While speaking to the United Nation’s Security Council, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to United Nations Maleeha Lodhi put forth a multidimensional view of the problem of extremism in the world, which included both national and international factors. In a world in which most of the blame of extremism is unfairly apportioned to Pakistan, such a view is much needed at the international stage to improve Pakistan’s image. Moreover, the propaganda machinery of the west is quite apt in spinning narratives and evading responsibility, and this is why the Pakistani state needs to take on a diplomatic offensive, and tell the world that the policies of the west are partly to blame for this growing menace. However, this does not mean that Pakistan should stay in denial about its local problems, as these too have to be addressed with greater focus. Unfortunately, a delusional state of collective paranoia exists in Pakistan, which attributes all bad things that happen to Pakistan to hidden international forces. This results in a refusal to tackle local issues and an undue emphasis on securitisation.
There are two competing camps in Pakistan that explain the rise of extremism in the country. One side stresses on the unwise foreign policy of Pakistan in which extremist organisations were created by the state to use as leverage in the Kashmir dispute. The other side believes that extremism is the result of imperialist policies of the western world in which perceived notions of historic injustice and unnecessary military interventions created the necessary conditions for extremists to thrive on. While there may be some element of truth to these claims, sole emphasis on either the local or foreign factors creates a discourse that only serves to apportion blame to one party or the other. It must be realised that both local and foreign factors are equally responsible for the quagmire of extremism that the world faces today. And in the context in which unnecessary interventions by western powers have historically been present, the west, especially the United States, cannot put the whole blame of extremism on Pakistan or any other Muslim country.
Ambassador Lodhi correctly pointed out that extremism is being exacerbated by the xenophobia and the anti-Muslim sentiment present in the West. Whether it is the issue of Syrian refugees in Europe or the growing tide of xenophobia manifested in Trump rallies in the US, it seems that western hostility towards Muslims is increasingly growing. Such an attitude acts as self-fulfilling prophecies for both sides, as hostile attitude attitude towards each other engenders hostile behaviour. And this in turn increases feelings of alienation and antipathy, both important ingredients in the creation of extremist mindsets.
However, at home Pakistan’s emphasis should be understanding the local factors that have contributed to the growth of extremism in Pakistan. The most important reason in this regard is the indoctrination that happens at madrassas in which students are taught a parochial worldview. However, this problem is not only present in madrassas as Pakistani society more broadly is intolerant of other people’s views and opinions. This rigid mindset both creates and provides support to extremist movements, and this is where the state should look at in order to eliminate extremism. Extremist organisations have adopted new modes of technology to spread their message, including social media, and this has increased their access and provided them with a much broader scope of audience. Hence, it is in the realm of ideas that extremism needs to be fought and a counter narrative that advances a more tolerant attitude is needed to effectively counter its virulence. Simultaneously, the underlying structural deficiencies also need to be addressed. It is no secret that impoverishment and poverty provides the ground for extremists to spread their vitriol and indoctrinate young minds. Hence, the state should adopt policies that result in an equitable distribution of resources to all regions so that broader change can take root, and extremism can be completely defeated.
Most of the extremism that affects the youth of Pakistan is strengthened by years of subliminal and blatant indoctrination that starts at a very early age. The ‘other’ is the enemy, and thus must be opposed on all levels: social, moral, ideological and religious. This is the mindset that gnaws on the moral and social fibre of a society, and ultimately results in the creation of a state that is bigoted, intolerant and inflexible. Has Pakistan become that state?