By Muhammad Amir Rana
September 20th, 2015
COUNTERING extremism is a missing link in the National Action Plan (NAP). Apparently, the plan was conceived from a counterterrorism and security perspective to address the immediate need of connecting different responses and putting these in a functional policy framework.
It is expected that the government will come up with a comprehensive counter-extremism strategy to complement NAP. The counterterrorism policy alone cannot resolve the complexities of the challenge, which is deep-rooted in societal and state structures.
After nine months, the progress on NAP cannot be declared satisfactory; it has failed to evolve a comprehensive counterterrorism framework in Pakistan. In these circumstances, one finds it hard to believe that the government has the vision or the will to come up with a proper counter-extremism policy.
Although some government departments are working with international donors to develop a counter-extremism framework, there are serious concerns about the outcome of these efforts. At the same time, non-governmental organisations are also trying to import certain Western Counter-Violent Extremism (CVE) models.
This makes for quite an interesting situation where existing paradoxes further compound the problem. Ironically, the government has given the task of manufacturing counter-narratives to those who are responsible for nurturing hate narratives in society. On the other side, a bunch of civil society organisations and government departments are trying to sell disparate ideas of CVE, which are still in a crude form in terms of their relevance to Pakistan.
Yet, it remains to be seen what kind of counter-narratives the committee on counter-narratives will construct. Meanwhile, different CVE models can be reviewed.
‘Counter-violent extremism’ has become a popular term, and is regarded as a soft approach to countering terrorism. Many Western countries have evolved certain CVE programmes from their local perspectives. Different states use different strategies in their CVE programmes, which range from engagement to winning the hearts and minds of the people. But the main objective of most of these strategies is related to neutralising security threats.
These programmes, which largely focus on Muslim immigrant communities, mostly seek to improve inter-community harmony and cohesion.
Native countries of immigrant communities have an important role in the Western CVE models. It is assumed that fixing extremism in the immigrants’ native lands will help prevent extremism in host societies.
Though no concrete evidence is available to validate that perception, some Western nations are still trying to export their CVE models to Muslim countries. While extremist tendencies in the West are different from those in Muslim societies, such tendencies in the Muslim diaspora in the West are transforming certain non-violent trends of extremism into violent extremism in Muslim countries.
For example, some recent media reports indicate that British-based extremists are supporting an Islamist revival in Bangladesh. It is also a known fact that radical movements such as Hizbut Tahrir made inroads in our part of the world through Muslim diaspora communities in Europe.
The critics of Western CVE programmes also point out that security agencies have built human intelligence networks within Muslim communities under the cover of such programmes. The issue of transparency in these programmes has also drawn criticism.
Usually, CVE programmes are considered a part of a community cohesion strategy, but no mechanism is available to assess the success of these programmes. Rather, these programmes are stigmatising Muslim communities, thus creating problems in their daily life interactions with other communities.
Others say that such measures are creating right-wing nationalist tendencies amongst the British youth, and the government is not paying attention to this side of the problem. For example, the anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy was conceived in a narrow security dimension, and its impact in terms of CVE is not measurable.
The US model is also in its inception phase. The US Homeland Security Department has three major components in its CVE policy: understanding violent extremism; supporting local communities; and strengthening local law enforcement. As I have written before, the focus of different CVE programmes in the US has been on making communities part of the solution through developing a partnership with them, which allows the division of labour between communities and law enforcement.
These programmes have also integrated mental health into their designs. The major issue in the US CVE programmes is linked to social legitimacy among the communities, which remain in a state of denial, thus making trust-building a major challenge. At the same time, unseen ideological and political spaces exist in behaviour, which can trigger vulnerabilities. The US is still struggling to develop some comprehensive prevention strategies that go beyond the threat of terrorism.
These programmes focus mainly on Muslim communities and ignore the new converts, who are also joining radical movements including the self-styled Islamic State. Denmark’s three-layered CVE programme is considered one of the best, but regrettably it also ignores the new converts.
Under this prevention strategy, different ministries and NGOs have evolved exit programmes. The police have initiated social services programmes with parents and teachers. As noted before, these programmes stress on communities to think reasonably and do not evaluate political and ideological risks. The state thinks the communities should think like the majority and not link themselves with native cultures and countries.
Other European nations are following similar models with little alterations. The question is: are these CVE models workable in Pakistan? The challenge of extremism in Pakistan is not confined to a particular community and presuming that a specific religious sect is a ‘community’ and applying Western CVE techniques to them would be nothing short of disastrous.
The writer is a security analyst.