What is the single biggest source of discord, division, disharmony and conflict in today's Pakistan? What is the source of unending stream of bloodletting and suffering in this 200-million overwhelmingly Muslim nation?
It is distortion of Islam by elements in the society, with or without patronage, for political and social gains.
Hate-fulled violence is a global phenomenon. Instances of this malady come to light also in the United States and other parts of the so-designated civilised world, stemming from bias, xenophobic prejudice and other factors linked to religion, race, colour of skin and even dress and headgear.
Despite the fact articulated by genuine ulema that Islam does not grant any group or individual the authority to label other fellow Muslims infidels, this heinous practice goes in the country with apparent impunity, involving self-serving exploiters of religion and in many cases with financial support from entrenched sources.
Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif dwelt on the issue in his thought-provoking address at Dar-ul-Uloom Jamia Naeemia in Lahore.
Violence has continued to plague the country amid lack of required multi-pronged national strategy and serious combative effort, both at the federal and provincial levels and ensuring participation of all those who matter and are able to contribute towards fulfillment of the core objective.
Better late than never, the realization that effective, forceful action is need of the hour is welcome awakening.
Words, no matter how attractive and appealing, cannot be a substitute for deeds.
One needs to harness the potential that the mosque pulpit and those who grace it possess to spread awareness among believers about the message of Islam, which preaches humanity, peace, tolerance, and brotherly conduct.
The prime minister said that it is the responsibility of religious scholars to effectively undo the narrative of extremist mindset.
Easier said than done. But herewith few tips.
To begin with, the relevant government agencies have to carry out a thorough study regarding networks and groups that promote violent extremism, and their modus operandi including how they channel their ideology and propaganda through sections of the media.
And in the light of the findings a comprehensive strategy to deal with all dimensions of violent extremism with a holistic and result-oriented way must be drawn, instead of sporadic, piecemeal action and just hyperbolic speeches.
The National Counter-Terrorism Authority should naturally take the lead and handle the stupendous task. One sincerely hopes PM would find time to chair a board meeting of the body to get it going (hopefully before his tenure ends in 2018).
A national task force taking in people of required caliber including religious scholars may be set up to interact with all communities and tell people how they can help and what they should do. The National Action Plan provides a sketchy blueprint for tackling the problem of extremism through a variety of measures including madrasa regulation and reforms, action against preachers of hate, and propagators of venomous literature. Political will and determination is a must to do the needful.
If extremism is really deemed to be an existential threat, let us act and now, without wasting time in empty talk and rhetoric
Religious extremism has bled us enough. The horrific attacks within space of a week recently manifested the lurking dangers despite much acclaimed success of operation Zarb e Azb launched in June 2014 and now another military-led Raddul Fasaad campaign to wipe out the “latent threat of terrorism.”
After 2001 when then President Pervez Musharraf took action against fire-spitting sectarian outfits and banned their activities, the campaign lost momentum in the absence of follow-up steps. The result was loss of thousands of security personnel, civilians and twice elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
But one learning is; arms and guns alone cannot eliminate the menace.
The prime minister is right when he says there should be a counter narrative to combat radicalized and Takfeeri version of Islam and this is where Ulema can play a helpful role.
But sorry Sir, not just the Ulema. The State must do its bit and Ulema will follow. Do not use the same tactics that the likes of General Zia-ul-Haq, General Hameed Gul and beneficiaries of Afghan Jihad used to lure the society and exploited Ulema.
Rewind history and see what the State did then to relegate values based on genuine interpretation of Islam and concept of pluralist society.
Winning hearts and minds is an essential ingredient of a sound strategy.
—Rana Jawad is Director News for Geo News