Tackling Extremism

By: Editorial Team
Published: July 1, 2017
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Not all extremists are violent or end up becoming militants or terrorists, but extremism is certainly the first step which leads towards this gory path and remains the biggest challenge of our times.

Those who adhere to extremist ideologies are also more likely to be drawn into the support network for terrorists, in terms of providing logistics, raising finances and various other related roles.

In Pakistan, the simplistic notion remains in vogue that extremism is the sole product of Islamic seminaries that cater to predominantly male children and teenagers from the poor and less-privileged classes.

The fact is that while the lower classes provide the bulk of manpower for militant and terrorist groups, many of the most effective recruits are the educated youngsters from mainstream universities and professional colleges.

These youngsters – who are from the middle and upper-middle classes – defy the stereotype image of a terrorist. And contrary to the popular belief that educated, high-profile terrorists are a new phenomena, they remain part of the militant or terrorist fabric of this region, since the start of the Afghan resistance against the forces of the former Soviet Union and the erstwhile Communist regime in Kabul in the early 1980s.

At that time, these non-State actors were State-sanctioned and the darlings of the Western powers, including the United States, and its Muslim allies including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But as it happens in politics, friends and foes keep changing in line with the changing interests of the State and non-State players.

How and why the allies of yesteryears became the foes of today is now well-known and part of history. But how this new generation of militants is to be tackled, is the question of today with no easy answers.

These youngsters – who are from the middle and upper-middle classes – defy the stereotype image of a terrorist

Young minds are often attracted to radical ideas. Many youngsters wear these ideas as a show of defiance and as an intellectual fashion statement. Some of them go a step further and commit themselves to these ideas propagating and arguing in their favour.

And then, there are the few who are prepared to take and give lives for them. If this energy, this drive and commitment was for bigger national goals and positive causes, these youngsters would become the vanguard of the movement for change. But if this commitment and energy is hijacked by parochial forces, it causes immense damage to society and destroys the youngsters as well.

Unfortunately, the tide of extremism is rising in Pakistani society and proportionally in many of its educational institutions.

If the lynching of Mashal Khan at the campus of Mardan University on April 13 highlighted one grave aspect of intolerance, the flight of Noreen Jabbar Leghari – a student of Liaquat University of Medical Sciences Jamshoro – from her home on February 10, to join the ranks of ISIS, underlined another kind of challenge. When the girl was recovered by the authorities, she told them she wanted to be a suicide bomber.

But these two are not isolated incidents. In the past, scores of youngsters were used and abused by various shadowy militant groups from Karachi to Khyber and Lahore to Quetta.

Some of them were inspired by Pan-Islamist foreign-led groups including Al-Qaeda, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Al-Muhajiroun and lately by the ISIS, others got sucked into the web of the local militant sectarian and Islamist organisations. The challenge of youngsters being influenced by the extremist ideology is too grave to be ignored.

The Pakistan Army, after the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb under the command of General Raheel Sharif, has launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, which is being described as more holistic and comprehensive in nature. The new operation, under the command of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, aims to eliminate the terrorist sleeper networks across Pakistan and consolidate the gains of Zarb-e-Azb. The implementation of the 20-point National Action Plan remains its core pillar.

Countering the spread of extremism among the youth, naturally, should emerge as one of the important aspects of this operation. As part of this effort, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) and the Higher Education Commission, Pakistan jointly organised a first of its kind seminar titled – the role of youth in rejecting extremism – on May 18, at the GHQ, in which vice chancellors and education experts of more than 130 universities participated.

Young minds are often attracted to radical ideas. Many youngsters wear these ideas as a show of defiance and as an intellectual fashion statement

General Bajwa, while speaking on the occasion, highlighted Pakistan’s commitment in the fight against terrorism, saying that it was wrong to associate extremism only with Islam.

“It is unfair and dangerous. Unfair, because of its inherent and totally wrong association of extremism with Islam. Dangerous, because it focuses too much attention on Muslim societies and masks the rise of extremism in multiple societies across the world.”

