Impact of Extremism on National Harmony in Pakistan

By Talal Raza

The radicalization of Pakistan commenced with the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As per the need of that time, it is a public knowledge now that with the help of foreign governments, many students from seminaries, adhering to Deobandi school of thought including Jamia Haqqani and Jamia Binoria, were trained by Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan to wage “Jihad” against the infidel USSR. After USSR’s departure from Afghanistan, the same radicals were allegedly sent to fight in Kashmir during the 1990 uprising against the Indian government. The space provided to these radical groups had far-reaching implications for Pakistani society and it affected every segment of society. A mindset was created that branded these militants as guardians of Islam who had earlier waged Jihad against USSR in Afghanistan and India in Kashmir (Rana, 2014).

In the post 9-11 scenario, keeping in view the changing geopolitical situation, Pakistan joined the US led war against terrorism and faced a difficult situation whereby the same groups that were happily tolerated by the state previously were banned, their leadership arrested or killed as a result of military operations. This didn’t go well with certain militants who began to target Pakistani security forces. The situation specially spiraled out of control after 2007 Red Mosque military operation. It gave a new impetus to militant activities and terrorist attacks became quite common in major urban centers of Pakistan (Rana, 2014)

Although our stance changed at the international level against the militant groups, it won’t be wrong to say that Pakistani society couldn’t completely detach itself from the extremist mindset it had allowed to strengthen between 1980- 2000.  In fact, the post 9-11 scenario was an eye opener for Pakistan as it made us realize how deeply extremism had penetrated in Pakistani society and exposed the confusions prevailing in all segments of society in diligently going after the extremist elements. This can be explained by following instances:

  • the on and off policy of military operations and peace agreements of governments with militant groups in tribal areas (Rana, 2014) is believed to only provide breathing space to militant groups to consolidate their position.
  • As Pakistan joined US-led coalition against the militants, the division persisted within the ranks of armed forces. A retired Colonel, on condition of anonymity noted that a number of army officers resigned from army because they didn’t want to “fight their own people” (personal communication, 20 April, 2015). Also, a number of high profile terrorist attacks like 2014 Naval dockyard attack (Mir, 2014) and 2011 Mehran base attack (Express Tribune, 2011) suggested that there were sympathizers within the armed forces’ ranks that facilitated these terrorist attacks.
  • Furthermore, though the political and security establishment unequivocally reiterated that they would no longer tolerate militant groups of every hue and color, it is still perceived that extremist groups continue to be tolerated. For instance, some quarters believe that extremist elements within Baluchistan were being allowed to operate with impunity to counter separatist Baluch groups (Flight from Balochistan, 2014). It is also believed that groups like Jamat –ud-Dawa still continue to operate freely (groups like JUD may not be fighting against Pakistan but its former members have joined anti Pakistan groups like TTP. In short, it is believed that such groups provide training camp to Anti-Pakistan groups)
  • The political leadership has remained divided for a long time with parties like PPP, ANP, MQM supporting a military action against Taliban whereas parties like JI, PML-N and PTI advocated for dialogue with Taliban. This has only complicated the efforts to build a counter-extremist narrative and justifying military operations in tribal areas. Even when PML-N came to power, they wanted to pursue dialogue with Taliban (Rana, 2014). It is said that it was military’s initiative to launch military operation in North Waziristan in June, 2014 in the aftermath of Karachi airport attack (A.Khan, personal communication, 15 July, 2014).
  • While some consensus could be seen among all stakeholders after the vicious 2014 APS Peshawar attack and it was followed by a comprehensive national action plan opted to deal with extremism, nothing concrete could be achieved so far (Wasim, 2015).

This shows how Pakistani state has so far struggled to counter extremism at the operational level. It has also exposed the divisions within our ranks with one group willing to accommodate militant groups whereas the other intends to employ hard power to uproot the menace of terrorism. It is coupled by state’s weak narrative against extremist mindset.  Rana (2014, April 06) pointed out the flaws and noted that the religious ideological narrative, that for long formed the basis of our sociopolitical structure, foreign policy and strategic doctrine, had been hijacked by militants. In the post 9-11 scenario they exploited this narrative to portray themselves as true custodians of Islam and projected Pakistan as diverging from it under external compulsions. All this contributed towards further confusing the public opinion which weren’t sure whether Pakistan was fighting against extremist elements or the “custodians of Islam”.

