New security policy and national narrative
Sometime back, I wrote a piece titled, ‘Operation or a comprehensive solution?’ where I had contended that militancy was a result of our national narrative of extremism and therefore a military operation on its own would be meaningless unless it was a part of a comprehensive anti-extremism policy. Embracing this approach, the NISP envisages a Comprehensive Response Plan (CRP) as the overarching anti-extremism policy. The second pillar of the policy, the Composite Deterrence Plan (CDP), deals with operational level initiatives. Today, I restrict my analysis to the CRP, which deals with the long-term sustainability of the state by addressing the origins of the militancy problem.
The CRP aims to focus on five key areas, which are given as ‘infrastructure development’, ‘rehabilitation of victims of terrorism’, ‘national narrative reconciliation’, ‘reintegration’ and ‘legal reforms’. The central theme of the CRP boils down to the need for a new narrative. The following provision of the policy encapsulates the main thrust of the new policy: “Construct a national narrative on extremism, terrorism, sectarianism and militancy to dispel the wrong perceptions created by the terrorists on an ideological basis by engaging media, civil society organisations, overseas Pakistanis and the international community to elicit support and cooperation.”
The NISP also identifies the need for bringing madrassas into mainstream education. As a policy objective one cannot disagree with the need for modernising religious institutions but the authors of the NISP seem to be assuming that radicalism was a problem restricted to madrassas alone while a very enlightened narrative reigns supreme in other parts of the country. Nothing is farther from the truth. The sad reality is that the environment of many higher education institutions is no less dogmatic. If one gets a chance to discuss national issues with officers belonging to various prestigious services, one finds their narrative highly obscurantist and often extremist. I once wrote about the need for a national deradicalisation programme and suggested that it should begin in military institutions like the Pakistan Military Academy and National Defence College. The jihad-related propaganda and India-fixated doctrines should give way to new doctrines based upon the nationalist vision of a progressive Pakistan. Similarly, the syllabi of schools should also be purged of any extremist content because brains damaged at a young age are harder to heal later on. There is also an urgent need to make higher education institutions genuine seats of learning and critical thinking. The state needs to establish its writ in the University of Punjab where a student wing related to a religious political party runs a parallel administration.
No sooner had the NISP with its emphasis upon a new progressive narrative been announced than the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) reminded us what kind of narrative our religious leaders wanted us to remain attuned to. In the 21st century, we are made to believe that God wanted underage girls to be married against their will and that polygamy was every male’s divine right. In one of my earlier writings I mentioned that, when in 1890 the British government raised the minimum age of consent from 10 to 12, after a very young Hindu bride died of haemorrhage, both Hindu and Muslim clerics showed uncanny solidarity in opposing the new law as they argued that their scriptures fully endorsed child marriages. The Indian legislature has, however, embraced changes by bringing the family law into consonance with the demands of the social consensus of the 21st century world. Our clerics, however, wish to stay frozen in their imaginary world of the past. One must give full credit to Marvi Memon of the PML-N who has tabled a bill in the National Assembly seeking tougher punishments for the offence of child marriage. We need to give such befitting answers to the likes of Maulana Shirani.
How serious is the government in creating and promoting an enlightened and pluralist narrative? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The narrative of negotiations with militants hardly serves the aim of a new progressive national narrative. The current discourse has glorified the militants to such an extent that they are seen as an equal party to the state. By meeting them at a place of their choice, which was guarded by their men, we seem to have accepted their de facto sovereignty over that region. Similarly, few will believe in the sincerity of the stated objective of a new narrative if on the one hand YouTube remains banned while on the other hand websites of extremist radicals remain fully operational.