Act against extremism before it too late

 Pakistan needs to develop rehabilitation programs, reforms in criminal justice system and equal opportunities for its citizens to counter extremist ideas and groups  

 By Muhammad Ragheeb

Merriam Webster dictionary defines Extremism as "the quality or state of being extreme" or "the advocacy of extreme measures or views”. The term is primarily used in political or religious sense, to refer to an ideology that is considered to be far outside the mainstream attitudes of society. Though extremism of one or another kind plagues almost all the third world and many First world countries, it is the state sponsoring of such groups and ideology that has always proved extremely dangerous to the social and economic development of a society.

Though it may vary from country to country the primary reasons for extremism are always social marginalization, political exclusion, lack of access to justice or resources and repression or abuse by state and security services. Surprisingly there is a huge misconception that it is the ideology of a certain group that attracts people towards it especially when it comes to religious or political ethnic extremism but in reality case studies in the West have found that in most cases it is a desire to be a part of a “Group” or something greater then themselves that attracts people from repressed or down trodden communities to join such groups in the first place.

 Since it is intrinsic human nature to assign a reason to every event that happens as well as to believe that their life is part of a greater cause rather than just another soul amongst billions people are naturally drawn to the brotherhood and effort for a better future such groups advertise which otherwise are not available to such communities. Whether it is hope of TTP/TLP to create an Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan or the desire of an independent Baluchistan by BLA, such goals provide a roadmap for an ideal future to supporters of such groups.

 It offers them something which isn’t available from mainstream political parties or the state. Working with people who are willing to lay down their lives for a cause fosters a strong sense of “Us” amongst the group’s adherents and allows them to do anything to achieve their goals for the sake of greater good. Even more interesting are results from studies of Muslims from Europe who joined ISIS. Studies revealed that it wasn’t Islamic radicalization that was driving them to join ISIS but rather a sense of nihilism formed from social isolation, fantasy and rebellion.

Ever since the military operation of the 1970s in Baluchistan and Pakistan’s involvement in Afghan Jihad in the 1980s, religious, ethnic and political extremism has plagued Pakistan incessantly resulting in widespread terrorism, massive human and economic losses as well as loss of our reputation amongst the world community. Repressive attitude of state apparatus in FATA and Baluchistan coupled with lack of economic opportunities for locals and their socio-political marginalization has fueled extremism since the only means by which they can make their voices heard is through violence.

When it comes to religious groups like TLP it is again the desire to be part of the chosen community of Muslims which is the only one on the right path and the right to decide the path itself that attracts people towards it and has less to do with economic conditions and state repression. Cultural and clan ties also matter since a lot of adherents of such groups are drawn from casts and clans that belong to a specific belief system and hence must be supported against other such groups to gain ascendency in the socio-political sphere.

The solution to tackling extremism lies not in dealing with the problematic ideology espoused by these groups. It rather lies in providing the disenfranchised population a means of feeling part of the system. Economic opportunities through businesses and jobs is the first step especially for the youth of the country, followed by a system of justice that delivers results in a timely manner as well as ensuring that the disenfranchised feel part of the same group or “Us” rather than as the “other”. Indonesia’s handling of former terrorists and would be suicide bombers is a case in point.

 Rather than trying them in courts or torturing or killing them in encounters, the state established rehabilitation programs to provide them valuable skills for earning a livelihood and starting a family while simultaneously addressing the genuine grievances that they held with regards to their regions. These same people then went back to convince others in their communities and regions who also held such extremist views to abandon them and instead become part of the mainstream population.

This strategy proved very effective in preventing further terrorist activities. By making them realize that they and the state are part of the same group rather than “others”, the state ensured that such extremists stopped having any violent tendencies altogether. This is in stark contrast to how US handled such cases in Iraq and Afghanistan where most detainees held as terrorists ended up going back to their terrorist activities after they were freed or managed to flee. In cases where they were killed, it only resulted in their family members and friends to follow in the same path, continuing a never ending cycle of violence in those areas.

 State sanctioning of such groups must also be addressed since patronizing them for political gain in the short term leads to huge issues in the long run. In case of Pakistan, since the 1980s, religious extremism has been tacitly supported by the establishment and dictators in order to undermine civilian governments. The major reason for the existence of such extremist groups is their state sanctioning in the first place which leads to all other ills like terrorism and extremism in society.

By providing equal economic opportunities, a system of justice which has trust of people, establishing rehabilitation programs for the terrorists and extremists and above all stopping state sponsorship of extremist groups, we still have time to address problem of extremism and terrorism in our country. Act before it’s too late

                                                                                By Muhammad Ragheeb


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