Giving an example, he said that just next door, extremism has become a new normal in India.

“Hate has been mainstreamed in India and it is distorting their national outlook.” He said the seminar was organised to find collective solutions against extremism which affects everyone, including Pakistan’s most precious asset – the youth. “The entire nation…expects them not only to be educated, but groomed into balanced personalities, productive citizens and future leaders.”

In this battle of ideas, the following pages of monthly ‘Narratives’ carry former Inspector-General of Police Dr Shoaib Suddle’s key paper presented at the seminar. Our editorial team also spoke to leading educationists, who participated in the seminar, to find out their views on the gravity of the challenge of extremism and what role the youth and universities can play in rejecting it?


Extremism and Fault Lines

By Dr. Shoaib Suddle
The writer is a leading counter-extremism expert. He has also served as Inspector-General of Police in Sindh and Balochistan

Extremism is an aspect of the internal security threat that has bedevilled Pakistan since its creation. However, the religio-political, extremist forces opposed to Pakistan’s participation in the post-9/11 ‘war on terrorism’ have posed an exceptional challenge to the already precariously placed ‘secular’ elements in the country.

Extremism may be defined as the holding of extreme political or religious views. Extremism means, literally ‘the quality or state of being extreme’ or ‘advocacy of extreme measures or views’. It refers to a belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable. It is the fact of someone having beliefs that most people think are unreasonable and unacceptable.

Throughout history there have been people holding extreme views, though the first known use of the word ‘extremism’ dates back to 1865. Synonyms of extremism include fanaticism, radicalism, fundamentalism, dogmatism, bigotry and militancy.

That Pakistan is at war with herself is hard to deny. Exceptionally, over 62,000 deaths, including about 7,000 security personnel, 22,000 civilians and 33,000 terrorists/insurgents, reported during the past 15 years from 2003-2017, can be directly attributed to violent extremism, suggesting that somewhere, something has gone awfully wrong in Pakistan.

There were 1,263 reported sectarian incidents from 2002-2017, claiming over 4,000 fatalities. Though, thanks to kinetic operations like Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, the security situation has improved over the past couple of years.

The direct economic cost of extremism-related terrorist incidents since 2003 has been colossal – estimated at over US$120 billion (Rs. 12.7 trillion).

Pakistan’s extremism-related fault lines include terrorism, sectarianism, regionalism, sub-nationalism, and ethnic militancy.

The triggers for extremism are provided internally as well as externally. Externally, international power games, geopolitics of the region, proxy wars through non-state actors and clashing economic interests of countries, provide essential fodder to the cause of extremism.

It is no wonder that the Indian intelligence agency RAW, Afghanistan’s NDS and several hostile and interested foreign agencies have, over time, become principal sponsors of instability and violent extremism in Pakistan.

Internally, there are reportedly around 237 religious groups operating in Pakistan. These include 24 religious parties, 82 sectarian groups, 104 jihadi groups, and 12 who even denounce Pakistan’s Constitution.

Clan-based politics, the breakdown of critical State institutions, poor governance, weak and politicised policing, a fragmented criminal justice system, the predatory behaviour of the political elite, a weak civil society, inadequate institutional capacity, and ineffective accountability mechanisms are some of the major factors promoting the State’s failure to effectively deal with the massive spread of extremism.

The first-ever National Internal Security Policy (NISP), 2014-2018, was introduced in Parliament on February 26, 2014. Based upon principles of mutual inclusiveness and integration of all national efforts, its vision was to “create a safe environment where life, property, civil liberties and socio-economic rights of citizens are protected and… they are able to live and prosper in harmony, freedom, respect and dignity”.

In his historic speech before the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, the Father of the Nation, Quaid e Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, alluded to most of these aspects and urged the nation to rise to the occasion.

Unfortunately successive governments did not pay any heed to the Quaid’s words; rather they nurtured all the problems for petty political gains and myopic objectives and nothing much came out of NISP.

