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Confronting violent extremists

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced the long-awaited national security policy yesterday, focusing on the operational aspects of governmental response to the threat of violent extremism. Much of what he announced was expected, such as the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) co-ordinating efforts at the national, provincial and district levels. Civilian law enforcement agencies are to be reinforced, anti-terrorism laws strengthened, and the judicial system made more responsive to the situation. In another important step that has taken long in coming pertains to forming counter terrorist financing units in the provinces to stop the flow of money to terrorist organisations.

That is the easy part. The more difficult but important proposal included in the policy calls for a review of the role of education in the development of extremist mindset so as to make necessary amends. It needs to be remembered that the mindset is not a component of our people’s DNA; it is the outcome of an Islamisation campaign the late an unlamented military dictator General Ziaul Haq undertook in an attempt to legitimise his illegitimate rule, and later to lend support to the US-sponsored jihadist adventure in Afghanistan. Foreign funded sectarian seminaries were established all over the country. In the government-run mainstream schools curriculums were changed, distorting historical facts to inculcate hatred against non-Muslims and love for Muslim warriors. Rational thinking was discouraged. Well qualified university professors were hounded out of their jobs to be replaced by professionally incompetent individuals associated with the Jamaat-i-Islami – Zia’s key political prop. These people since have continued to dominate the education establishment, perpetuating the mindset created during the Zia years. Small wonder then if a large section of those who went to school during this time have minds polluted with extremist ideas.

Reversing the wrongs made in the name of religion is not an easy task. General Musharraf, claiming to promote enlightened modernism, brought in curriculum reform in 2006 but shirked from touching the real issue: use of Islam for the promotion of jihadist ideology. Teaching of Islamic studies as compulsory subject for Muslim students and ethics for others should have taken care of religious concerns. But it was deemed necessary to continue to discourage teaching of other subjects such as languages, social studies, even physical sciences in an unadulterated form. More recently, ie, last year Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif tried to initiate curriculum reform in the light of the previous federal government’s draft National Education Policy that proposed a wide range of changes aimed at promoting tolerance, democratic values and higher standards of learning. Which required taking out several religion-related chapters from the text books. He too made a hasty retreat in the face of stiff resistance from religious parties, withdrawing already published books from the market.

Notably, till Zia’s usurpation of power, public schools taught Islamic studies as a separate subject, and other subjects as they were meant to be taught. The government needs to show some courage and ask the objectors if the education system in those years produced bad Muslims. Religious parties may still want to create trouble since they need such issues to claim space in the political arena. They have substantial nuisance power. But considering the price, that must not deter the government from doing what it required to change the mindset that accepts bigotry, and at some level, is sympathetic to, if not supportive of, religious extremists who have killed an estimated 50,000 Pakistanis.

The new policy must also put a check on irresponsible media behaviour. There is no justification whatsoever to give air time to people like the Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz, who has been openly propagating his ill-informed – in the words of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, ‘aql or khird key beghair (devoid of wisdom and reason) – view of Islamic teachings, and terms the Constitution and democracy as un-Islamic. He is repeatedly invited to talk shows to make senseless, convoluted arguments in support of barbarians brutally beheading Pakistanis to impose their will on this country. Similarly, the TTP spokesmen should not be shown on TV screens making demands or justifying their activities to score political points.

Giving them media coverage surely does not qualify to be justified as freedom of expression. Notably, during a heightened period of IRA violence – from October 1988 through September 1994 – a democracy like Britain had banned television and radio from broadcasting the voice of IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, chief Gerry Adams and also of some other groups’ leaders. That the British government said was done to prevent Sinn Fein from using the media for political advantage.

The new policy is said to include a proposal to highlight in the media atrocities committed by terrorists. That indeed is important. Taliban apologists like JI chief Munawwar Hassan has been brushing aside such unspeakable barbarities as the brutal beheading of 23 security personnel to demand the government should be the first to declare cease-fire. Such heartless people need to be effectively confronted. The government must also consider putting a media ban on giving projection to TTP, its supporters and sympathisers.


Saida Fazal, "Confronting violent extremists," Business recorder. 2014-02-27.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political problems , Political leaders , Terrorist attacks , National security , Security policy , Terrorist groups , Taliban-Pakistan , Violence , Terrorism , NACTA , Pakistan