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As state languishes in ambiguity and inaction, extremism grows in Pakistan: Study

The problem is too deep and wide to be routed by intermittent crackdowns or haphazard legislations as in the case of FATF


Islamabad – PR: A new study by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has found a disturbing upward trend in religious extremism in Pakistan, though terrorism incidents have declined over the past years. The study noted that religious extremism is a persistent threat to social cohesion, political stability, internal security, and economy, and it tends to aggravate Pakistan’s external challenges too like the FATF grey-listing etc.

Based on extensive rounds of consultations with leading scholars, CE experts, policy advisors, educationists, rehabilitation practitioners and psychologists, and members of law enforcement and clergy, the study, lasting from Oct 2020 to Jan 2021, sought to expand and update the knowledge base on religious extremism in Pakistan, and offer potential policy reforms and options as well as other recommendations to help the government tackle the problem more effectively. Each round of the consultation examined a specific aspect of the problem, and on the whole the study took a holistic view of religious extremism in the country, subjecting diverse yet interlinked factors to detailed investigations

The study has found that Pakistan has had an inconsistent and confusing approach to mitigating extremism, and often the state’s actions have contradicted its own declared policies or the counter-terrorism or extremism laws which has only added to the existing mass confusion and radicalization in the country. The cost of this ambiguity is born by all segments of the society, and more so by the religious minorities who face violence and persecution. In mid-2020, while the authorities stood and watched, members of radical Sunni groups marched on the streets with open calls for violence against the Shias.

Likewise, the extremists demolished an under-construction Hindu temple in Islamabad, and later torched a Hindu shrine in Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last year. The study also found links between political instability and growing extremism, noting that as governments struggle for their survival and remain preoccupied with political issues, extremism slides down the priorities list. And with the military usually looking after internal security policies, the government and parliament further lose interest in tackling the issue of extremism.

Extremism thrives on violent ideologies and narratives which are propagated through different platforms including mosques, madrassas, and the internet, etc. The radicals have significant presence in the Pakistani cyberspace. On the internet, while the government mostly chases porn websites, critics, and sub-nationalist insurgent groups and their sympathizers, the extremist elements routinely use the internet for radicalization and recruitment.

Though the government has been slow to respond to the growing threat of extremism, it did, however, feel the heat of FATF as it went about rushing over a dozen laws through the parliament to satisfy the FATF demands. Debate on these legislations were mostly blocked on grounds of urgency. In addition, some key members of the Jamaat-ud-Daw were also prosecuted for terror financing. However, despite the persisting challenge of extremism, the state lacks clarity on what really constitutes extremism. Nebulous definitions and varying interpretations not only create mass confusion, but also tend to increase the state’s discretion to act in questionable ways e.g. framing liberal critics or journalists for promoting extremism.

Similarly, during the study the analysis of the education system showed that textbooks teach exclusionary and divisive narratives and instill narrow worldviews. The students are taught vague and confusing ideologies based on religion, while critical thinking and questioning are discouraged. On the other hand, as public education has reduced in quality and standard, the madrassa sector has seen enormous expansion across the country. Only a portion of the estimated 35,000 madrassas are registered, while the rest operate beyond the radar of the state. Many have had links with militancy and half-hearted attempts to reform them have fallen flat.

The study also identifies inherent flaws in the criminal justice system in Pakistan such as a wide definition of terrorism, poor investigation and prosecution techniques, misappropriation and mismanagement of resources, and over-reliance on witness testimony as evidence etc. In many cases, the state has placated the extremists or operated beyond the law, further hampering the justice system’s ability to uphold the law or deliver justice.

The study offers potential policy reforms and options and recommends a number of practical measures to help the government tackle the problem of religious extremism more effectively.




The full report of the study can be found on PIPS official website here



About PIPS

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) is an independent, not-for-profit non-governmental research and advocacy think-tank. An initiative of leading Pakistani scholars, researchers and journalists, PIPS conducts wide-ranging research and analysis of political, social and religious conflicts that have a direct bearing on both national and international security.


For information and queries please contact:


Ahmed Ali

Project Manager

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS),

Ph: 051-835 94 75-6