Despite the grandstanding from officialdom, anti-extremism is little more than a buzzword in Pakistan. For while everyone acknowledges the importance of countering extremism, no one in authority appears willing to actually undertake the task — at least not in a coherent and consistent manner. Let alone a strategy, even the fundamental question of jurisdiction remains unresolved. On Tuesday, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence referred a bill proposing anti-extremism measures to the Cabinet Secretariat to decide whether it fell within the domain of the defence ministry or that of the interior. The bill, introduced by a PML-N legislator, suggests that a body be set up specifically to identify the factors likely to give rise to violent extremism, identify those most at risk of being influenced by radicalisation, and formulate policies targeted at the youth to raise awareness of the perils that extremism poses to the country.
That we are still fumbling at the starting line of what should have by now been a sustained campaign is not only dispiriting but downright alarming. Religious extremism has been percolating through this society since decades, becoming increasingly blatant over time. At best, it has divided society along the lines of faith; at worst, it has been the impetus for committing murder in the name of God. Acts of terrible violence — targeted killings, lynchings and bombings, etc — have claimed tens of thousands of lives. It was not until the massacre of more than 130 children in Peshawar in December 2014 that the state came up with a plan to tackle terrorism. However, without being supplemented by a holistic strategy — the much-vaunted ‘counter-narrative’ — to weed out bigotry and intolerance from society, the 20-point National Action Plan was a laundry list at best. Even that has not been properly implemented. For instance, Nacta — the organisation responsible for crafting a counterterrorism policy — has not been strengthened as stipulated; it remains a moribund entity. For all intents and purposes, NAP is now little more than a reminder of a brief period when there was collective political resolve to push back against violent extremism.
Instead, perversely enough, the state has muzzled voices of reason, ‘disappeared’ individuals with views critical of the establishment, and demonised those professing ‘secular’ opinions. In other words, progressive ideas that should have been allowed space have been further marginalised. It is hardly surprising that despite the success of the military operations against terrorist groups, almost every day continues to bring forth evidence that Pakistan’s slide towards obscurantism continues unchecked. Violent extremism is no longer the preserve of the poor and uneducated segment of society: as recent examples show, even university-educated youth are becoming agents of terror. With the growing disquiet in the global community over Pakistan’s militancy problem, the country’s standing in the world is compromised — and no amount of bombast can change that.