In the name of nar­ra­tives

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Muham­mad Amir Rana

THIS is a war of nar­ra­tives ... there is a dire need to come up with counter-nar­ra­tives ... the men­ace of ter­ror­ism can­not be dealt with with­out coun­ter­ing the ex­trem­ist, mil­i­tant ide­olo­gies."

Th­ese are some of the state­ments which have been echo­ing in our ears for the last sev­eral years. In par­tic­u­lar, when­ever some tragic ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent takes place, such voices be­come louder in the pub­lic discourse. Ap­par­ently, the de­bate on ex­trem­ism has been stuck some­where in the fold of nar­ra­tives. The list of terms such as 'nar­ra­tive', ' counter-nar­ra­tive', and ' ide­o­log­i­cal re­sponse' has be­come so ex­ten­sive that at times peo­ple wit­tily de­mand that the state must es­tab­lish an au­thor­ity to con­trol nar­ra­tives. How­ever, the govern­ment has in fact as­signed the Na­tional Counter-Ter­ror­ism Au­thor­ity (Nacta) the task of de­vel­op­ing coun­ternar­ra­tives. One can imag­ine how the bu­reau­cracy will deal with the is­sue.

No doubt the chal­lenge of mil­i­tancy is a com­plex one and the state is in a hurry to fix it. The state wants to im­me­di­ately ad­dress ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism, but at the same time does not want to dis­turb the so­cio-religious and political struc­tures of the state. Ba­si­cally, the state's per­cep­tion of nar­ra­tives is sim­plis­tic and not only the govern­ment but also a part of the in­tel­li­gentsia be­lieve that nar­ra­tives can be pro­duced ' to or­der'. When a set of nar­ra­tives ex­pires or be­comes coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, re­place it im­me­di­ately with an­other set of nar­ra­tives. Ap­par­ently it is as sim­ple as that. Pak­istan has two ma­jor paradigms which nur­ture nar­ra­tives. First is strictly religious and the state has not only owned it but also con­sid­ers it­self the cus­to­dian of this do­main. The se­cond is sec­u­lar - also tagged as the al­ter­na­tive paradigm - which en­tails the es­tab­lish­ment of a mod­ern and pro­gres­sive so­ci­ety. The whole para­pher­na­lia of ex­trem­ism has been built on state-owned nar­ra­tives.

But now the state wants to clean the trou­bling nar­ra­tives and ap­pears ac­com­moda­tive to al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tives. It will not mind if the sec­u­lar in­tel­li­gentsia pro­vides a rem­edy to get rid of ter­ror­ism. How­ever, this should not be con­ceived as a paradigm shift.

In­ter­est­ingly, the sec­u­lar in­tel­li­gentsia sug­gests a long-term so­lu­tion, which ranges from cur­ricu­lum re­forms to spa­ces for cul­tural ex­pres­sion and trans­for­ma­tion of state-so­ci­ety rela- tions. Ob­vi­ously, this is not go­ing to ad­dress the im­me­di­ate is­sue of ter­ror­ism. Per­haps this is why the state falls back on its religious-ide­o­log­i­cal al­lies for help in the ' war of nar­ra­tives'.

Nar­ra­tives are nei­ther slo­gans nor jin­gles; they re­flect the mind­set of a na­tion. Hav­ing be­come part of the power elite, the clergy of­fers its ser­vices. How­ever, the religious lead­er­ship has failed to of­fer a con­crete so­lu­tion. Mere ' con­dem­na­tion' of acts of ter­ror­ism and call­ing the cul­prits 'mis­guided' is not go­ing to serve the pur­pose. Nor is it go­ing to build an ef­fec­tive counter-nar­ra­tive to re­duce the ap­peal of ex­trem­ist ide­olo­gies.

The real strength of religious ex­trem­ists is their ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work, which has been built on religious ar­gu­ments and strength­ened by political ar­gu­ments. In this con­text, this is not merely a war of su­per­fi­cial nar­ra­tives but is deeply linked to religious ar­gu­ments or in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic pre­cepts. The religious elite is ei­ther not ready or in­ca­pable of com­ing up with counter ar­gu­ments. A ra­tio­nal frame­work for coun­ter­ing the mil­i­tancy chal­lenge is miss­ing.

Are there any al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions to counter ter­ror­ism? The an­swer is yes and the state is al­ready em­ploy­ing some. The mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions are one of the ef­fec­tive re­sponses to ad­dress the in­sur­gency part of the prob­lem. The Na­tional Ac­tion Plan was an­other so­lu­tion to ad­dress a few im­me­di­ate is­sues and to in­sti­tu­tion­alise the re­sponses.

How­ever, though the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions weak­ened ter­ror­ist net­works, NAP has not ef­fec­tively backed up the mil­i­tary re­sponses. For one, the se­cu­rity in­sti­tu­tions re­mained con­fused about banned mil­i­tant groups, which have be­come sources of re­cruit­ment for in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing the mil­i­tant Is­lamic State.

Se­condly, the govern­ment rightly or wrongly con­ceived NAP's point of curb­ing hate speech as an al­ter­na­tive to counter-ex­trem­ism mea­sures. How­ever, the mother of all prob­lems re­mains the lack of trust and co­or­di­na­tion within the law-en­force­ment agen­cies. Nacta was cre­ated to fill this gap, but the au­thor­ity prefers the job of con­trol­ling nar­ra­tives rather than lead­ing the war on ter­ror­ism from the front.

Usu­ally, the lack of co­op­er­a­tion from pow­er­ful se­cu­rity and lawen­force­ment agen­cies is blamed for the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of Nacta, but the govern­ment it­self has not pro­vided the proper re­sources and sup­port which could make the coun­tert­er­ror­ism body func­tional and ef­fec­tive. In­ter­est­ingly, Nacta chooses the most dif­fi­cult task for it­self er­ro­neously think­ing that it will not face any re­sis­tance from any in­sti­tu­tion while cre­at­ing counter-nar­ra­tives. Nar­ra­tives are nei­ther slo­gans nor jin­gles. They re­flect the larger con­sen­sus as well as the mind­set of a na­tion. They are deep-rooted in cul­ture and the be­hav­iour of in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­ety, but most im­por­tantly are based on a ra­tio­nal frame­work. This frame­work en­tails cer­tain val­ues that, when fol­lowed, guide and shape be­hav­iour. The state has an im­por­tant role in such prac­tices but with the con­sent and con­sen­sus of so­ci­ety. The state can fa­cil­i­tate a process where dif­fer­ent seg­ments of so­ci­ety - with di­verse shades of opin­ion and dif­fer­ent cul­tural, so­cial and in­tel­lec­tual back­grounds - can en­gage in di­a­logue. The govern­ment can es­tab­lish a na­tional di­a­logue fo­rum. It can serve as a plat­form for schol­ars, aca­demi­cians, political and religious lead­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to bring all key chal­lenges to the dis­cus­sion ta­ble to un­der­stand each other's view­points.

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