Our Constitutional framework and the politics and institutional architecture of internal security have also meant that Pakistan’s emergence as a stable, modern state continues to haemorrhage. Reverting back to the ‘B’ Area system in Balochistan and the repeal of Police Order 2002 in Sindh and Balochistan, in the aftermath of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, are examples of how short-sighted and self-centred our political elite is.

The persisting pattern of recourse to ad hoc structures brings out the existence of gaping holes in internal security institutional structures and capacity. We are also unable to deny support to specific religious sects from foreign countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, even outside support to ethnic groups from countries like India, Afghanistan and Iran.

Al-Qaeda, Islamic State (IS), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Jundallah, are examples of extremist religious outfits that continue to wreck peace and stability in Pakistan.

Let it be clear that we cannot hope to establish the writ of the State and protect the people from internal threats unless we are able to protect the life, property and fundamental rights of the citizens, promote pluralism, freedom, democracy and a culture of tolerance, prevent, deter and contain internal threats in a transparent, accountable and just manner, and resolve and manage disputes peacefully without compromising the rule of law.

Any anti-extremism strategy would remain elusive without aligning of local, regional and national efforts and oversight mechanisms.

A turning point in the national resolve vis-à-vis NISP came in December 2014, in the wake of the massacre of 150 people, including 132 children, at the Army Public School, Peshawar. However, the lacklustre implementation of NAP has meant that the desired outcomes continue to remain elusive.

The challenge of effective implementation of NISP serves to identify a host of cross-cutting, inextricably interconnected, paradigmatic issues that have discernibly shaped the mode and practice of Pakistan’s internal security policy for a long time.

The way forward

Institutional structural reform has to be a priority on the internal security agenda, meriting allocation of adequate political and financial resources. It is also imperative to enhance civil-military understanding at different levels – strategic, operational and tactical.

NACTA needs to be re-institutionalised as an integral adjunct of the Ministry of Interior, with its head – the National Coordinator – included as a member of the NSC. As implementation of NAP has remained unsatisfactory, it has adversely affected the consolidation phase of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a major reason for this creeping paralysis being the Constitutional ambiguity.

Any anti-extremism strategy would remain elusive without aligning of local, regional and national efforts and oversight mechanisms

Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, launched on Feb 22, 2017, the latest military plan to fight terror, can give better results through a holistic approach and more effectively integrated counter-terrorism and counter violent extremism strategies. Even more critical is that the nature and extent of non-State violence in recent years has lent additional urgency to the task of maintaining a professional, well-resourced and well-equipped police force.

The knee-jerk repeal of Police Order 2002 by Sindh and Balochistan – in sheer violation of Article 143 of the Constitution – has led to further fragmentation of policing efforts and hence requires to be undone. All ‘B’ areas and FATA need to be mainstreamed. Building police and the judiciary as basic institutions of the rule of law is an urgent necessity.

The more credible and effective the criminal justice system becomes, the better will be the state of internal security. We firmly need to target those providing financial and logistical support to extremists. We need to strengthen governance by de-politicising State institutions, and promoting plural and tolerant middle class values in society.

We must take effective measures to address the debilitating internal security situation due to widespread corruption, to alleviate extreme poverty by developing human and social capital. We need to devise an astute counter violent extremism strategy, which studies the reasons why people turn to extremism, and, as far as possible, attempt to address those reasons. Kinetic power can kill terrorists, not terrorism. Our greatest fault line is the State’s failure to deliver justice.

Our criminal justice system needs new ideas which can only come through higher education and local research. Vice chancellors must promote the subject of criminology in their respective universities. By developing the talent and innovative research capacity of students, universities can become the harbingers of ideas that work, to meet the daunting social challenges we confront.

There is a need to form a working group to come up with detailed proposals on necessary tools required to deal with the menace of extremism, on the basis of a needs assessment done for each university. Also, depending on the threat perception, a security set-up headed by a chief security officer of appropriate rank and background, from the police or military, may be appropriately provided in each university.

