The debate on counter-extremist/terrorist narrative in Pakistan should confine to three issues, i.e., religious schooling, narratives, and curriculum reforms. The main religious-ideological narratives of the state have been hijacked and reinterpreted by extremists and militants and the state has to reclaim and repair lost narratives. Documenting narrative in black and white is a complicated process, as there cannot be one narrative to which all elements of any movement should adhere to. When we say counter narrative, we mean there is another dominant narrative present in the country, i.e., militant discourse.
First we have to understand that narrative in its entirety and then come up with other narrative. Finding answers from an already existing narrative would suit a country like Pakistan. Because, in beginning, perhaps biggest mistake in “War on Terror” was the belief that the destruction of al Qaeda’s training camps and Taliban would lead to the demise of terrorist groups. Rather successful counter-narrative should have focused on rolling back and containing Jihadist narratives whilst simultaneously highlighting values and attitudes of democratic free society; deficient in Pakistan over longer period of time.
Any counter-terror narrative has to be evolved. It needs time to develop as it can neither be imported nor be thrust upon the society as only workable narrative comes from the aspirations of society. It is important to figure out how many generations will suffer from our decisions and compensate for our mistakes if we could not develop a viable and practical counter narrative. This time, the narrative has to be final. Therefore, we have to understand that are we clear about counter narrative. The other unanswered question is from where we should start. We have to find answers of these questions before going for any narrative that should hit the eagle’s nest directly.
The neglected area, which should be on the priority list, is the establishment of de-radicalisation centres. So far, it is the Pakistan Army that has been running rehabilitation centres, but across the world it is considered a responsibility of the police. The provincial governments have to share this burden, which will ultimately help control terrorism and crime. Similarly, provincial counter-extremism research centres can be developed and connected with the center. At the same time, provinces will need to establish curriculum review committees comprising educationists and experts from diverse religious, academic and political backgrounds. A good starting point would be to have a common curriculum for all citizens and schools till grade 12. You can not have harmonious relationships between citizens when there are about seven different education systems in the country.
Target areas should focus on drastic changes in religious institutions (Madrasahs), pre-emptive measure to avoid re-location of terrorists in metropolitan cities of the country, avoiding absolutism, idealism and utilitarianism in approach, fixing police and judicial system, and dismantling all private militia and gun culture. Also, role of media and the civil society is the most important in disseminating narrative. We can build a network of moderate religious scholars. In Pakistan, the power elites do not have connectivity with moderate religious scholars in society, and their views about religious communities and narratives are based on their interaction and working relationship with the leadership of religious-political parties. Terrorists are using the Islamic justifications so we need to come up with the same Islamic counter-narrative, i.e., true interpretation of the religion. Governance issue must be tackled as indirectly poor governance affects all your policies no matter how good these may be in black and white.
Pakistan Observer, April 03, 2015
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.