Viewpoint: Will Pakistan ever stamp out extremism?


Ahmed Rashid writes:

As Pakistan detains an alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, Ahmed Rashid argues that Pakistan needs a broader, better co-ordinated strategy from state institutions and a willingness to face up to unpleasant truths if it really wants to curb resurgent extremism.

Pakistan faces a renewed threat of rising Islamic extremism, vigilantism, attacks on minorities and a reluctance to face up to how these threats are internally rather than externally inspired.

Also missing is the lack of a comprehensive narrative against extremism, articulated unanimously by all bodies of the state and civil society.

The result of the failure to push forward a clear counter-terrorism and counter-extremism narrative that embraces the entire public domain is that some extremist groups continue to be tolerated by elements of the state.

Just over two years ago, on 16 December 2014, an attack on an army-run school in Peshawar which killed 150 people – the majority of them children – galvanised the civilian government, opposition parties and the military to articulate the need for a comprehensive counter-terrorism plan.

For the first time there emerged a 20-point National Action Plan – a list of pointers of what needed to be done, endorsed by the military and all political parties.

However the 20 points were never turned into a comprehensive winning strategy or a common narrative and the fight against extremism has diminished ever since.

The army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched six months earlier, had cleared out North Waziristan, a key staging area for dozens of militant groups – many of them foreigners.

Other military operations also took place, dramatically reducing terrorist bombings nationwide. But they were always going to be tactical operations, which still needed to be backed by a strategic plan carried through by the government.

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