Fast forward to 2014 APS Peshawar attack, apparently there was a realization that a renewed approach was needed to tackle the issue of extremism through hard and soft power. Consequently, many promises were made in the name of “National Action Plan” in the need for building a counter narrative was emphasized. The seriousness and political maturity displayed by all stakeholders made one believe that perhaps this action plan will prevent our national harmony from further erosion at the hands of extremism. Fast forward to August 2016, ironically, the institution that had been tasked to complete this job called National Counter Terrorism Authority remains understaffed and under-resourced for mysterious reasons even today.  In fact, in the wake of August Quetta carnage that killed  70 people and claimed by TTP-Ahrar, we have now come to a point where military establishment has openly begun accusing the political establishment for not playing its due role in effective implementation of National Action Plan.

In the midst of this dismal situation, one wonders if there is any way forward. I asked this question from the people in position of authority to analysts, who deeply understood the security environment of Pakistan. One of the answers still echoes my mind: “Pakistan main siyasi jamatein makhiyon k chattey main hath dene nahee, 5 saal sakun se hakoomat karne aateen hain, (in Pakistan, political parties come into power to complete their terms peacefully; not to mess with the beehive of terrorism). In fact, more than any other “National Action Plan” or law, Pakistan needs visionary leadership with political acumen to uproot the menace of extremism.

 

 References:

Flight from Balochistan. (2014, October 14). Dawn News. Retrieved from http://www.dawn.com/

Mir, A. (2014, September 10). ‘Inside help’ in Karachi attack sets alarm bells ringing. The News. Retrieved from http://www.thenews.com.pk/

Naval base raid: Finally, report admits inside job in Mehran attack. (2011, June 30). The Express Tribune. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/

Rana, M.A. (2014, April 06). The state’s lost narrative. Dawn News. Retrieved from http://www.dawn.com/

Rana, M.A. (2014). Tribal insurgency in FATA: Evolution and prospects. In M. W. Yusuf (Ed.), Insurgency and counterinsurgency in South Asia (pp.107-129). New Delhi: Foundation Books

Wasim, A. (2015, April 21). Govt accused of going slow on National Action Plan. Dawn News. Retrieved from http://www.dawn.com/

 

 

 

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Pakistan’s Cyber-crime Bill-A Non issue?

By Talal Raza

In August 2016, Pakistani parliament passed a cyber crime bill. The government regards this bill as a comprehensive legal framework to deal with new types of offences such cyber harassment, cyber stalking, electronic fraud and cyber terrorism. However, rights activists have raised concerns about the bill and believe that the way it is drafted, it could result in curbing civil liberties. 
There is no doubt that a cyber crime bill was essential as there was an exponential rise in cyber crimes in Pakistan in recent times. Most of the cases are related to online women harassment. However, in the absence of legal framework it was difficult for law enforcement agencies to arrest the abusers of online spaces. Interestingly, Pakistan also has a history of laws being abused to settle personal scores. Recently, I was told that in the past, laws against terrorism had been used against political opponents to settle personal scores. It is within this context that rights activists fear that cyber crime bill might be yet another law that may be used to block content and punish dissent in online spaces.
Although this debate has started in Pakistan just now, it is be noted that many of my journalist friends thought that the issues of privacy and surveillance was a non-issue for them and they had “bigger and better issues” to talk about such as poverty, terrorism and poor governance. However, this also reflects that civil society also needs to go out and make internet privacy issue a public matter. Without awareness, the battle against internet censorship and surveillance cannot be won by the rights activists alone. “

War hysteria and Kashmir

By Talal Raza

As the world celebrated the World Peace day on September 21 this year,  the states of Pakistan and India seem to have taken a huge leap backwards on the bilateral engagement. It reminds me of the year 2000-2001 when the two countries were at loggerheads in the aftermath of Indian Parliament attack. Leaders of both countries were pretending to be tough. Even forces were deployed along the line of control and the rhetoric of “war preparedness” was in the air. It seemed as if war was inevitable and one bullet from either side would trigger a large scale armed conflict. Thankfully, nothing of this sort happened and both countries were back on utilizing diplomatic channels.

