Untitled Document
Untitled Document
National seminar
Creating an environment that counteracts militant ideologies and radicalism in Pakistan

Published: October 21, 2013


Ambiguous state policies, incoherent and often conflicting institutional responses, distorted education syllabi, and media’s inability to educate the people are among the factors that have let the perils of extremism and militancy grow in Pakistan. Failure to address these areas and to evolve and implement a comprehensive de-radicalization program in Pakistan would not only strengthen the militants’ ideological narratives in society but also weaken the state’s capacity to counter terrorism and militancy. This was the gist of discussion during a seminar titled “Creating an environment that counteracts militant ideologies and radicalism in Pakistan,” jointly organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) and Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) in Islamabad on October 11, 2013.

The four sessions of the seminar, including inaugural session, were chaired by former director general Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj-Gen (retired) Athar Abbas, former inspector general of police (IGP) and interior secretary Tariq Khosa, senior journalist Zahid Hussain and defence analyst Gen (retired) Talat Masood, respectively.


Director PIPS Muhammad Amir Rana and senior adviser NOREF Marco Mezzera described the purpose of the seminar in their welcome remarks saying it was meant to explore ways and discuss the required role of Pakistani state and society in creating an environment that helps people resist appeal of militant ideologies and contributes to developing prevention and response strategies.


Athar Abbas said Pakistan is a highly polarized society in which numbers of problems persist. He drew the attention of audience towards the Swat rehabilitation model which he dubbed as a success story. He said there is a need for the use of hard power to provide a way for soft power which would be applicable in long term, and for that purpose amendments in legislation are also essential. Responding to a question, he admitted the intervention of military in politics and policy-making and stated that it is a changed military now while referring to the developments in the last five years. He argued that pressure groups such as the judiciary, media and civil society would keep the civil-military balance in check. However “to put the entire responsibility on the military and absolve state organs of responsibility would not be just or fair [as] the military cannot substitute for the absence of good governance in the provinces,” he maintained.

Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi said in his keynote address that state is unwilling to protect its citizens in parts of Pakistan. If the people have to negotiate their security with armed groups, the primacy of the state is greatly undermined. In this regard, “the intellectual, societal, and political underpinnings are weak, confused, and contradictory which is a serious and weakest element to counter terrorism,” he said. Ideological extremism, intolerance and terrorism do not emerge overnight, and all this was a state project, he alleged. “Four elements including military means, political means, economic development, and mindset built a narrative and primacy of the state,” he stated. He noted that a comprehensive alternate narrative is needed that will require a comprehensive effort from the state. Dr Rizvi nonetheless seconded Mr. Abbas’s argument that Pakistan’s civil-military relationship has changed more into interdependence, adding that it is an irreversible process. “The civil-military relationship in Pakistan will never go back to the original model of military intervention,” he said.


“Ways to strengthen Pakistani media’s progressive role in reporting conflict and thwarting appeal for militant ideologies”

Tariq Khosa said media should be part of the efforts meant to develop a narrative to tackle religious extremism in Pakistan. He described religious extremism as a “mindset” and “a product of faulty policies.” He said “mullah-military nexus” produced militants for proxy wars. It was a way of dealing with issues in a non-conventional way. He said there is a need for a visionary political decision to fight militancy and remove the sense of fear and insecurity among the citizens. He noted that Pakistani state is weak, with lack of institutions and lack of rule of law. “Tackling the militancy is a struggle within Pakistani society. We have to decide whether we want Jinnah’s Pakistan or Zia’s decadence,” he stated.

TV anchor Saleem Safi said media is being used by militants in a tactful way to promote militant ideologies and extremism. He said there are three main reasons for the media’s failure to play a progressive role in conflict reporting: cultural issues, the media’s internal dynamics and contradictions in the state’s official policy line. In many parts of the country, especially in the conflict zones, journalists face life threats and cannot report issues independently. In the run for rating, most of the time the electronic media puts key national issues on the backburner. In this process, the media is promoting ideas of militancy sometimes without itself knowing the fact. Besides, there are policy confusions and contradictions in state institutions which create confusion even among media persons.

Shahzada Zulfiqar, a journalist from Quetta, said journalists should be objective, unbiased and should only provide facts to the people. It is nonetheless not an easy job particularly for the journalists working in conflict zones including Balochistan where they face threats both from the militants and state institutions including military. He also noted that during the last about two years 28 militant groups were banned in Balochistan but 50 per cent of them were still engaged in propagating their agenda through the media.


“Mainstream and madrassa education: needs and imperatives for achieving peace and harmony in Pakistan”

Zahid Hussain said that the existing three-tier education system in Pakistan serves as a source of polarization in society. Despite the fact that terrorist attacks happen in Pakistan almost on daily basis, we are in a constant state of denial, he said and added  that media is also responsible for this retrogressive narrative. He further argued that the way the Pakistani media glorifies militants is quite unprecedented in the world.

