Pyramid of challenges
IT is not so much religion-based narratives as religiously inspired actors who pose - either advertently or inadvertently - the greatest challenge to peace and stability in Pakistan. However, while the actors are largely considered part of the problem, they are also part of the solution.
Religiously inspired actors have been taking full advantage of the state's policy of using them to achieve national political and strategic interests. A reversal in the policy would not put the genie back in the bottle. The past is not only painful, it also obstructs the way to constructing a new future.
Challenges facing Pakistan's security and stability are manifold and can be compared to a four-layered pyramid with four critical threats to internal security, three folds of radicalisation that exist in society, two border-related insecurities and one grand religious-ideological narrative.
Society may oppose violence, but not necessarily the extremists' agendas.
The four critical security threats emanate from or are linked to the tribal areas, madressahs, Afghan refugee settlements and prisons. The tribal areas are important for militants to keep their networks intact and to expand their infrastructure. Certain madressahs and banned militant outfits provide human resources, ideological support and more critically the hideouts for terrorists, which are crucial for the latter to carry out their attacks.
Many Afghan refugee settlements - both legal and illegal - provide space to criminals involved in smuggling arms, explosives and communication tools, besides serving as recruitment centres for potential terrorists. Also, it has been observed that in many cases militants used these settlements as their hideout.
Prisons play a critical role where militants' networking, recruitment and running of cells are concerned. Prisons in Pakistan hold thousands of militant detainees, many of whom have not been tried in court as yet. Prisons also serve as safe havens for terrorists besides providing them with an opportunity to radicalise their fellow inmates.
The security establishment and political leadership are well aware of these internal security threats and want to address them on an emergency footing. As the security forces are already engaged in fighting militants in the tribal areas, the National Action Plan was evolved mainly to address the other three concerns. While many saw NAP as an integrated counterterrorism framework, the religiously inspired actors - particularly those who have political stakes and also control faith-based finances - resisted the plan and tried to make it controversial. This elite is aware of its power and deep penetration in the socio-religious and economic structures of society.
This challenge is also linked to three folds of extremism in Pakistan, which can be viewed from a class perspective.
Pakistan's lower, middle and upper classes are suffering from variant tendencies of extremism. Various indicators suggest that extremism in the country is driven by multiple factors and occurs at three levels. Firstly, it occurs among lower-income groups, particularly in poorly governed areas such as the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, southern Punjab and parts of Sindh, where poverty, inequality and ineffective administrative structures spur extremism and terrorism. The levels and trends of extrem- ism are different in the middle-income group. The drivers of extremism in areas such as central and north Punjab, Karachi and Hyderabad, the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Kashmir, are mainly political. As for the upper-middle class, growing alienation from society is said to be fuelling extremism.
Multiple faith-based actors transform and channel these extremist tendencies into more radical, violent behaviour. The sectarian and orthodox religious groups and madressahs mainly depend on lower-income groups as a source of power and as support bases. Terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, focus more on the middle classes while certain Islamist movements call for a religious awakening within the upper classes of society.
The role of religiously motivated actors in these three folds is critical, but it does not fall under areas of immediate priority for the state. This shapes public behaviour and creates ambiguities in the minds of the people. Society may indeed be opposed to violence, but not necessarily be opposed to the extremists' agendas. The second - and most important - feature is the presence of militant networks on Pakistani soil. Over 100 militant groups and foreign terrorist networks are reportedly operating in Pakistan's tribal regions. Extremism and terrorism have a cause-and-effect relationship in Pakistan.
The strategic and security issues on Pakistan's eastern and western borders have created the space for faith-based actors to intervene in highly sensitive security domains. The Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan and the Durand Line issue on the western border encouraged the security establishment to use religiously inspired non-state actors for certain objectives. The religionbased militant groups gained real strength from the state's attitude. Over the passage of time, these militant groups got stronger and gradually became independent. Many have turned against the state and others may do so.
However, by pursuing or protecting its strategic interests through these actors, the state surrendered its narrative to the militants. Now they claim the state has compromised the complete Islamisation of the country. The non-violent faith-based actors want to achieve this target through political means, the militants by use of force.