Proposal for a High Level Commission for Understanding Extremism and terrorism

High Level Commission on Understanding the roots of fundamentalism and Terrorism

Terrorism has been growing over the last decade or more and has now with the Peshawar incident reached levels where there is a broad consensus that it represents an existential threat to Pakistan. The roots of terrorism largely lie in growing fundamentalism in society.  Over the years, Madrassas have mushroomed, sectarianism has increased, and radical mullahs have appeared on the pulpit as well as the media to shift the national discourse increasingly toward a narrower definition of Pakistan and Islam.

Pakistan’s centrality to global and regional conflicts has also fueled fundamentalism, involved the country to the war on terror and weakened the state. Continued aid and oil dependence too has on occasion forced Pakistan to align itself with radial views on Islam. 

Meanwhile, political instability, weak governments and long standing fiscal difficulties have weakened state capacity to the point that its monopoly on violence is seriously challenged. State intuitions have eroded significantly requiring the army to take over many key civilian functions from time to time.

Pakistan has a young population –50% below the age of 21—which policy has largely forgotten except as an occasional handout exercise. Education system is hugely inadequate in the supply of both quantity and quality. Opportunities are scarce as job creation is way below potential. Disaffected youth is turning to crime, fundamentalism and even terror.

The weakened state appears to be captured by the radical elements in society as it gives in to their demands on ‘who is a Muslim, blasphemy, and even YouTube. Extremist clergymen control the dialog on Islam with little role of the state despite a large religious ministry and Auqaf departments.

While we are all reacting to this existential threat with the army leading a military effort to deal with the violence and the politicians coming together to present a political united front to this threat, it is imperative that we understand our state and society and its interaction with fundamentalism and terror and find lasting solutions to evolve our country into a peaceful prosperous future. 

The issues mentioned above are continuously being discussed in the media and even households in a search for a solution. 

In such situations, countries often out in place an independent, objective and expert commission to carefully conduct deep investigations through research as well as widespread consultations. Examples of such commissions are the 911 commission in the US and the Butler Review of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Such commissions are well funded, comprise of credible and notable people, and staffed by very competent technical experts and are given ample time to do their work. 

We did put in place an Abbottabad commission after the killing of Bin Laden but have refused all follow-up as the report has not been released. 

It is important that the commission is part of a process that must be followed. The report has to be made public and discussed by parliament. Needless to say, members will be careful to not divulge any national security issues except to the requisite quarters. But a widespread discussion of the report and its recommendations will allow the government to move on to taking steps to deal with the issue of terror.

A possible TOR for the commission would be

The Commission will examine:

1       The evolution of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism to understand its historical origins

2       The evidence on terrorism to understand its socio-economic and geographic causes.

3       The nexus of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

4       The state’s role and response to the response to the challenge of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

5       The role of the private sector in funding and fueling extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

6       The role of NGOs and their financiers in the development of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

7       Societal sentiments and opinions as seen in polls and surveys on the issue of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

8       Politics, political parties and extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

9       State institutions and extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

10    Law, courts and their capacity to deal with extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

11    The education system, community and regionalism in the development of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

12    How  our police, security and intelligence establishment has dealt with the issue of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

The committee will then seek to outline policy options

1.      Reform of the state institutions such as the civil and security services

2.      Legal and judicial reform

3.      Regulation and management of the religious establishment in keeping the dictates of Islam

4.      Monitoring financial flows for religious organizations.

5.      Reform of education, public service delivery as it pertains to the issue of extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism

6.      Policy changes that government could undertake for dealing with the threat

7.      Develop a plan for government to lead a wider discussion for the implementation of the report


Who will serve on Commission?

Say nine people





Private sector





Of course some regional and gender balance will have to be borne in mind



At least 9 young competent professionals from roughly the same mix as members.

This secretariat will maintain all paperwork, keep minutes, write drafts and contracts etc.

Time Frame

A year at least and if required up to 2 years!

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