Dr. Rubina Saigol blamed the national syllabus for radicalization of society and said it mainly focuses on the two nation theory leaving no space for other religions. The contents of the textbooks in some way also promote rightwing political parties. She said a review of textbooks and curriculum from early 1950s to 2010 and after reveals how it became distorted and skewed in favor of larger Muslim community in Pakistan and Islam. However she noted that the madrassa literature is less focused on India and more on West and gender. She concluded her remarks by saying: “We need a core curriculum based on fundamental rights. Ethno-chauvinism can be undermined by this. Without this, we cannot fight extremism and radicalism.”

Dr. Dietrich Reetz, a scholar from the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin specified the communication as the main problem. He stated that ideological structures and mindset could be found in different contexts and it has no direct connection with madrassas as such. “Why not rather strengthen state, public schools and institutions which is the most desirable thing”, he added. His assumption was that religious schools and others are part of a market presentation. When talking about sectarianism, one should not neglect their [madrassas] use as brand and market situation. The regulation of this market requires high level of maturity and setting high incentives.

Maulana Ammar Khan Nasir, deputy director Al-Sharia Academy Gujranwala, spoke on how to deal with militancy in the context of Muslims’ pride of the past glory, history and rise and fall of nations and civilizations. He said without understanding and responding to structural or foundational aspects of a religious mind, either moderate or conservative, one cannot tackle the religious extremism by using existing political, strategic and socio-cultural frameworks alone. He said religious mindset of most of Muslims is strongly identified with concepts of past glory of Islamic civilization and history and is disconnected from the emerging realities and there is a need for initiating an intellectual and academic debate among clergy with a view to revisit these concepts and reconstruct them so that they become relevant to the modern world.

Dr. Qibla Ayaz, dean at Faculty of Islamic and Oriental Studies, University of Peshawar, while speaking on the syllabus of madrassas, said apart from the syllabus there was a need to look into the atmosphere in which students in seminaries lived. There are no facilities of extracurricular activities in the madrassas. After class timings, students in the seminaries spend most of their time in watching videos of speeches by different clerics on CDs and cell phones about Kashmir, Somalia and Afghanistan and get indoctrinated. He said the HEC should collaborate with the seminaries to devise extracurricular activities for the students so that they can spend their free time in a constructive manner. He said during the tenure of the previous government, there were talks about madrassa reforms and bringing the seminaries into the mainstream. The very terms ‘reforms’ and bringing madrassas into mainstream were offensive for the seminaries, he said. And the plan could not achieve the results because instead of the ministry of education or the Higher Education Commission (HEC), the issue was taken up by the interior ministry as though it was a security issue.


“Rehabilitation and reintegration of Pakistan militants: prospects and methodologies”

Gen (retired) Talat Masood described the gravity of the situation of militancy and extremism in Pakistan and underscored the need for the state to come up with a comprehensive and coherent policy to deal with it. He was of the view that the government should take leading role in countering militancy and rehabilitating militants which is only possible with a strong political will.  

Safdar Sial, research analyst at PIPS, presented de-radicalization and counter-radicalization approaches and models being used in different parts of world including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia, United States, Norway and Germany etc., and their relevance for Pakistan. He noted that despite their context-specific attributes, these models particularly focused on: countering appeal of militant ideologies; changing attitudes & views; reintegrating militants into society; and using de-radicalized individuals in awareness & education campaigns, public discussions, and counter-narrative programs. He said elements of reconciliation, counseling, dialogue, rehabilitation and reintegration, etc. embedded in a de-radicalization program in Pakistan could provide the space and opportunity to the militants, either detained or at large, to look towards alternatives in life, which are currently largely missing for them.

Qazi Jameel, DIG, National Technical Specialist, KP Police, Peshawar presented a review of Pakistan’s Swat model of militants’ rehabilitation. He said the Swat model was based on the idea of maintaining the self-respect of the detained individuals so that they disengage from militants. Meanwhile detainees were imparted education in true Islamic perspective in order to dispel the misperceptions and wrong interpretation of religion they held. Also, the Swat model focused on low-level cadres, which were backbone of the Taliban army, along with those who had developed mental alignment with the Taliban. In absence of this program, many of them could have assumed of leadership roles.

Muhammad Amir Rana described challenges, prospects and ways of reintegration and rehabilitation of militants in the perspective of Pakistan’s diverse militant landscape. For that purpose he presented four prototypes of militants that offer dissimilar challenges and opportunities. He highlighted specific areas for each prototype where the government could initially intervene. He was of the view that although counter-terrorism and de-radicalization are inter-related they should be studied and dealt with separately.   

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