Pakistan, in last 2-3 years, has made a notable stride in fighting terrorism in the country manifested in the reduction of terrorist attacks and improvement in the security situation yet there is sufficient evidence to suggest that extremist tendencies and intolerance among masses are on the rise. The unfortunate lynching of Mashal Khan, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University;sizable support among masses for hanged Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of the then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, and its transformation into a political cause/party; entry into electoral politics of parties like Milli Milli Muslim League and Tehreek Labayk Ya Rasoolullah and securing 3rd and 4th position in by-election in National Assembly constituency in Lahore (NA120); uproar in parliament regarding changing exclusion of finality of prophet-hood in the oath of public representatives; latest lockdown/ sit-in at Faizabad Interchange mainly by groups/parties affiliated with a specific sect and subsequent capitulation from the state, etc. are some of the examples. Division of politics on sectarian lines is another serious challenge for the state.
These developments are not only dangerous for peaceful co-existence of minorities and various Muslim sects but also detrimental to society in general as such tendencies shrink the space for open and honest debate. In the long run, such extremist tendencies and intolerance are likely to create serious security challenges for the country and beyond since extremism is considered to be a gateway to terrorism. It may also be noted that terrorists also exploit such tendencies to get moral, material and human support. Pakistan’s modern universities and educational institutions are increasingly becoming recruiting pool for militants in the country.
Militants with tribal background and madrassah affiliation were concentrated in FATA and parts of KPK plagued with militancy. Different military operations starting from 2009 to 2014 finally dislodged militants from their strongholds in FATA and parts of KPK. In Pakistan’s context, members of local militant groups such as TTP, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are mostly from tribal or madrassah background while members of trans-regional and pan-Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan etc. come from the modern educational institution. Although most of the Al-Qaeda’s Arabian fighters have relocated in the Arab world after the Arab spring, the regional branch of Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS) is still recruiting Pakistani youth and that too, mostly from modern educational institutions. Most of the DAESH or ISIS members arrested from Pakistan also come from modern educational institutions instead of Madrassah background. A recently emerged group Ansar-ul-Shariah is another example of increasing tendency of militant recruitment in modern universities, as the almost entire group is comprised of highly educated Pakistani youth.
Coincidently, extremism and intolerance is also at the increase in Pakistan’s immediate neighbor India though the degree of extremism in India might be different than what we see in Pakistan. There is every possibility that various socio-economic, political, cultural and religious moorings might be at play that trigger such intolerance in the society. There is a dire need that causes of rising intolerance and extremism are truly ascertained so that appropriate measures are adopted by state as well as civil society
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