Strong cities network

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Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

In today’s insecure world, safety and security remain top priorities for every individual. Violent extremism is a phenomenon not limited to a particular country, group, religion, ethnicity or creed anymore. It has now engulfed almost the entire globe, and has rendered every city into an unsafe place. The most recent attack on a mosque in Quebec, Canada has once again raised the alarms bells. The rise of the IS and the growing number of lone wolf attacks are forcing the world leaders to adopt stricter policies, resulting in kerbs on immigration, especially from countries with dominant Muslim populations. The recent ban on the entry of citizens from seven Muslim countries into the US is a glaring example of this xenophobia.
The call for a ban on immigrations especially from countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other Muslim-majority countries is being raised from other countries as well. However, it is important to understand that kerbs like these have never yielded any significant results. They have only resulted in their unpopularity and contributed towards the spread of undemocratic culture in such countries.
A growing number of leaders from around the world are stressing on the need for more coordination at the local level to address the issue of violent extremism. The international forums like the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and Hedayah, an Abu Dhabi-based forum, also stress the need of building the resilience of local communities to counter extremism in countries that are most affected by it.
Last May, 200 representatives of more than 50 countries from around the globe met in Antalya, Turkey to attend the first Strong Cities Network (SCN) summit, which was aimed at exploring the roles of local leaders and municipalities in countering violent extremism. The SCN aims to build community resilience, social cohesion and strategic planning at the municipal level through the capacity building of local level policy makers/leaders to counter violent extremism. This network is being managed by a London-based ‘think and do’ tank called Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD). This network is working on a set of six goals to achieve their central objective.
Under the SCN, the member cities will be provided with the opportunity to connect and share their local experiences of resilience. It will further help in sharing the lessons learned with the policy makers on the national and international levels. Additionally, the network is also facilitating international partnerships with the help of a city to city exchange program. It also aims at providing guidance to local level leaders and municipalities to develop frameworks and build capacities to safeguard the rights of local communities. Lastly, it aims at spreading awareness about the existing policies and programs to counter violent extremism with the help of an “Online Training Information Hub” and include new projects with the help of “Local Innovation Grants” for the member cities.
Surprisingly, Peshawar has also joined the network as a member city in August last year. Peshawar Mayor, Asim Khan has also been invited by the network to join the working group on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Refugees.
It is, definitely, a great opportunity for Peshawar to learn from the experiences of other cities to effectively control the menace of violent extremism. Similarly, it will also provide other cities with an equal opportunity to learn from Peshawar’s experiences in putting an effective control on violent extremism, since it has remained one of the most targeted cities of Pakistan.
The local governments and municipalities in other cities of Pakistan, especially those most affected by violent extremism must also benefit from this opportunity and should join the SCN. This will not only help build their capacities to kerb violent extremism but also provide them with an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other cities.
The local governments in Pakistan are at a budding stage and not yet experienced to deal with issues like violent extremism. Although the federal and provincial governments have devised their policies to deal with the issue but the real change can only be expected if the communities are provided with the opportunity to play an active role in the policy formulation process. A community remains the most vulnerable entity to any terrorist activity. Similarly, the person involved in spreading extremism also buds from the same community. Therefore, the best solution to stop the spread of extremism must also be expected from the very same community. Therefore, the involvement of local level leaders/policy makers and representatives of municipalities in the decision-making process to control violent extremism remains the most important missing link.
In Pakistan, the decline in violent extremism has only been made possible through military action. The performance of other areas in putting an effective control on terrorist activities has remained unsatisfactory and one of the reasons behind this performance is the lack of involvement of local level leaders and representatives of various communities in the decision-making process to control violent extremism.
The Strong Cities Network provides a very good opportunity to our local governments to play an active role in controlling the menace of extremism with the help of this network. This will give them the much-needed ownership and control to deal with the issue of violent extremism.