I often wonder how unfortunate it is that our elders had sacrificed everything in order to get this independent homeland, but nothing has been done to keep it out of the hands of violence. Be it religious/social/political extremism or poor governance, all of this contributes equally in weakening the foundation of our country. Our elders have begun to complain about it not being a peaceful place for their children, where a Muslim of one particular sect is threatened by a Muslim of another sect. This intensifies my urge to make them realize that distancing oneself from the problem isn’t a solution, instead, confronting it with a positive mindset gives one the power to eradicate it from its core. Having said that, there are a few organizations that are actually doing a very commendable job in terms of highlighting the plaguing issues that are prevalent in our country.

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, PILDAT has been doing great job not only in diagnosing the problems corroding the country, but is also coming up with their viable solutions through policy recommendation. In 2007, PILDAT conceived the idea of bringing the youth under one roof and to engage them in a healthy discourse on national issues. The idea was basically to set up a youth parliament (shadow national assembly) where national issues are more often than not discussed. The forum has representation from all provinces, guaranteeing an impartial debate and policy recommendation.

Most of the debates, resolutions and policies in the youth parliament sessions revolve around the most pertinent topic i.e. extremism. Keeping in view the importance of this issue, PILDAT is going to start parliamentary sessions exclusively for the people of Punjab (i.e. a shadow Punjab assembly), since Punjab is considered to be the haven for extremist groups. The objective behind creating this Youth Provincial Punjab Assembly is to engage Punjabi youth to help inform, guide, and rationalize their thought process about extremism and act as catalysts to initiate vibrant change in our community.

Now what actually is this violent extremism? In my view, it would not be presumptuous to say that the term “violent extremism” connotes religious radicalism. Moreover, it not only includes religious extremism but also political and social extremism. Punjabi youth is extremely attracted to violent extremism be it political, social, or religious. The driving force behind any extremism is rigid ideology. When one individual/group tries to impose its rigid views on others without considering their perspective, that is when extremism takes place. The term “religious” must be kept separate from extremism as any act which harms others, irrespective of its motive, must be considered simply as “terrorism”, and a terrorist has no religion.

For the past few decades, Punjab has been considered as the sanctuary and breeding ground of extremist groups such as “Jaish-i-Mohhamad” & “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi”. Be it is sectarian violence, minority killing, imposition of strict Sharia laws, Kashmir liberation movement, or indoctrination through madrasas etc., these groups are working on various agendas.

Unfortunately, our leadership (both political and military) has been negligent in tackling this issue. However, it is past high time to take immediate action against these groups and their agendas, because the country’s sanctity, respect, and safety has long been at risk because of these groups. It is time to set priorities and to reassess “strategic ties” with these groups.

 I’m a strong advocate of the belief that executing such extremists through military action is not a viable solution to eradicate extremism. Firstly, such extremists are not concentrated in a single location, and secondly, the real threat is not the extremist cleric/Mullah but the blind following of its millions of disciples. For me, what Mumtaz Qadri did was not as extreme an action as seeing a huge number of people coming out on the roads and starting to label him as the hero and savior of Islam. Seeing such a mindset makes me think that if this vigilantism keeps on happening, very soon our judiciary and law enforcement would be replaced by new force.  This extremism cannot be tackled overnight but long-term strategic policies need to be formulated.

Police reforms are required, southern Punjab needs to be focused upon, funding given to Madrassas needs to be scrutinized, along with a number of steps other steps that need to be taken. We need to improve the socio-economic conditions of the region, starting with a workable education policy in which the focus is not only on curriculum but on its effective execution, as well. Policy must entail a proper sustainable mechanism through which the message of inter-faith harmony is fostered and no manipulated version of Islam is being taught in schools and madrassas. This will ultimately prevent the production of more pseudo mullahs.

The southern region of Punjab has always been neglected due to the weak administration of ruling parties over the years. This lack of interest in southern Punjab has had an adverse effect on the region, producing weak socio-economic conditions, poverty, and unemployment. The illiterate youth of poverty-stricken areas are easy preys for the menace of extremism, since the clerics of Madrassas find it very easy to brainwash them and convince their families to devote their sons to the service of Islam. A majority of our youth from backward areas are not exposed to the outside world, resulting in them having inferiority complexes and frustration which they want to exert somewhere. This is where fanatic clerics come and exploit their targets’ frustration and convert it into extremism. They provide a so-called platform to the disoriented youth, indoctrinate them in Madrassas, and ultimately use them for various purposes.

Extremism is real menace for Pakistan and it should be dealt with really smartly and diplomatically without hurting the sentiments of the masses.