An independent think-tank

Religio-political discourse in Pakistan too narrow and dissonant to curb radicalization

Religious radicalism has many forms and manifestations and affects almost every segment of Pakistani society in one way or the other. Triggered by multiple factors, it gains strength mainly from the prevalent religious-political discourse in country that offers largely extreme positions to the people in the political, socio-cultural and ideological perspectives. The religious scholars have the responsibility to introduce elements of tolerance, accommodation and pluralism in this larger discourse, and unanimously condemn the skewed and sectarian interpretations of Islamic precepts that lead to the use of violence in the name of religion. These views were expressed by participants of a seminar on “Radicalization in Pakistan: Perspectives and Resolutions,” organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) on September 10, 2012 in Islamabad.

The day-long seminar had two sessions. The first session, which focused on dynamics of radicalization in Pakistan, was chaired by Dr. Khalid Masood, Director General of Islamic Research Institute at International Islamic University, Islamabad. The discussants included: Saleem Safi, senior journalist and analyst; Manzar Abbas Zaidi, Director research, National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA); Dr. Khadim Hussain, Director, Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, Peshawar; and Muhammad Amir Rana, Director PIPS.

Amir Rana discussed at length levels and patterns of radicalization in Pakistan. He said religious radicalism is a political phenomenon that manifests itself in forms of increasing sectarianism, intolerance and extremism. It is driven by multiple factors and occurs on three levels. First, among lower income groups, mainly in poorly governed areas, poverty, inequality and loose administrative structures spur radicalization and terrorism. Madrassas and networks of militant and sectarian organizations in these areas act as catalysts, exploiting these factors to further their extremist agendas, leading to radicalization and sectarian violence. Secondly, the drivers of radicalization in middle-income groups of urban or semi-urban areas are mainly political. These trends are influenced by both internal and external political developments and promotion of a radical narrative by radical groups. Thirdly, growing alienation from society is the major driver of radicalization among the upper middle class and the so-called elite of the country. Radical groups such as Hizbul-Tahrir and Al-Huda are active in indoctrinating this segment of the population.

Saleem Safi analyzed some critical security threats facing Pakistan in regional and domestic perspectives. He elaborated the need to establish friendly relations with India and Afghanistan to reduce the risk of threats emanating from Pakistan’s eastern and western borders, respectively. He divided domestic threats facing Pakistan into religious extremism, sectarianism, ethno-linguistic tensions, socio-economic changes and threats to democracy. He highlighted the need to revise the existing ideological narratives in country and to pave the way for continuation of democracy.

Khadim Hussain expressed his views on the link between religious discourse and extremism. He said it is unfortunate that extremist and skewed narratives have gradually displaced the tolerant, moderate and pluralistic narratives in Pakistan. Moderate and rational voices were made silent by use of force. He argued that the major urban centers of Pakistan are under great influence of the extremist and militant discourse. He said extremist and militant ideologies could be forced to retreat by upgrading and reforming Pakistan’s educational system, restructuring Pakistan’s foreign policy and its objectives, making parliament the supreme in the country, and promoting pluralistic alternative discourses.

Manzar Abbas Zaidi discussed radicalization in Pakistan in the perspective of regional and internal security. He said there is dearth of research work on the subject of radicalization in Pakistan. While suggesting ways to curb sectarian violence he argued there should be a central body to issue religious decrees (fatwas). Dr. Khalid Masood said in his concluding remarks that there is no lack of research in Pakistan but the government does not have political will and commitment to implement what is suggested to it by academics and scholars.

The discussion topic for the second session was related to the role of religious scholars in curbing religious extremism. The session was chaired by Tariq Pervaiz, former Director General of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).The speakers included: Maulana Raghib Naeemi, Principal Jamia Naeemia, Lahore; Allama Maqsud Ali Domki, Chief of Jafaria Alliance of Balochistan & leader of Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen; and Maulana Yasin Zafar, Secretary General, Wafaqul Madaaris Al-Salafia.

Tariq Pervaiz noted extremism has many dimensions and varieties in Pakistan. He emphasized that religious scholar’s need to work side by side with civil society. He said religious scholars should strive to evolve a consensus and unanimously declare militants’ use of violence unjustified in terms of religion and Shariah.

Maulana Raghib Naeemi said lack of justice, security and livelihood and increasing inequality and discrimination in the society are adding to intolerance in society. Fanatical religiously also leads to intolerance.

Allama Maqsud Ali Domki highlighted the state of sectarian tensions in Balochistan. He said there is no sectarian animosity between Shias and Sunnis as such but it is exploited and misinterpreted by those who have political and other stakes in the province. He argued that wrong internal and foreign policies of Pakistani state have created chaos in Balochistan. He further noted that security agencies have failed to arrest the militants engaged in incidents of target killing and terrorist activities.

Maulana Yasin Zafar discussed at length religious scholars’ perspective on terrorism. He said only the violent activities including bomb blasts, targeted killing should not be included in terrorism but the prevailing fear among the masses is also a kind of terrorism. He said political decisions should not be based on sectarian associations but should absorb input from all segments and sects of society. It will help in bringing harmony in society. He said government should take initiatives to enforce extensive reforms in madrassas so that graduates from these institutions take up a positive role for the betterment of the society rather than keep diverting themselves away from the society.