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War of ideas

As the political jugglery and circus around the Panama leaks and corruption in Islamabad continued, a terrorist attack in Lahore left 26 people including, eight policemen, dead and more than 50 others injured.

The police was the obvious target of this attack. Over the last few months, terror has spread all over the country as crime and ideology have mixed to take a cruel toll on men in uniform.

The Lahore attack has shattered a period of relative calm in the heart of Pakistan. Lahore is known as a city of rich cultural, heritage and literary traditions. The people of Lahore are known for their high spirits and their passion and love for festivities. Terrorists hate to see people in a festive mood. They want to see grief, pain and sorrow in their eyes. The main purpose of such attacks is to create a sense of insecurity, fear and demoralisation in
society.

Terrorism has revisited the provincial capital after three months amid a security high-alert after intelligence reports surfaced about the presence of more suicide bombers in the city. The deadly bombing came days after the military mounted a major offensive – codenamed Khyber-IV – to deny Afghanistan-based terrorists a transit route in the Rajgal Valley of Khyber Agency and just hours after a suicide car explosion killed more than 30 people in Kabul.

It is not surprising that two different factions of the Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday’s attacks in both countries – the TTP for the Lahore incident and the Afghan Taliban in Kabul. It is also not surprising that the Indian government condemned the Kabul bombing but remained silent about the Lahore bombing.

John F Kennedy, a perceptive former US president, once remarked that: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death”. Ironically, this is the strategic reasoning that defines the thinking of  terrorists. They understand the potential significance of an idea and have identified the best potential carrier of this message: the youth.

The problem of youth radicalisation is crucial for Pakistan as it has a large population of young people. It is important to stop the spread of religious extremism and intolerance among the youth.

Fighting radicalisation is not only relevant for national security issues, but is also crucial from a child rights perspective because radicalised young people are not “extremists by birth”. No one is born as a violent extremist or suicide bomber; extremists are made and fuelled by circumstances. Disarming the process of radicalisation must begin with human rights, rule of law and democratic rights.

It is important to initiate a process of dialogue in this regard at schools, colleges and universities. While it is important to stop religious extremism, it even more important to prevent it from spreading. The shrinking space at the school and university campuses for open and democratic discussions and debates on political, social, economic and religious questions are not going to help the cause. The repression and authoritarian rule must also end at school and university campuses.

In the most extreme form of radicalisation, which involves creating the mindset of suicide bombers, young people are made to believe that they are the “heroes” of a global cause while they are being exploited for the vicious fight of ideologists who are ready to sacrifice the lives of peace-loving people.

The processes of religious radicalisation take place in a similar way as political radicalisation. However, they also include a quest for religious identity and a willingness to commit to certain collective causes, such as rendering justice to members of the community who are suffering abroad.

Surprisingly, young people in most cases are less religious or liberal before they enter the radicalisation process, which often takes place within the informal social networks of friends and then through social media. An important factor of such processes is the presence of a charismatic person who delivers persuasive speeches at religious places, schools, universities, prisons or through social media.

Without a doubt, the Pakistani state is winning the battle of guns. The terrorists cannot face-off with the Pakistan Army in terms of military might. But the battle of ideas is equally important and must be won. The terrorists are not just waging a war against the security forces and the people of Pakistan but are also waging a war of ideas. They are using religion to justify their barbaric acts.

It is important to wipe out terrorism and religious extremism. However, it is even more important to defeat their ideology. Little has been done so far on this front.

Counter-narratives should be disseminated through the media, through curricula at educational institutions,  debates organised at public forums and sermons delivered at mosques. These narratives will serve to expose the wrong interpretations of Islam by militant organisations and help deter people from joining these militant groups.

The political parties are focusing on corruption and accountability and are ignoring the counter-narrative to oppose the extremist ideology. Many mainstream political parties have shown no interest in developing such a narrative. A counter-narrative will only succeed if it is accompanied by radical reforms within the socio-economic system. Feudalism, tribalism and crony capitalism are responsible for abject poverty, ignorance, hunger, class exploitation, social and economic injustices and deprivation.

Without making revolutionary changes and radical reforms within state structures – especially the police, the civil administration and the judiciary – the goals and targets of the seemingly forgotten National Action Plan cannot be realised.

These matters require the attention of the political leadership. But political leaders seem to have no time for such petty issues.

Bhatti, Khalid. War of ideas. The News, July 28, 2017.

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