Fast forward to 2016, in the after math of Uri attack in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir that killed 18 Indian soldiers, we are back to those days of blame game, claims of giving the enemy a “befitting reply” and nation’s “war preparedness”.  Just like in the past, the vitriolic speeches from both sides coupled with pumped up nationalism is at worst, blinding the people on both sides about the possible consequences that they may have to bear as a result of an armed clash between the two nuclear states of South Asia.

The fact is, Pakistan and India have fought three wars over Kashmir and neither of them had been able to strengthen either party’s clutches on Kashmir. In fact, these violent encounters have only contributed towards making the Kashmir issue more complicated. Going towards another armed escalation is least likely to help resolve Kashmir dispute and cross border terrorism.

Today, we have reached a choking point where India conveniently brings up the issue of cross border terrorism in response to Pakistan’s mundane “fillers” of reminding India about respecting UN resolutions on Kashmir. Deep down, these rigid positions are not going to help Kashmiris.

Although, it would be beyond the scope of this article to propose any tangible strategies to resolve Kashmir issue, the solution can be found in the Modi’s August speech that talked about following Vajpayee’s path on Kashmir.  However, Mr.Modi apparently seems to forget that Vajpayee’s path to Kashmir was of engagement with Pakistan and Kashmiris through dialogue rather than war. In fact, the high handed use of force against Kashmiris coupled with fiery rhetoric against Pakistan has only helped in “internationalizing” the Kashmir, typically a diplomatic goal that Pakistan has been trying to achieve. While India continues to make tall claims of isolating Pakistan in the comity of nations, the fact is that it stands completely isolated over the Kashmir issue in international community. The sanity warrants that Prime Minister Modi shift his focus from war-mongering and act upon the path of Vajpayee by taking Kashmir as a political issue.

Call for Youth involvement in the UN Progress study on the role of youth in international peace and security

By Talal Raza

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In the wake of 9/11 attacks, the Global War on Terror began in Afghanistan to hunt down terrorists responsible for disrupting the peace of the world. Pakistan also joined the coalition and provided logistical support to NATO and US armed forces to carry out their military operations inside Afghanistan. However, the subsequent backlash from the home gown terrorists for aiding the NATO forces was overwhelming. Eventually in 2007, we came to a point where there used to be a suicide terrorist attack at least once a week in major urban centers of Pakistan.

The government opted for various measures to deal with terrorism. From intermittent military operations to half-hearted political reconciliation initiatives, a number of strategies were tested to contain the menace of terrorism. Although, the security situation has considerably improved since then, the battle to root out extremism from the society continues.

In the midst of this, Pakistanis have been trying to evolve an intellectual discourse to discern the root causes of extremism. Amid many factors, one of the root causes for violent extremism highlighted was the bulging youth population. However, hardly such forums acknowledged the role of young peace builders within their respective communities. Ironically, the onus of rising extremism was put on youth despite that they had been excluded at all levels of decision making.

Despite this, in the wake of UN Security Council Resolution 2250, the calls for UN progress Study highlighting the role of youth in peace and security is a welcome step. At the moment, a lead author and an Advisory Group has also been notified by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to conduct the progress study. Furthermore, the nomination of two Pakistanis in the Advisory group gives immense pleasure and satisfaction that Pakistan is represented well in the group.

However, it seems that the lead author and the Advisory Group have been given meager time and resources to complete a gigantic task. With only two people from Pakistan in the Advisory Group, it would be impossible for them to map genuine stories of many young peace builders working in Pakistan in a short span of time.  Moreover, since the report is about youth, it is the hope of many young peace activists from Pakistan that their feedback is also given due weightage in the study.

In this regard, I believe that a Pakistan based youth advisory committee for the progress study should be established by the UN Pakistan. The Pakistan youth advisory committee shall comprise of members of youth-led NGOs, youth leaders and young academicians aged 18-29. The Youth advisory committee will work in liaison with Advisory Group members from Pakistan and help them prepare a country specific study on the “Role of Pakistani youth in peace and security.” The report shall be submitted for review to the Advisory Group. After the approval, the main highlights of the country specific report could be incorporated by the lead author.

