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Pakistan: The extremism challenge

Monday 4 December 2017, by siawi3

Source: ttps://www.dawn.com/news/1374366/the-extremism-challenge

The extremism challenge

Editorial

Updated December 04, 2017

IT is a pattern that helps militants and terrorists stay ahead of a state in pursuit. Reports that the Peshawar attackers may have been tricked by their handlers into believing they were attacking an intelligence office instead of a civilian vocational training institute demonstrates the craftiness of the enemy.

Brainwashing young men into becoming suicide bombers or fidayeen attackers has a significant history now, but perhaps that task is made easier by the utter lack of a counter-narrative and the absence of any meaningful counter-extremism strategy in the country.

The National Action Plan, drawn up in the wake of the devastating Army Public School attack in December 2014, at least recognised the importance of a counter-extremism strategy in the overall fight against militancy and terrorism, but little has been done to implement it. Indeed, recent events in the country suggest that NAP has effectively been buried and forgotten.

The fear is that the scale of the extremism challenge may be set to grow significantly. In the past, rivalries between extremist groups of different sects have sharpened when one group is perceived to have gained an advantage with the public over the others.

Now, with an election on the horizon and uncertainty prevailing across the political landscape, extremist elements may be further emboldened to grab space from mainstream political parties and drag the national discourse into very troubling directions.

A weak government and a state in which it appears that the various institutions are neither working cohesively nor reading from the script complicates the task of keeping extremism in check.

Perhaps institutions such as parliament or the Election Commission can step up and suggest a revised code of conduct for the elections that explicitly bars extremist rhetoric and speech that can fan hate, spread discord and open sectarian fault lines. It should be clear that doing nothing is not an option.

If it is agreed that Pakistan must remain a constitutional, democratic, people-oriented state, there needs to be clarity on the extremist challenge.

The spectrum from suicide bombers to eager participants in the politics of hate is wide and each part of that spectrum requires a specialised approach to countering it. But the starting point to countering all parts of the militancy and extremist challenge is arguably the same: a determination to return the country and its people to a moderate, inclusive and tolerant centre.

Early on in the fight against the banned TTP, it had appeared that the state had been overwhelmed by the challenge to its authority and clawing back space would be tremendously difficult. It was a hard slog, but determination and strategy helped pull the country back from the edge of the abyss. That same commitment needs to manifest itself if the extremist challenge is to be first contained and eventually rolled back.

A part of the reason why militants sometimes appear to be one step ahead of the state is their tenacity and craftiness. The state must fight back with vigour and assemble all the tools it needs to win what is a battle for the soul of the country.