Ticking bomb: Pakistan minister warns of threat within - of growing extremism; state in 'retreat'

A nuclear Pakistan faces threat,  not from India, but from within due to the growing extremism, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said, terming the challenge a “ticking bomb” in what appears a rare admission by a sitting senior minister

Nov 19, 2021
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Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary (Photo: Dawn)

A nuclear Pakistan faces threat,  not from India, but from within due to the growing extremism, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said, terming the challenge a “ticking bomb” in what appears a rare admission by a sitting senior minister. He further said the state continued to “retreat” amid violent protests by Islamist groups because the state wasn’t “fully ready” to fight it. 

“Many people think that the remedial steps taken by us [the government] are inadequate while the truth is that neither the government nor the state is completely ready to fight extremism,” Fawad was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper during an event organized by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies on Thursday.  

Significantly, the remark came a day before the government released Saad Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehraik -e-Labbaik, the infamous Islamist group responsible for the recent violent protests. Authorities removed the group from the banned entity after the government reached an understanding with the TLP, a move criticized by many, terming it a capitulation of the state. 

Commenting on the government response to the TLP, Fawad said, “We have just seen how the government retreated in case of TLP.” He continued, in what appears to be a rare admission, “Some 30 years ago, on the basis of political and external reasons, we created an element and as a result, Pakistan is facing a big threat.”

In the 70s, Pakistan started promoting and subtly encouraging religious and fundamentalist Islamist groups as part of its strategy to use Afghan Islamists to gain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. At the time, Islamists in both countries weren’t so dominant and mainstream. Today, that policy may have fulfilled its primary objective: reinstalling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but the entire journey appears to have left a heavy toll back home in Pakistan. 

“If the state becomes weak and violent groups become strong, the problem starts,” the minister said, adding, “If you want soft change, you must be hard.” 

Interestingly, during the initial days of last month’s TLP protests, the government had tried to put on a tough face, indicating they won’t buckle in the face of violent protests and even termed the TLP activists terrorists. However, those words rang hollow once TLP protesters almost stormed Islamabad, forcing the government to concede their demands. 

The growing writ of Islamist groups and the government’s failure to reign them have recently reignited discussions in Pakistan on the dangerous trajectory the country has been taking. On the role played by hardline religious leaders, he wondered aloud how a society decided whether a not a man was allowed to speak just because there was a fatwa (edict by religious leaders) declaring the person a kafir (non-Muslim).  

He also recalled that many moderate religious leaders, mostly Sufis, were in the past forced to leave the country amid constant threats by Islamists. “We saw the destruction of many countries caused by the tendencies of extremism,” he said. 

Pakistan, being a nuclear power with the sixth largest military force in the world, faced no potential threat from its arch-rival India, he declared, adding it faced threats from within. 

Punjab, now the stronghold of the TLP, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, home to many Islamist militant groups, have had no history of extremism in the 300 years of its history he said. “There was not even an iota of extremism in those areas. The area in which Pakistan is situated right now was the area inhabited by Sufis,” he added.

(SAM)

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