By Abdul Basit
May 09, 2015
Of the several by-products of terrorism that have ruined Pakistani state and society, the threat of violent extremism is the most potent one. It has damaged the country’s tolerant cultural and religious ethos. In Pakistan, violent extremism is a multifaceted and multi-layered phenomenon with its own push and pull factors.
The growth of extremism has marginalised moderate and sane voices in Pakistan. This is evident from the killing of former Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, the Taliban assault on female education activist Malala Yousafzai and targeted assassinations of moderate Islamic scholars like Maulana Hassan Jan and Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi. Extremism has been further sustained by broken governance, widespread social injustices and the intellectually stagnant Madrasa (seminary) and public education system. To overcome the challenge of growing extremism, Pakistan should introduce a national Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) policy, in addition to ongoing de-radicalisation programmes in Swat and Punjab. The CVE policy should comprise of individual-focused de-radicalisation and environment-focused counter-radicalisation efforts.
Pakistan is a heterogeneous society with diverse ethnic communities and multiple denominations of Islam practiced in different parts of the country. Before launching the national CVE policy, it is important to keep in mind that the process of extremism takes place against a contextual background. So, the different CVE initiatives under the national CVE policy should be context-bound and case-specific. A nuanced understanding of what works and what does not in different social, political and geographical environments is crucial for the success of any CVE policy. The rationalisation to have a comprehensive CVE programme in Pakistan has the following six factors:
First, to stop extremist/terrorist organisations from growing, deprive them of the social support base available in the form of supporters, sympathisers and apologists, and build community resilience against extremist propaganda, especially in the vulnerable segments of the population and stop youth recruitment. Second, in Pakistan, extremism and terrorism have a cause-and-effect relationship. Terrorism cannot be tackled without weakening this bond. It can be achieved by targeting the avenues that the extremist groups exploit to increase their influence in society. So, there is a need to reach out to at risk individuals and society segments to prevent further radicalisation of individuals and groups.
Third, no military can jail or shoot its way out of militancy; a multi-pronged non-kinetic framework is also needed. At the core, it is fundamentally a war of ideas. While counter-terrorism works like a surgeon’s knife that must cut before healing, the actual healing touch comes from CVE. Violence is just one minuscule but well-publicised expression of terrorism. However, it is just the tip of the iceberg. The broader issues and root causes of terrorism lie beneath the water’s surface. The under-surface issues can be effectively solved through softer measures like CVE.
Five, research on various asymmetrical conflicts indicates that the youth that constitutes the rank-and-file of any insurgent or extremist group participates in violence for a variety of overlapping reasons. They are either coerced by their families and communities or motivated by their adverse socio-economic circumstances to join terrorism. Such reasons have very little to do with extremist ideology. These people can change their trajectory away from rather than towards violence if they are provided proper guidance for course correction.
Six, while fighting terrorism, states, at some stage, look for a political settlement and CVE offers a way out. Research indicates that all terrorists are not ideologically motivated. There are active and passive supporters and participants of terrorism. Usually, only 20 percent are active members while 80 percent are passive participants. Active participants form the top, hardcore of the terrorist pyramid while passive participants are the middle and bottom layers of the pyramid. The set of motivations of middle and low rankers are different from hardcore militants. Paradoxically, the demands of hardcore militants are intangible and the demands of softcore militants are tangible. If the layer of passive participants can be neutralised, the social support base of terrorist groups vanishes. Later, the handful hardcore elements can be sorted out through use of hard power.
Seven, those militants who want to surrender by actively disengaging from their organisations, demobilise from violence and agree to follow the law of the state deserve a second chance to live a normal life.
Pakistan needs to evolve a whole community approach targeting both the reality and ideality of extremism and terrorism. In this regard, a joint state-society response is indispensable for creating an environment that helps people resist the appeal of militant ideologies. The ongoing narrow focused de-radicalisation interventions in Pakistan will gradually lose their efficacy as long as a moderate environment hostile to terrorism and militancy is not created through a comprehensive national level CVE policy.
Abdul Basit is an associate research fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore. He tweets @basit.researcher