The working group will also propose additional resources to be provided to universities and respective police forces to adequately deal with the challenge at hand, particularly to disrupt radicalisers and support vulnerable students at a local level. There is need for the police to enter into an ongoing cooperative relationship with staff and students in universities.

Universities further need to promote higher education and local research in the field of criminology, particularly in how individuals are driven to extremism, what enables extremism to flourish, and how they can do more to promote inclusiveness, tolerance and cohesion.

The HEC, in 2012, issued guidance for vice chancellors to introduce the subject of criminology in their respective universities. Separate scholarships for criminology under the HEC’s faculty development programme will indeed be a welcome step for the promotion of quality instruction and research in this newly established field.

A Centre of Excellence of Criminal Justice Studies, as a standard setter, also needs sponsorship of the HEC. A Council of Anti-Extremism Practitioners at the national level and in each province – for overseeing implementation of soft measures – can act as a ‘one-stop shop’ for all efforts in this area.

(Dr. Suddle presented this paper at the seminar “Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism” hosted at the General Headquarters on May 18)


Narratives talks to several academics from renowned universities on how to combat terrorism

Changing Classroom Culture

By Shahnaz Wazir Ali
President, SZABIST

Pakistan’s universities are an integral part of its societal dynamics. Not only are they a vital layer of the educational infrastructure of the country but they are also, or are expected to be, the centres of intellectual pursuits, inquiry, debates, and research. Pakistan has 179 universities mostly in cities with a total enrollment of 1.5 million.

The urban context is very critical in terms of the interface with what happens in a university. Any tertiary level educator will agree that universities have a dynamic linkage with society. The cultural, social, political, and economic issues that society is faced with have an impact on the minds of its students and influences their opinions.

These issues connect with the emotional, intellectual, mental and even spiritual concerns of the students.

Szabist is a private, not for profit university, which was established about 25 years ago and has campuses in Karachi, Islamabad, Hyderabad and Larkana with a campus in Dubai as well.

Szabist is very cognisant of this link between youth, its concerns, universities and societal issues. We regularly hold a large number of seminars, panel discussions and round table conferences in which speakers are invited to share their knowledge on contemporary and historical topics in an environment of open debate.

This is critical. The dissemination of knowledge and the intellectual and emotional engagement of students must go well beyond classroom pedagogy and information contained within the covers of academic texts. Szabist recognizes Pakistan as a pluralistic society and encourages the expression of diverse opinions.

Recently, we organised a debate on violence and extremism in the context of women’s lives in which the speakers addressed the gender dimension of violence and the connection between women’s rights and the use of violence as an instrument of subordination and coercion.

We have also had immensely heated debates on political movements in Pakistan and the burning question of whether Pakistan’s youth feels engaged with or alienated from the political currents of the time. Szabist invites participants from media, academia from other universities and representatives of civil society to its series of lectures, seminars, and Panel discussions.

The sentiments and views expressed by the youth reveal that their needs, dreams and aspirations are not being adequately fulfilled by the current political systems and dispensations.

Universities have to play a multidimensional role in combating the spread of terrorism and extremism on campuses

Students contend that they sought university education not only to get degrees but also to receive support from the university in finding employment, particularly meaningful, satisfying employment. Our economy accommodates our aspiring bankers, business management professionals, financial experts and analysts, mathematicians and pure sciences students.

But our sociologists, political scientists, historians and anthropologists feel side-lined by this system. This creates a sense of frustration. Our educated youth is deeply perturbed by the limited opportunities that society offers them. From the domains of literature, poetry, arts, culture, music, history, and archaeology emerge your thinkers, your artists, your writers, your poets, your analysts, and columnists.

Where should these creative minds go when they see that the prevalent economic system is heavily biased in favour of the pure science and management students?

Popular analysis says that the principal factor that steers the youth towards radicalism is poverty and deprivation; the poorest, economically deprived segment of society expresses its anger against an unjust system of distribution of resources by taking up weapons.

This theory may be true but only in part. It is not only madrassah educated teenagers who are ready to don suicide jackets.

