been attempts earlier to forge a consensus to counter religious violence: in 2015, some 200 ulema issued a decree against suicide bombings; in May last year, 31 prominent religious scholars signed a similar fatwa.

The latest document, however, not only encapsulates a wider range of crimes committed in the name of faith but is also a far more comprehensive representation of the diverse strains of religious thought in the country.

At the same time, let us not deceive ourselves: Paigham-i-Pakistan will remain a declaration of intent alone unless followed by substantive steps.

Those brainwashed into committing acts of faith-based violence will not be dissuaded by a fatwa, even one collectively issued by nearly 2,000 clerics.

The state’s pandering to purveyors of extremist ideologies for its political ends has played a major role in seeding faith-based violence throughout the land.

To put the counter-narrative into effect, it must therefore abjure this ruinous strategy, revive the moribund National Action Plan and follow its stipulations to the letter — without any exceptions.

Ultra-right groups must no longer have a licence to indulge in divisive, incendiary rhetoric or force the government into making concessions by brandishing the threat of violence.

Admittedly, action has been taken against some networks of violent extremists but it has been inconsistent, and there remain troubling instances of what can only be described as unimpeded glorification of terrorism.

Until the state adopts a resolute, unequivocal approach, this country will continue its drift towards the right, and suffer the mayhem that comes with it.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2018

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