The four suspects arrested for the massacre of 45 members of the Ismaili community in Karachi are reported to have also confessed killing human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud because of her campaign against the Lal Masjid cleric, Abdul Aziz. Alumni of reputable educational institutions, these young men had connections with the violent extremists in the tribal areas and shared their hatred of Shias. According to investigators, they massacred the Ismailis both out of a sectarian motive, and to create an impact at the international level of their ability to wreak terror. Many find it hard to deal with the fact that these men have good educational backgrounds and belong to well-to-do families contrary to the common image of a terrorist who is poor and usually product of a madressah.
It is not a black and white issue. While speaking in Quetta on Thursday, COAS Gen Raheel Sharif correctly pointed out that “our security threats are complex, multidimensional and hybrid in character.” Poverty surely is a major factor contributing to the problem since the foot soldiers and suicide bombers come from disadvantaged sections of society. The thread of sectarianism runs through most madressahs, and is closely linked to the extremist cause. The regular schools’ curricula – altered by the Zia regime as part of his Islamist agenda to rule – Afghan jihad, and the State’s interest in other jihadist adventures have all contributed to radicalisation in society. There is also a sense of injustice against the Wests’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which has prompted educated young Muslims even in Western countries to join extremist causes. These factors affect different people in different ways, and hence call for a multifaceted response to the extremist challenge.
Peace and social harmony cannot be restored through military means alone. The ongoing Zarb-e-Azb is only one part of the fight against extremism. The more demanding task is reversing radicalisation, which will take both time and a strong determination on the part of the government. So far, a lot remains to be desired. True, aside from intelligence-based operations against suspected militants and their facilitators, various press reports indicate a commendable action has been under way to halt spewing of religious hatred from the pulpit, and through pamphlets and CDs. But on other issues, the government still is in a defensive rather than offensive mode as is evident from the way Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid had to beg the pardon of some religious leaders for speaking his mind about the madressah affairs. The talk of madressah reform and audit of their finances has no sign of getting translated into action. Equally important, provincial governments have yet to get enough nerve up to revise school curricula. They need to purge school books of distortions and hate content polluting impressionable minds, and introduce Islamic values of tolerance and compassion. And to promote true learning, educational institutions must encourage rational thinking and the spirit of free inquiry.
The text appeared as the editorial of Business Recorder today.