Recent incidents of violence and terrorism increasingly point to the disturbing finding that some of the well-educated young minds are feeling a sharp alienation leading to rage and are adopting violence as a means of attacking individuals, groups, and institutions which they see as the symbol of an unjust society or as an unacceptable to their mental framework of a true, Islamic society.

We are hearing this perspective in discussion platforms that engage the youth. The inequity in income levels, wealth distribution and economic opportunities is becoming starker and is driving our youth to question the prevailing economic system. They feel contained by the class structures. They feel repressed by a society which is not open to debate and holds dogmatic beliefs regarding certain areas of thought, beliefs, values, and faith.

This is not the generation of Che Guevara, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Our students ask, “Where are the heroes of today who stand for the common man and egalitarianism?”

At Szabist, we have a non-discrimination policy towards all religions, ethnicities and schools of thought and encourage an inclusive approach. Other high-ranking universities also espouse an inclusive philosophy.

However, students across the country often say that universities tend to cocoon or insulate themselves against the intemperate winds of violence and radicalism raging across the country and the region. An entirely different narrative is being propagated on social and broadcast media.

The students, through social media, know exactly how many people died over sectarian clashes in any part of the country. They are constantly exposed to extremism and violence taking place around them in the name of religion.

For students from middle and mid-low-income families, the incidents of violence happening around them coupled with other factors such as limited incomes, high costs of private education, absence of basic civic amenities such as water, transport and electricity, high medical expenses of self and family members and tough study programs at universities all combine to steer them towards radicalism.

They look around them and see tax evaders, violators of the law, the powerful and affluent living the good life while the judicial system fails miserably in holding them accountable for their actions. All these subliminal messages from the society sink in and impact the thought processes of our youth. I will say this categorically, though that the vast majority of students on campuses are pro-peace, against radicalism and are not picking up arms. But even one incident such as the Mashal Khan case at Abdul Wali Khan University is a sufficient indicator that something is seriously wrong.

Providing platforms and encouraging open debate and discussion is only the first step to dealing with extremism on campuses. Every student needs to be engaged comfortably, productively, and happily in an area of his or her interest.

Extracurricular activities is by and large a very weak area at almost all Pakistani universities. Our public universities have enrolments ranging in tens of thousands, making it nearly impossible to provide a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular facilities which are essential to building a healthy and safe university environment for students.

There is no way to keep track of how these students are managing their day-to-day lives and what are the pressing and disturbing questions in their minds. At Szabist, we have expanded our extracurricular program and we plan to do so even more in the coming semester.

There was a time when the drama and theatre societies of universities were very well-known, and universities would produce writers, artists, playwrights, dramatists, producers, and directors.

Many universities used to have active music societies with sarangi, sitar and tabla players as well as ghazal singers which promoted an appreciation of our own music. These clubs and their activities have by and large been curbed or removed entirely from university programs. This is the result of an ideological overhang that comes from the Zia-ul-Haq era.

Zia wanted to propagate a very obscurantist, fundamentalist and orthodox view of Pakistan. The attempt by fundamentalists to promote a singular view of society is a legacy of that time.

At Szabist, we are attempting to address this by promoting co-curricular activities including cultural events.

A very active media sciences department with a cinema club, airs movies, including documentaries on serious social issues and the students gather to discuss them. One area in which universities are constrained is the limited access to sports facilities.

Tell me one university in Karachi which has an Olympic-size swimming pool and well-maintained cricket, football, hockey fields, tennis, and squash courts. I think government and private sector should provide sports facilities to universities with support from the Higher Education Commission. This is an important area where Pakistan is in a deep, dark hole. Students crave healthy outlets like sports in which to channel their energies and frustrations.

Summing up, universities have to play a multidimensional role in combating the spread of terrorism and extremism on campuses. They have to address students’ intellectual as well as emotional and physical needs. They have to provide platforms for creative expression.

If universities don’t provide for the needs and aspirations of students at universities, other agents with manipulative agendas will try to bring them into their fold. And they will find ready minds.