This advisory committee won’t be a liability on UNDP in any way as the committee would function on voluntary basis. Once the report is submitted, it will be up to you to either dissolve the committee or assign them other tasks.

In fact, the same model could be replicated in every country so that more youth leaders are able to share their stories and contributions towards peace.

I have already shared my ideas with Pakistan’s UN Resident Coordinator almost a fortnight ago. I have also written to UN Youth envoy. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear from them.

 

Note: 

For the past five years, Talal has been working with different youth led organizations in areas of education and peace. Currently, he is working with Bytes for All, Pakistan on internet rights and also pursuing an independent research with the USIP’s research grant. He can be reached at talalraza@rocketmail.com

Two-day national conference organized by PCS

Department of Peace and Conflict Studies organized a two-day National Conference here at National Defence University Islamabad.

The conference was organized under the title of  “Pakistan’s Policy of Countering Violent Extremism: Progress and Challenges” in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

Renowned academicians and intellectuals from across Pakistan were invited to share their thoughts on the contentious issue of extremism plaguing Pakistan.

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The Nation adds: 

Top academicians and scholars have said that flawed policies at home and troubled relations with India and Afghanistan are aggravating ethnic, tribal and religious militancy, urging civil and military leadership to revisit the policies.
“The flawed policies of Pakistani state and our troubled relationship with India and Afghanistan are responsible for our difficulties,” said Prof Dr Tahir Amin, Vice Chancellor Bahauddin Zakaria University, Multan.
He was speaking on the inaugural day of the two-day National Conference organised by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Department of Peace and Conflict Studies of National Defence University on the issue of “Pakistan’s Policy of Countering Violent Extremism: Progress and Challenges.
”The conference is being organised to create a discourse on Pakistan’s internal and external security challenges due to violent extremism and the actions taken against them, said Dr Arshi Saleem Hashmi, the conference coordinator.
Prof Amin suggested that a perfect implementation of rule of law; continuity of democratic process; socio-economic justice; sensitivity to ethnic, linguistic and cultural plurality; as well as paradigmatic shift in foreign policy towards neighbours are the factors necessary to build upon the successes achieved by Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
He stated that FATA should be made a separate province to overcome the tribal and ethnic militancy.
The conference is being attended by eminent scholars from across the country including Prof Moonis Ahmar, Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, Dr Minhas Majeed Khan, Dr Farhan Hanif Siddiqui and Dr Naeem Ahmed.
Prof Moonis Ahmar, Dean Faculty of Social Science and Meritorious Professor at the University of Karachi, while presenting his research paper on “Conceptual Understanding of Violent Extremism: Pakistan and the Predicament of Youth” said, “Extremism, if not controlled, can take a violent shape, it can polarise the youth of the country, and destabilise not only society but also the state.
He suggested that extremism in its violent form evolves in the minds of people and can only be overcome if there is positive transformation of human minds to have tolerance.
Dr Minhas Majeed, Assistant Professor at the Department of IR, University of Peshawar, highlighted the “New Dynamics of the Post 9/11 Redefinition of Violence in the name of Religion” during the seminar.
She was of the view that the unpredictable menace of religious intolerance and extremism that emanates from internal as well as external security issues has not only disrupted the social fabric of society but has also impacted Pakistan’s standing in religion and global politics.
She also referred to a survey study quoting that sectarian violence in Pakistan has been decreased by 48 percent from 2009-2015.
Prof Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi, political and defence analyst said that the radical mindset was initially created by socialisation process initiated by Pakistani government through education and by using media as well as the state machinery.
The militant organisations have wrong perception about Islam.
He analysed the social and political change in violent manifestation of religio-political objectives.
D Farhan Hanif Siddiqui, associate professor at Quaid-e-Azam University, was of the view that besides religion, intolerance and radicalisation are prevalent in our restive political culture.
He presented his findings specifically on “Rising Intolerance and Radicalisation Leading to Violent Extremism in Pakistan.
”Dr Naeem Ahmed, associate professor at department of international relations, University of Karachi, also highlighted that the dangerous phase of sectarian menace began after 9/11 incident when the domestic sectarian militant organisations established their links with international terrorist groups e.g. al-Qaeda and IS and started playing the role of the facilitator and also became part of global Jihadism.
In a robust discussion that followed during the sessions, participants agreed that civilian government and military should work in liaison with each other for the ultimate elimination of the militant sectarian groups, which is largely dependent upon the determination and political will of the state.
The seminar was well attended by policymakers, legal experts, members of civil society and media, and a large number of students.

