Combatting extremism


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appealed to religious scholars to take up the mantle to defeat extremism in the country. At the outset, PM Sharif made all the right sounds in his address to the Jamia Naeemia seminary a few days ago. He stressed “the need to ask ourselves if our religious institutions are producing faithful believers or the flag-bearers for different sects”. This is to be welcomed. Especially considering how Interior Minister Chaudhry Nasir Ali Khan kicked off the New Year by suggesting sectarian groups be delinked from run-of-the-mill extremist outfits. The former, after all, he pointed out, had 1,300 years of history on their side.
But that was as good as things got. PM Sharif made no mention of a comprehensive plan in terms of action or enforcement, or, indeed, the vetting of the religious scholars that he has chosen to put so much stock by. In this apparent vacuum, the prime minister’s comments are seen, at best, as a Band Aid solution. And a soggy one at that.
The time to wake up and smell the coffee is long overdue. For all his talk of the extremist agenda hijacking Islam and distorting the concept of Jihad — Nawaz still appears to be in denial.
The extremist agenda in Pakistan has nothing at all to do with religion and absolutely everything to do with consolidating power within national borders and beyond.
The prime minister needs to get serious about this. If not, he lends further credence to the belief held in some quarters that he has, in fact, full understanding about the rules of the power game. And that his focus is simply to secure he and his party the biggest slice of the pie come election time. The sight of his law minister springs to mind: Rana Sanaullah Khan hitting the campaign trail with a member of Sipa-e-Sahaba in a calculated bid to increase his vote bank ahead of a provincial by-election.
Rumours of links to extremists have long plagued the PML-N. The most spectacular being the small matter of the not so small Rs 83 million government grant to the Jammatud Dawa. If WikiLeaks is to be believed, the PML-N then went ahead and warned the group to empty its accounts ahead of being put on UN terror list.
While the government has since outlawed the JuD, it is not enough. The prime minister needs to come clean about the pro-active measures his government is taking to counter hate speech and the culture of religious extremism. Outsourcing responsibility simply won’t cut it.