Tip of the Iceberg

By Dr Zafar Mueen Nasir
Vice Chancellor, University of the Punjab

The issue of extremism in youth can be understood through the analogy of an iceberg. The problem seems big from the surface but the part hidden below is even bigger.

When we look at the fights and violence erupting on campuses, we are only looking at the surface of the problem. We need to go beneath the surface if we seek to understand the complex underlying factors which come together and result in incidents such as the lynching of Mashal Khan of the Wali Khan University.

In the past, some governments have fanned the flames of intolerance and now it has become embedded in society. The media has also played its part in the spread of intolerance. Young minds are influenced by all these factors. Parents, especially of students from low-income backgrounds, are so caught up in dealing with their economic hardships that they have no time to keep track of the emotional, mental and spiritual well-being of their children. Teachers too fail to adequately engage these inquisitive minds. Consequently, they fall prey to extremist ideas.

Multidimensional, innovative approaches are required to tackle the spread of extremism in universities with the help of parents, the government and the media.

Young people cannot be left unattended. Parents need to take out time to get to know their children at a deeply personal level. Universities have to play their role by developing systems of monitoring students with the help of hostel wardens and superintendents. They need to develop and institutionalise vibrant tutorial systems for classrooms.

Teachers need to develop rapport with the students and should try to keep tabs on which way the students are leaning ideologically. Departments need to keep track of students who are showing receptiveness to subversive ideas.

Universities must take very clear steps to combat the spread of extremist ideas on campuses. The Punjab University has already constituted a committee comprising of communication experts, psychiatrists and a sociologist to study the factors that steer students towards extremism and violence.

Multidimensional, innovative approaches are required to tackle the spread of extremism in universities with the help of parents, the government and the media

The committee will submit regular reports on how students can be sheltered from negative influences. We understand that closing our eyes to this evolving phenomenon on campuses amounts to criminal negligence.

The primary objective of the public sector universities is to provide an environment that supports intellectual growth and creative expression.

Punjab University has set up platforms that channel the energies of students towards productive endeavours such as our Musicology classes. Our sociology department has set up a Facebook page to promote peace and tolerance on campus.

We cannot allow any student to feel alienated from or be alienated by his peers. But this is easier said than done. Public universities have student wings of different political parties.

Some of the teachers too have strong political and religious leanings and patronise these student wings. Universities need to investigate these teachers to determine whether they are trying to recruit students to support their causes or philosophies.

It is strange that certain political or religious leaders do not allow these wings to operate in their own private educational institutions but they are actively engaged in public sector universities.


Encouraging Critical Thinking

By Talib Karim
Rector and Executive Director, IoBM

There is a great deal of concern being expressed these days with regard to growing extremism in higher education institutions.

Sporadic incidents of violence witnessed in some universities have been cited as evidence to suggest that the problem is endemic and deep-rooted in many higher education institutions, and efforts must be made to eradicate the problem.

While one cannot argue against the position that university campuses must not be allowed to become the theatre of violent extremism, it must also be recognised that the problem does not necessarily originate there. It originates in a few madrassahs run by misguided elements, and in segments of civil society itself.

Much research has been conducted on the subject of identifying the root causes of extremism, and the list is understandably long. However, in developing countries like ours, three major causes have been highlighted. These are economic, socio-cultural and ideological.

Economic factors such as income inequality and the widening gap between the rich and the poor are festering problems in developing countries. Socio-cultural factors direct behaviour in society.

Skewed in the wrong direction, they undermine progress, exacerbate feelings, and generate a distorted worldview. Ideological factors such as ethnicity, national identity, and religious orientation are influencing the resurgence of serious problems on a global scale.

Universities, anywhere in the world including Pakistan, are essentially centres of learning whose objectives are to inculcate knowledge, provide technical skills, and stimulate personal development of the youth. These objectives can be best met in an environment where there is lesser restriction on freedom of expression, and greater tolerance for plurality of opinion and diversity of thought.

However, universities are not closed communities detached from the external world they serve.

