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“Countering extremism: Strategies and sharing best practices”

“Militants wanted power, not Nizam-e-Adl,” said federal minister for religious affairs while addressing a two days international seminar titled “Countering Extremism: Strategies and Sharing Best Practices” which opened on 4 May in Islamabad. The seminar is organized by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in collaboration with the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Qauid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. The minister said that the militants were, in fact, very frustrated when the government passed the law for implementing Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (NAR) because they did not expect the government doing so. Now, when the NAR has been passed, the people will be disillusioned on what the militants really wanted. Thus, the future scenario is going to be different as compared to the past when the militants enjoyed sympathies among the people in the name of NAR. The minister also addressed other related issues like that of madaris.

Chairman National Counter Terrorism Authority (NCTA), Mr. Tariq Pervez, also addressed the seminar. He opined that we need to have a holistic approach. We don’t have any national security strategy. But we need to be mindful that there are no quick fixes, no easy solutions to the problem of extremism.

“Pakistani is in a critical phase of its history,” commented Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussein, Chairman Department of Strategic Studies, QAU, in his opening remarks in the inaugural session. Dr. Rifaat talked about the severity of the threat posed by religious extremism in Pakistan. Concerns being expressed underscore the significance of the threat, he added. He was of the view that Pakistan has to struggle to secure its future.

“The government failed to respond to the challenge of extremism on the judicial fronts,” said Amir Rana in his keynote address introducing various aspects of religious extremism in Pakistan. He also touched upon the historical, social and political dimensions of the phenomena. Steps taken by the state and society in Pakistan to address the problem were also a point of focus in his address.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi addressing the seminar. He is accompanied by Assistant Professor QAU Miss Shabana Fiyaz (on his right), National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NCTA) Chairman Mr. Tariq Parvez, and Director Research Programs, Center for Transnational Crime Prevention (CTCP) University of Wollongong, Australia Mr. Adam Dolnik (on his left).

In the first session presentations were focused on the themes of “genesis and definition of radicalization/extremism, and theories and models of deradicalization.” Laila Bokari, who is a research fellow at The Afghanistan and Pakistan Programme, Department of Security and Conflict Management, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), emphasized that there is a tendency in many countries to shift the problem abroad including some of the European  countries. Pakistanis most often believe in conspiracy theories. People see others with suspicion. They see the leadership with suspicion. She linked these factors to the existence and spread of radicalization.

Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed pointed out that Jinnah’s vision is safer for Pakistan than Sufi Muhammad’s version of Islam and the state. And, Jinnah had clearly said that Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslim’s will cease to be Muslims in Pakistan. By this, he meant that the state will have nothing to do with the religion.

Naveed Shinwari, author of the book Understanding FATA, explained the factors of radicalization in NWFP & FATA. He enumerated a number of social, political, international and historical factors in this regard.

The debate on our national identity has not yet resolved, observed Shabana Fayyaz, Assistant Professor at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies. She said that Islam is unity in dierversity and no particular interpretation of the Sharia can be imposed on the whole of society. She highlighted the point that we need to focus on a people-centric rather that state-centric security policy and strategy.

Adam Dolnik, Director of Research Programs, Center for Transnational Crime Prevention (CTCP), University of Wollongong, Australia, focused on the knowledge gaps in terrorism and counter-terrorism. He pointed out that studying terrorism poses huge challenges in terms of access to reliable data. This fact is contributing towards complicating the problem.

Approaches and models being practiced across the world were focused in a presentation made jointly by Saba Noor and Shagufta Hayat who are researchers at PIPS.

In the beginning, Shabana Fayyaz, Assistant Professor at the department welcomed the guests and participants on behalf of DSS and PIPS.

Violent extremism is the biggest threat to the existence of Pakistan and provision of better governance is the only solution. These were the concluding remarks at a two-day international seminar on countering violent extremism. The seminar organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies and QAU’s DSS was attended by delegates from the United Kingdom, Australia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Norway and other cities of Pakistan.

Quaid-e-Azam University’s Dr Riffat Hussain said the war on terror and Taliban onslaught cannot be stopped without making the people stakeholders, Criticising government’s three “Ds” to tackle terrorism like deterrence, dialgue and development, he added denying  space to terrorists and delegitimize and use of violence.

Director of Sri Lanka’s international center for Political violence and Conflict resolution, Ranga Kalansooria said media can play a positive role in deradicaization by accommodating the voices of the poor and the disenfranchised communities but unfortunately it has become a party to the conflict because of the need to attract advertisements from the business. He said this has to be countered by building the capacity of journalists to understand the real issues and being able to stand up to the real issues.

(From top right to left):Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed (Singapore), Dr. Tariq Rehman, Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain, Mr. Muhammad Amir Rana, Mr. Ranga Kalansooriya (Sri Lanka), Mr. Tahir Abbas (UK), Miss Laila Bukhari (Norway), Mr. Stephen Tankel (UK), Miss Manjula Sajeewani (Sri Lanka), Mr. Naveed Shinwari, Mr. Safdar Sial, Miss Salma Malik, Miss Saba Noor and Miss Shagufta Hayat.

Manjola Sanjeewani Fernando, a Sri Lankan journalist mapped the role of the media in her country’s thirty year old conflict. She said the media has always glorified murderous LTTE commanders and has the anti-government bias.

Sadia Malik, Director of Human Development Centre suggested opening an dialogue between the liberal segments of the society and hardliner Taliban. She said Taliban were exploiting the class inequality in the tribal areas. She said radicalization was caused by the socio-economic inequalities and unequal opportunities.

Chairing the first session, Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed warned it was now or never  situation to quell the scourge of radicalizatio in Pakistan. He said the media should stop covering gory incidents like bomb blasts to deny Taliban the coverage that promotes terrorism in the living rooms.

In the second session, Dr Tahir Abbas highlighted the dynamics of Muslims in the UK and how they are pulling along with other communities. He said the British government was addressing the degree of deprivation suffered by the two million strong Muslim diaspora.

Stephen Tankel, the Davis Tankel Fellow at the East West Institute in London presented an indepth analysis of the pattern of recruitment by terrorist groups, preachers and activists in Western Europe. He said the focus of recruiters has moved away from mosques in the UK to universities and prisons.

Safdar Sial, Research Analyst at the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, presented an update of the extremist threats to Pakistan. He said Pakistan is suffering from religious extremism and militancy even more than Afghanistan. After proliferating from FATA and consolidating them in the settled districts of the NWFP, the Taliban are now on the march towards other areas, especially Islamabad, Punjab, Karachi and Quetta. The religious extremist have reached the heart of Pakistan, Islamabad, as Lal Masjid operation in 2007 and Marriott blast in 2008 illustrated.

Quaid-eAzam University’s Salma Malik said deradicalization in Pakistan required a mix and match approach to  effecting ideological, behavioural and organizational changes at the individual, group and community levels. She urged for an inter-sectarian dialogue.