Familiar message

ONLY the state has a monopoly on the use of force, while armed action by non-state actors is out of the question. Moreover, intolerant behavior against minorities and other disadvantaged groups cannot be countenanced, while religious, sectarian and linguistic differences need to be overcome. This was the gist of the message the army chief gave to an assemblage of divines who had gathered at GHQ on Friday.

The COAS also reiterated the salient features of the 2018 Paigham-i-Pakistan fatwa that over 1,800 clerics belonging to all confessional backgrounds had endorsed to shun militancy and extremism.

It is assumed the conclave was arranged in the context of the rising terrorist violence across Pakistan, in which large numbers of security personnel, as well as civilians, have been martyred. It is hard to disagree with the message of this meeting, and it needs to be amplified further.

However, it appears that the army chief was preaching to the converted. Pro-state ulema are not the problem; extremist preachers who wish to dismantle the state and replace it with their own polity are the main hurdles to peace.

Along with kinetic operations, it is the facilitators of militancy in Pakistan who must be confronted. For example, amongst the sectarian groups and hard-right outfits in the country, many are sympathetic to the aims of terrorist groups like the TTP and IS-K.

Yet these outfits remain active, free to organise and operate. While sectarian death squads that were very active up till a decade ago may have been neutralised by the state, their political and ideological supporters remain free to preach their toxic views.

Hence the establishment’s wish to deradicalise the nation will remain unfulfilled as long as these elements are operating at will. Secondly, a catharsis is needed within the establishment. For decades, the state encouraged jihadi actors, firstly in Afghanistan and then held Kashmir.

Changed geopolitical realities, and the fact that many of these groups went rogue and brought their battle to Pakistan, forced a U-turn, first during the Musharraf era, and then again after the APS Peshawar atrocity. Therefore, the establishment needs to acknowledge that mistakes were made when it supported jihadi actors, and learn from its errors.

Yet beyond the kinetic, legal and administrative actions against extremism, the underlying factors that fuel militancy must also be examined. While there have been numerous cases of ‘educated’ militants, it is mostly the dispossessed and the disadvantaged that become cannon fodder for terrorist groups.

When an uncaring, distant state does nothing for their welfare, many feel that religious militancy is the only solution. Therefore, were the state to ensure rights, education, jobs and above all respect to deprived segments, it could go a long way in quelling militancy.


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