The recent military crisis between Pakistan and India shows the threat which Pakistan faces on the external front, however, there have been multiple internal threats to the country which need to be identified and negotiated for the security of the state and citizens and solidarity of society.
Insofar as the threats from foreign countries to Pakistan are concerned, among them the omnipresent threat of aggression from India is quite grave. While Pakistan has demonstrated it has the capability to shield itself from external threats whether India, Afghanistan or any other side, the big question mark is how to deal with the threats from inside the country.
Coming to the threats to Pakistan at this point in time, the foremost danger is the prevalence of large-scale extremism in the name of religion within the country. There are innumerable groups and individuals, who have been part of the extremist enterprises. In the last many years, the government may have been able to launch some large-scale successful military operations against terrorists and militants. However, the extremist organizations, institutions and networks, which have been behind these terrorists and militants, are still very much intact. The magnitude and strength of extremist organizations and network is so huge that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the security agencies to dismantle them. Nevertheless, the state has all what it takes to mop these extremist outfits, the only condition is that the government has the political will to negotiate with the threat with an iron hand.
The graveness of the threat from extremist organizations lies in the fact that they have developed very complex command, control and support system within Pakistani society. The command of the extremist networks has generally been faceless due to the difficult to identify it. This is either because leaders of the extremist groups do not consider them as fundamentalist or fail to realize the negative rather adverse effect of their activities on the state and society. In this case, when the leaders of extremist networks do not realize their operations as radical and their adverse repercussions for the state and society, it is very difficult for the state and its apparatus to convince them to stop their activities. Because these extremist leaders think any government action against them as “illegal” rather a hurdle to their “religious” duties. Thies situation is indeed very explosive because these heads of fundamentalist networks have a huge social influence and public following. Any corrective action from the government is often portrayed as an action against religion in order to stir up public sentiments and divert them against the government. This is particularly true for extremist religious, outfits some of which had to face ignominious electoral defeats at the hands of presently ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidates in the last national elections.
Given the sensitivity of the question of religion in Pakistan, successive governments often chose not to take action against leaders of extremist networks. This has been the case with almost all successive federal and provincial governments and other state agencies due to which extremist networks have been growing in scale, size and scope without inhibition. Resultantly, several extremist networks have become monstrosities and the entire extremist enterprise as a proverbial Hydra. The recent actions by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government against extremist outfits, like the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), considered as the front organization of banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and taking over the control of Jaish-e-Muhmmand-run schools and businesses in Bahawalpur region of the Punjab province are steps in the right direction.
Even if the leaders of radical religious groups and networks are cognizant of the anti-state and anti-social nature of their activities, they remain embroiled in such activities primarily because of their economic and social benefits. It must be mentioned that most of the leaders of the extremist networks come from modest economic backgrounds and whatever fortune they have made has been due to their extremist activities. Therefore, they are not at all ready to give up their economic base, rather sources of sustenance.
The control structure of the extremist religious groups and networks is very elaborate, intricate and extensive. Most of the extremist networks are controlled by bodies of individuals, who have intimate relations with one another, often of teacher-pupil and peers etc. These networks of individuals, in turn, are controlled by high-profile social, political, economic and, above all, religious elite. The social elites use extremist religious networks for their respective vested social, political and economic interests. The social elite, particularly religious elites, taking control of the extremist networks is profoundly significant to understand. Due to the elite, say in the legislative business at different tiers of the government, any law dealing with extremist groups and networks is very difficult to make. Consequently, the state and government are found wanting to negotiate with the fundamentalist enterprises. Another very important aspect of the control edifice of the extremist networks in Pakistan is that they are not only dominated by the social elite but the latter also have links with power structures in other countries. This makes the structure extremely complex and difficult to negotiate. Because power structures in many so-called friendly Muslim countries of Pakistan have links with extremist organizations of Pakistan, Pakistani authorities, due to fear of annoying friendly Muslim countries, have been desisting from taking action against the extremist networks.
The support structure of the extremist networks in Pakistan is also varied and complex. The biggest ground level support to extremist webs comes from the conservative sections of society, which believe in the genuineness of the agenda and argument of such organizations. As this section makes the largest part of Pakistani society, the extremist groups capitalize on thies support. Thies support is critical for the survival and growth of the extremist groups. The support does not come in the form of moral or political backing only, but also more importantly in the shape of contribution in cash and kind. Without thies money and material support, the extremist organizations could not even operate. It is important to note that the support in cash in kind is both voluntary and forcible. Those who don’t support the extremist networks in cash and kind are looked down upon and even physically intimidated and harmed. Another very important support from ultra-conservative and poverty-stricken sections of society to the extremist groups comes in the shape of dedicating sons and wards to the organizations. This dedication of sons and wards to the extremist organizations by families is largely due to their poverty and religious sentiments. Both poverty and religious emotions are exploited by the fundamentalist organizations to replenish their ranks.
Seeing the deep destabilizing effects of the extremist organizations on the Pakistani state and society, enemy states of Pakistan also started funding the organizations indirectly and even directly by buying individuals within them. The indirect financial support from enemies of Pakistan to our fundamentalist organizations was easily managed by using illegal and unofficial money transfers mechanism, like Hawala and Hundi from Arab-Gulf countries to Pakistan. So, nobody in Pakistan exactly knows the scale of financial investment by foes of Pakistan into the country’s radical religious outfits. However, according to estimates, it is huge. The matter is made tricky due to refusal by the extremist organizations to open their accounts for official audit and the government’s lack of political will to go about checking their accounts. The financial support to the Pakistani extremist organizations from abroad has been reinforcing the hybrid war which the enemies of the country have imposed upon Pakistan for long. Keeping in view the graveness of the extremist threat to Pakistan, the PTI government has to come up with an elaborate strategy to deal with it, as preparing for any aggression from the outside or successful operations against terrorist networks would be meaningless, if the extremist forces within the country are not meaningfully negotiated.