Anti-extremism policy

Published January 24, 2022

HAD there been more far-sighted policymaking on the part of the state and an understanding of how religious extremism can insidiously seep into society and that the forces of radicalism can never be ‘managed’, we may not have come to such a pass. However even though the country’s leadership had some years back acknowledged the need to course correct and push back against violent extremism, there was no comprehensive strategy to translate that realisation into action. But now such a strategy is close to being finalised. Soon after launching the National Security Policy, the government has approved the National Counter Violent Extremism Policy 2021 which, with input from multiple stakeholders and experts, is aimed at stemming radicalisation among the populace. Among its salient features are measures to counter extremist tendencies in seminaries and public and private schools; regulate places of worship and put an end to incendiary sermons from the pulpit; and keep tabs on extremist tendencies among the ranks of law enforcement. The policy also seeks enactment of a uniform CVE law along the lines of the Anti Terrorism Act 1997.

The last few decades have seen this country list disastrously towards extremist ideologies. A confluence of regional and domestic developments in the late 1970s created a perfect storm for religious extremism to be seeded in Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US ploy of using Islamist ideology to beat back the ‘infidel’ Russian troops dovetailed neatly with Gen Ziaul Haq’s exploitation of religion to entrench his rule in Pakistan, as well as his desire to acquire legitimacy in the world’s eyes. Thousands of ‘mujahideen’ were trained and equipped to fight the Soviet army, with hard-line madressahs along the Pak-Afghan border churning out thousands more. Meanwhile, the Iranian Revolution had set in motion a violent proxy war with the Saudis; that in large part was played out in Pakistan, at a terrible cost to communal harmony and social cohesion.

Then, the state’s catastrophically myopic approach of using violent extremists to further foreign policy agendas, not to mention fight against Baloch separatists at home, ceded more space to ultra right-wing elements to hold society hostage. Gradually they became part of the political landscape: aspiring electoral candidates made seat adjustments with them and successive governments appeased them even when they threatened violence against law-abiding citizens and acted on it. It has been a shameful capitulation by the state, a complete dereliction of its duty to protect the lives and property of the people. Recent history indicates that the authorities remain reluctant to enforce the law against violent extremists. Each time this happens, the problem becomes that much more daunting. Now that the government is about to roll out the new NCVE policy, one can only hope that it is not too late for the beleaguered citizens of Pakistan who only want to live in peace and harmony.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2022

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