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Counter-radicalization: A multifold strategy stressed

On 04 August 2010, Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), in collaboration with United States Institute of Peace (USIP) organized a seminar on “Counter-Radicalization Strategies” at a local hotel in Islamabad. Leading experts on counter-extremism, prominent journalists and intellectuals including Shabana Fayaz, associate Professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, Imtiaz Gul, a political analyst, Dr. Tariq Rehman, Director National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Ejaz Haider, National Affairs editor of the Newsweek Pakistan, Moeed Yousaf, South Asia Adviser at the USIP and Sherry Rehman, former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting were invited to speak at the occasion. A large number of media persons, civil society activists and students also attended the seminar.

The event commenced with a presentation on PIPS vision, mission and objectives by Nida Naz, a Researcher at PIPS. While sharing the finding of the study on radicalization in Pakistan, Amir Rana, Director PIPS, ascertained that radical trends are gaining strength at all societal levels.  Religion contributes as a catalytic factor; politics is the major driving factor behind rise in radicalization in Pakistan. He established that state and society have failed to address various forms of inequality, which ultimately facilitate radical ideologies. Although, support for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups is at record low, Pakistan stands to be worst-hit country by terrorism. In fact, physical presence of terrorist groups and infrastructure is pivotal in transforming radical tendencies into violence. A multi-pronged counter strategy is the best remedy for a multi-dimensional phenomenon. He recommended that there must be three major dimensions of an effective counter-strategy. Firstly, counter-narrative through educational reforms, tolerance & freedom of expression, bridging the gap between state & society, good governance, awareness campaigns and legislations. Secondly, counter-terrorism, which must involve zero tolerance to militant groups, effective policing, accurate Threat perceptions, coordination among law enforcement agencies, rehabilitation, prosecution and Judicial reforms. Third aspect must focus on counter-insurgency through hit, hold, build and clear.

Saba Noor, a PIPS Researcher, presented on “Radicalization: Gender Perspectives”. She pointed out that Pakistani women are susceptible to radicalization. Though their role is not major in this regard however, it is not that minor to be neglected.

Wajahat Ali, a Research Analyst at PIPS, observed that confusion over the Jihadi discourse is manipulated by the militants to get more recruits. The removal of mistrust and mutual suspicions between different state organs and agencies is imperative to form informs counter-radicalization policies in Pakistan. Pointing towards the potential role of media in countering hate ideologies and terrorist groups, Wajahat Ali said war against religious militancy maybe fought in the mountains of Waziristan; it can only be won in the local newsrooms.

Shabana Fayyaz suggested that there is a need for state and societal response to counter-radicalization. Our youth bulge, which is more vulnerable to extremism and terrorism, need to be transformed into a strategic asset of the state for a stable future of Pakistan. The state need to see people as an asset because Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world that has the demographic dividend or a youth bulge that forms 57 percent of its population and more than 41 percent of this youth bulge is under 15. The future forecast is that by 2050 Pakistan’s population will almost double on the present birth rate. In other words, it is good to have nuclear weapons and all the military hardware but it will be of no use if we are not able to transform this youth bulge into a positive momentum. The social contract between state and the society needs to be re-written. Informed policies to counter radicalization in Pakistan must take into account the social, cultural and ethnic sensitivities of the various geographic parts of Pakistan.

Moeed Yousaf was of the view that the narrative about why Pakistan is in present predicament, most of us tend to believe that it is externally driven. He said “Though the unfairness of Western foreign policies cannot be discounted, blaming the external sources for our indigenous problems of extremism and violent radicalization will further complicate the problem. Narrative of anti-West sentiment that floats around Pakistan is radicalizing our society. Terrorist groups such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, even if they only manage to kill fellow Pakistani Muslims, justify their existence and acts on the basis of pervasive anti-Western sentiments in Pakistan. Change for counter-radicalization has to come from within Pakistani society. Shifting the blame to external powers will be counter-productive. Solution lies in house not beyond the borders.

Imtiaz Gul, renowned counter-terrorism expert and author of , stated   that seemingly insensitive and lackluster attitude to the vows and predicaments of the people of conflict hit areas has made them vulnerable to radical ideologies.  The challenge of extremism and terrorism can only be tackled only if the political leadership comes to consensus, only when we have rule of law and respect for rule of law.

Ejaz Haider said that the findings of PIPS survey on radicalization are interesting and fairly disturbing. Pakistan is engaged in a conventional war with a large group of heavily armed, well trained and well funded people who occupied Pakistani territory for few years and Pakistan Army had to recapture the land in a same passion as it does against any external enemy in a war. Once the area is cleared and held, the next step is to build and that is where we have fallen away short than what is required.  Commenting on Pakistani military’s alleged dual policies on different militant groups; Ejaz Haider opined that operational constraints of irregular warfare are dissuading Pakistan Army to go simultaneous and decisive action against all the militant groups operating elsewhere in the country. He added that state efforts to create homogeneous Pakistani has backfired and ended up confusing the masses. In doing so there has been a gulf between state and the society. Widespread radicalization is not only filling the ranks of militants but it is also affecting public attitudes towards other sects and religions, which ultimately disturb communal harmony in the society.

Former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Sherry Rehman said that Pakistan’s ungovernable spaces are encroaching from tribal areas to some parts of mainland.  Terrorism cannot be wiped out in a single military operation. The use of force is entirely necessary to restore the writ of state. She opined that state must be the driver in countering radicalization, extremism and terrorism through improving miss-governance and promoting quality public education system. Also, enhanced inter-agency cooperation is required to culminate the threat of extremism and terrorism. She recommended that state coordination, broad political consensus and the much needed civil services reforms are imperative to counter the threat of radicalization.