Countering extremism demands a multi-faceted approach that not only addresses the immediate threats but also tackles the socio-economic and political factors that give rise to radicalization. A transformative shift in mindset, coupled with concrete actions, is indispensable to create a more resilient and harmonious society in Pakistan. In the realm of security dynamics, the exclusive authority of the state over the use of force is indisputable. The very idea of armed actions by non-state entities is categorically dismissed. Furthermore, any form of intolerance towards minorities or disadvantaged groups is deemed unacceptable, necessitating the overcoming of religious, sectarian, and linguistic disparities. These key principles formed the essence of the address delivered by the military’s top brass to a gathering of religious scholars convened at the General Headquarters (GHQ) last Friday.
Addressing extremism goes beyond kinetic, legal, and administrative measures. It necessitates a comprehensive examination of the underlying factors that fuel militancy. While instances of ‘educated’ militants exist, the majority of recruits hail from the dispossessed and disadvantaged segments of society. When a distant and indifferent state fails to address their welfare needs, religious militancy becomes an alluring alternative. Therefore, ensuring the rights, education, employment, and, above all, respect for the marginalized sections of society could substantially contribute to quelling the roots of militancy.
For the nation’s radicalization efforts to bear fruit, it is imperative to curb the unbridled activities of such elements. Additionally, a profound self-reflection within the establishment is warranted. Decades of support for jihadist actors, initially in Afghanistan and later in Kashmir, were a strategic miscalculation. Evolving geopolitical realities and the rogue actions of some of these groups prompted a policy reversal, first during the Musharraf era and again following the heinous APS Peshawar attack. Acknowledging these past mistakes and learning from them is an essential step for the establishment. Beyond mere military interventions, confronting the enablers of militancy within Pakistan is imperative. Notably, within the country’s sectarian groups and hard-right organizations, there exists sympathy for the objectives of terrorist entities such as the TTP and IS-K. Despite this alignment, these groups continue to function freely, organizing and operating with apparent impunity. While the state may have neutralized sectarian death squads that were once highly active, their ideological and political supporters continue to propagate toxic views unchecked.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) reiterated the fundamental tenets of the 2018 Paigham-i-Pakistan fatwa, a landmark declaration endorsed by over 1,800 clerics representing diverse confessional backgrounds. This edict unequivocally condemned militancy and extremism. The assembly seems to have been organized against the backdrop of escalating terrorist violence across Pakistan, resulting in the martyrdom of a significant number of security personnel and civilians. The message conveyed during this meeting is undoubtedly commendable and warrants further emphasis. It is apparent that the COAS was addressing those who are already aligned with the state’s perspective. The challenge does not lie with pro-state religious scholars; instead, the primary obstacles to peace are extremist preachers who aspire to dismantle the state and establish their own political order.