The youth entering any university come from all sections of society. It is, therefore, quite likely for universities to accept students already predisposed towards extremist thinking, and not even discover the students’ predisposition while they are on campus.

A liberal arts education is recognised as a means of developing critical thinking skills

What universities must do is to adopt a holistic approach and integrate that into their academic structures and administrative norms. For us, this breaks down into three fundamental components – engage, empower, and encourage critical thinking.

Problems worsen when they are left unattended. Hence, in our view universities must provide platforms where students themselves can discuss and debate real life issues, including the more contentious ones like extremism and radicalism. Engaging in such debate can help develop in them a better understanding of how these issues can put them in harm’s way, and encourage them to eschew extremist tendencies.

Students entering higher education also seek empowerment, and see it as their right. Student unions usually function in most countries to meet that end. In Pakistan where student unions have been banned for years, calls for their restoration are again being heard. However, student unions have two major problems.

Firstly, they are founded on adversarial thinking, with the students and institutions being adversaries.

Secondly, students unions often become hostage to political parties, which defeats the purpose for which they are created. A better alternative, that we and some other universities also practice, is to allow students to form students’ societies. These provide empowerment to students, develop their organisational skills, and help in their personal and professional development.

Finally, curriculum has to play a vital role in broadening students’ perspective as professionals and as productive members of society. Universities in the US have, for a long time, placed great emphasis on liberal arts education and benefited from it.

A liberal arts education is recognised as a means of developing critical thinking skills.

Today, according to Harvard President Drew Faust, prominent universities in China are also turning to ‘embrace liberal arts education’.

In our institution, we have consciously included humanities and social sciences courses in our curriculum, across most of our programmes.

We believe that arts and humanities, blend well with all kinds of university education, whether they relate to business management, computer sciences or engineering, as they ultimately help develop humane qualities such as tolerance, acceptance of diversity, and critical thinking that our youth so desperately need, to become responsible citizens of this country.


Re-telling Pakistan’s Story

Dr. Nasir Jamal Khattak
Former Vice Chancellor, Kohat University of Science and Technology

In communications, they say, perception and visibility are really very important. The common perception is that there isn’t much will on the part of the State to tackle the prevailing extremist attitudes amongst our youth.

We have to be very clear: do we mean to put an end to extremism? If yes, then irrespective of who the propagator is, we have to address the issue. We have to be seen doing something practical; there has to be a visible effort. We have to be perceived as a society that means to do something about it.

If there is an incident, in which an extremist mentality drives somebody to hurt another individual or a group of individuals, or ethnicity, or a sect, or any other denomination, we have to make sure that he or she is taken to task.

We have to make sure that we take these people to task without any excuses, any pretext or any delay. Only if and when we do that will we be able to show our media, society as well as audiences abroad, that we are serious about tackling extremism.

There is also a need to re-tell the story that we have been telling in Pakistan – the formal story and the informal story.

By informal story, I mean the weekly sermons that most religious scholars give in mosques. Then there is the formal story that we tell in our text books; we have gone as far as tweaking our history to make our people do things in a certain way.

I am just one of the many educated citizens who find out, after years of reading, that some or most of the things we were taught in our text books were incorrect. When this happens, I lose trust in my State, I lose trust in my system, I lose trust in all those mechanisms that have been put in place to give me an education.

I have valid reasons to say that our universities were intentionally messed up during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime.

Certain religious groups were given freedoms in the name of Islam which allowed them to do things which no civilised society would allow. There is hardly any university where such elements have not been involved in violence, and in some cases, in documented murders.

The State, when it comes to tackling or controlling such elements, is reluctant to take action.

That, in a way, is encouraging students, as it gives a subliminal message that you can go to any extreme in the name of religion.

Certain religious groups were given freedoms in the name of Islam which allowed them to do things which no civilised society would allow

In some of our universities, these rogue elements have been known to beat up teachers, vice chancellors and even boys who were taking their sisters home with them on their motorbikes – this has happened in Punjab, and this has happened in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa too. We are silently telling our youth, without saying it in so many words, that the State is okay with it.