Pak observer: 

ZARB-E-AZB IN FINAL STAGE: JANJUA

Islamabad—Reintegration and reconciliation strategies are the only alternative policy measures required to ensure stable and sustainable Pak-Afghan relations. National Security Adviser Lt General (R) Nasser Khan Janjua said this while addressing on the second day of the two-day National Conference organized by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Department of Peace and Conflict Studies of National Defence University here Thursday. The title of the conference was “Pakistan’s Policy of Countering Violent Extremism: Progress and Challenges”.
Gen Janjua highlighted civil-military cooperation observed in Operation Zarb-e-Azb saying terrorism would be wiped out as a result of the joint efforts by the civil and military leaderships.
He asked the participants, especially the youth to dig deeper and understand the history and conflicts going on and start asking questions.
Major General Fida Hussain Malik in his brief address suggested there should be a non-Interference treaty between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “It is essential for Pakistan to take a correct measure of all the implications and fallouts of instability in Afghanistan that directly affect Pakistan’s own security situation,” he said.
Dr Tughral Yamin informed the audience that Operation Zarb-e-Azb was in the final phase and the results and successes are already visible in the form of national confidence and return of meaningful Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

‘India wants peaceful Pakistan under its influence’

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”Friends quarrel but they remain friends. Enemies cooperate, but they remain enemies.”

This is how lecturer from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad Mr. Raja Qaiser described the Indo-Pak relations while speaking to a group of students here at Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, National Defence University.

Mr. Qaiser presented his views on Indo-Pak relations from Indian perspective.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr.Raja said that India wanted a peaceful Pakistan under its influence in South Asia.

Mr.Qaiser noted that the current BJP led government in India didn’t want to consider Pakistan a significant actor in its security calculus.  He said that the minus Pakistan Indian policy for SAARC won’t succeed as both countries were interconnected and embedded in mutual hostility.

Mr. Qaiser also said that the Indo-Pak relations had “regressive ability” which meant that no matter how much they flourished, one event could bring down the progress made in harmonizing the relations.

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Explaining the attitudes of International community towards India and Pakistan, Mr. Raja noted that the Global powers had the tendency to bracket India with China and Pakistan with Afghanistan.  He said that the US-India nuclear deal signed in 2008 was a moment of silence for Pakistan as we remained American allies in war against terrorism.

He said that the Indian values of liberal democracy, composite culture and secularism had been replaced by Hindutva and Majoritarianism.

He said that a neutral government in Afghanistan with its face towards Pakistan, rather India, is needed for Pakistan.

 

A call for Peace through poetry

The following Poem is written by PCS M Phil Scholar Eman Malik in remembrance of her brother Lt. Faiz Sultan Malik who embraced Martydom on June 11, 2009 while fighting against militants in Mohmand Agency.

Praising the bravery of his brother, Ms. Eman Malik said that his brother volunteered for the Operation Sher Dil against terrorists in Mohmand Agency in 2009.

“He led his men with exemplary motivation & successfully got control of two mountain ridges, named Zaray SAR & Sur Qammar from where terrorists used to control whole Mohmand agency. Lt Faiz rescued an injured soldier as well,” Ms. Malik said adding that he managed to eliminate 35 terrorists.

Ms.Eman said that his brother finally embraced martyrdom by receiving 22 bullets in his chest. Owing to intense fighting between army and the militants, his body could not be recovered for two days from the mountain slope.

In the light of his sacrifices, Lt. Sultan was awarded Sitara-e-Basaalat.Eman malik poem