A holistic approach to counter extremism


Saleem Qamar Butt

The radicalisation of minds, progressing to ever expanding extremism and terrorism needs a fresh holistic approach to counter and overcome this menacing problem. It is a well-established fact that the radicalisation of human minds points towards the failure of education and religious institutions as well as society and the country as a whole. What commenced as a Jihad in Afghanistan in 1979 at the behest of America, struck back as a global war against terrorism in the post 9/11 incident; this time led by the US duly supported by all NATO and other allies against yesteryear’s Jihadi friends labelled as terrorists. The 20-year war against terror resulted in the total annihilation of Afghanistan, besides the devastation of other Muslim countries on false and concocted pretexts e.g. Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Sudan. However, both times, the situation in Afghanistan posed serious ramifications for Pakistan that remained rightly or wrongly on the side of the US from 1979 to 2021. Today, Pakistan as a country and as a society is facing existential social, political, ethnic, sectarian and economic challenges despite the greatest kinetic and non-kinetic success by the Pakistan Armed Forces in erstwhile FATA and Balochistan and at a heavy human, social, economic and political price.

However, Pakistan is not alone in its sufferings; today the US and allies are also facing a similar phenomenon of radicalism, extremism and terrorism as a backlash of their international policies as was discussed in ‘Revisiting Newton’s Third Law.’ On January 6, 2021, the real-world consequences of this deception and delusion became clear as thousands of pro-Trump rioters launched a violent assault on the US Capitol, intent on stopping the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Presently, there is greater realisation that the US needs a new approach to preventing far right violence that shook America. According to American experts, the siege of Capitol Hill reflected two important trends that will continue to shape American politics in the coming years. The first is the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism; the majority of the rioters were ordinary Americans who had only recently embraced radical ideas as a result of propaganda, social, print and electronic media influence and due political exploitation. The post-9/11 era was fertile ground for the far right, when law enforcement and intelligence services focused almost exclusively on the jihadist threat, and the fear of Muslim terrorists played into the hands of xenophobes, white supremacists, and Christian nationalists.

Keen minds in Pakistan can see a lot of similarities in the rise and growth of extremism in the society and politics by the manipulation of radicalised minds mostly in the garb of unfounded or misguided religious, ethnic and sectarian fault lines by hostile forces as well as by indigenous power hungry stakeholders. The upheavals created in the recent past in Pakistan by various politico-religious parties and groups in connivance with mainstream political parties have rendered violent extremist movements less coherent and more unpredictable than ever before. Like in the United States, such groups have generally been defined by relatively clear ideological leanings that align with specific intelligence and law enforcement strategies, training needs, and fields of expertise. But tactics such as monitoring, surveillance, and infiltration are harder to apply in an environment that is more spontaneous, fragmented, and characterised by rapid evolution and surprising coalitions. Simply put, the tools that authorities use to combat extremists become less useful when the line between the fringe and the centre starts to blur. In dealing with this kind of extremism, a number of other countries are far ahead of the United States. They have recognised that the only way to address the mainstreaming of extremist ideas is to focus on the mainstream itself. For example, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Norway have all adopted multi-sectoral approaches, drawing on resources and expertise from as many as a dozen federal agencies, including not only security and intelligence services but ministries of education, labour, health and human services, youth and families, social services, and culture and the arts. They have committed billions of dollars to efforts that build community trust, increase equity and social inclusion, combat racism, and improve media literacy and civic education so that citizens will be more likely to recognise and resist propaganda, disinformation, and conspiracy theories.

It has been well established that Pakistan is likely to remain a target of hybrid or fifth-generation warfare. The Government of Pakistan needs to capitalise on the successes gained by the Pakistan Armed Forces, law enforcers and intelligence agencies by rendering supreme sacrifices without further delay through a comprehensive approach under the direct supervision of the National Security Committee and through a holistic approach as adopted by the above-mentioned developed countries.

(Courtesy Nation, Pakistan)