I know somebody from Lahore who urged students on national TV to videotape teachers when they said things which went against a certain mindset.

In such a scenario, if a teacher wants to talk about enlightened ideas, he or she will be putting their life in danger. We are among those few Muslim countries where mob lynching takes place on the basis of mere accusations.

There is a Sahih Hadith that without verification, without proper research if you repeat anything that you hear from others, you are actually lying. And a liar, the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) says, is not one of us.

There is a need to tackle these hate-preaching seminaries, religious scholars, political parties, religious-political parties, and groups in a manner which proves to me as a citizen, to me as a society, to me as a citizen of this globe and to the rest of the world that Pakistan actually means to address extremism.

I don’t think the universities have failed in countering extremism. They have to operate within a certain system that they have been given.

For instance, we had a book exhibition a few months ago in which a group of students didn’t allow some books to be displayed which they believed to be “bad”. Books are not bad. Books are books. Why should somebody else decide which book is good and which one is bad for my son, my daughter, or anyone else? This unconscious dictatorial attitude prevents educational institutions from flourishing.


Initiating Dialogue

Dr. Pirzada Qasim
Vice Chancellor, Ziauddin University

Going to school is merely a dream for more than 20 million children in Pakistan. Unfortunately, most of those who complete their schooling are not lucky enough to make it to colleges or universities.

Accessibility to higher education in the country is just about 10 percent, which is not even close to the minimum essential required.

Pakistan’s youth are well aware of their surroundings. We are seeing a growing number of educated youth embrace radicalism these days.

But have you ever wondered why some young people end up as extremists and others do not? It needs to be understood that their actions, whether subversive or obedient, are the outcome of their thought processes.

How the youth spend the early part of their lives shapes the way they perceive and respond to the world. Education plays a key role in inculcating critical thinking abilities as well as teaching the youth to respect opposing views and put their perspectives across in a civilised manner. It shapes their mindset which in turn directs their behavior. A positive mindset coupled with a strong belief in one’s ability can help transform a young student to a successful professional. A negative mindset combined with a lack of clarity on life goals, confusion regarding job prospects and a scattered thought process can spell disaster and can incline the youth towards radicalism.

We cannot begin addressing this inclination towards subversive behavior until we first understand and accept the fact that both negative and positive mindsets exist in your youth, with perhaps the former one in abundance at present.

Things will begin to change when we start acting as a learned and responsible community. All that is needed is conversation – we need to start taking an active interest in the day-to-day activities of our youth and engage them on topics of their interest.

Our universities are overcrowded with young adults who are bright, energetic and responsive.

An individual carries out a terrorist act only after years of developing and solidifying a negative mindset

However, their engagements are restricted to classroom interactions and a few extracurricular activities. A critical component which is missing in this regard is student-teacher interaction outside of the restricting confines of the classroom.

Teachers are simply unavailable or even if they are, they don’t pay the required attention. In their spare time, students debate on a vast variety of issues that have a bearing on their lives including politics, Pakistan’s past and future, their career trajectories and frustrations in their personal lives.

They operate in a cocoon in which they discuss, analyse and conclude essential and non-essential issues on their own.

Their thoughts, aspirations and frustrations are not shared with teachers and adults because an ideological bridge between them and the youth doesn’t exist. They also spend an inordinate amount of time on social media which shapes their thought processes and gives them cues on what stance to take on social issues depending upon which way popular opinion is leaning.

We take note only when their thoughts translate into detrimental behavior and even then, it is not addressed effectively. In short, our universities are lagging behind in providing platforms for student counselling. Due to all these factors, students are left with no option but to engage in useless, counterproductive activities.

It must be noted that an individual carries out a terrorist act only after years of developing and solidifying a negative mindset which leads him to believe that his actions are justified.

This thinking pattern can be disrupted at an early stage through conversation and the initiation of socio-cultural activities that keep the youth occupied. We need to re-establish a connection with our youth and establish platforms through which they can channel their energies productively.

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Editorial Team
The Editorial team of Bol Narratives