Friday, 26 December 2014

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!

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Maulvi is a bureaucrat; Why Treat him Differently?

If a system such as this is developed, it will soon fall in sync with the aspirations of us ordinary Muslims who find no incompatibility between our faith and the modern world.

If the government is serious about eradicating fundamentalism, it must give incentive to the maulvi.

This is how it works. For the last four or five decades, global and local forces have offered all manner of incentives to the maulvi to develop a radical and fundamentalist version of Islam. Now if we want the maulvi to change, a new system of incentives has to be developed.

The government is regulating every market and profession except the mosque and the maulvi. The maulvi continues to operate freely and frequently not in the interest of the public. The possibility of a foreign hand manipulating the maulvi is always under popular consideration. Fundamentalism has been fuelled mainly because this whole mosque-maulvi enterprise is being led by the unenlightened and they are easy to manipulate by forces that seek to retard Pakistan's path to modernity.

Currently, the maulvi has no master other than the vaguely defined politico-denominational organisations they might adhere to. No license is necessary to set up a mosque. The ownership and management of mosques is not regulated.

The community that the maulvi and mosque are supposed to serve has hardly any say in the running of the mosque or the behaviour of the maulvi. Neighbourhoods cringe when the maulvi misuses the loudspeaker to say things that they may not agree with. They have no say in how loud, for how long, and when, he can turn on his loudspeaker. They certainly cannot expect any human sympathy or forgiveness from the maulvi. He is there only to scare them and interpret Islam very narrowly.

Unlike the early days of Islam, the mosque is no longer a community place. No learning activities take place there. No seminars, no birthday parties or weddings can take place there. The maulvi uses it virtually as a personal domain.

We must change the system of managing the mosque and managing the maulvi to make this combine more responsive to the community if the objective of enlightened moderation is to be achieved.

If the maulvi wase somehow bureaucratised into a hierarchy that could control and incentivise his thinking, we would be closer to moderation.

Consider a system of mosque and maulvi regulation based on the following principles:
All mosques, when built, should be publicly owned and subject to a system of community control.

Defined areas to be served by the mosque would elect a mosque committee to run the mosque and define and appraise the work of the maulvi. The case for another mosque in the mosque area should be very carefully made. The use of a loudspeaker should be carefully regulated for Azan only and loud enough only to cover the mosque area gently.

Community uses for the mosque should be clearly defined. Learning activities at mosques should be actively encouraged.

A hierarchy of mosques should be developed on the basis of size and the area that they serve. Smaller mosques in the area of larger mosques should not be allowed to use loudspeakers and should have very confined roles for serving tightly knit communities on a personalised basis. The larger mosques should have libraries, internet access and learning facilities. All mosques should display a learning calendar based on professional seminars and training delivered by professionals in the community. The maulvi's performance should include the development and management of this calendar.

The profession of maulvi should be organised such that there are professional standards and peer and community review. The following principles could be useful:

Entry: Maulvi should only be allowed to enter the profession on the basis of competitive exams. Ideally these exams should test for knowledge of Islam, comparative religion, humanities, and social science.

Career: To graduate to managing a bigger mosque, knowledge of English and ability to use the internet should be considered necessary. The maulvi should be ranked and graded and should have clear guidelines for promotions. The mosque committee must every year write a performance report of the local maulvi while the district Auqaf head, who should be a member of the maulvi service, would write another. The maulvi should have a maximum tenure of four years in a mosque. An Auqaf council, made up of the senior-most maulvis who have been promoted within the system after having served in many positions, should manage the whole system.

Peer and community review: The maulvi should be encouraged to publish selected sermons as well as his personal research in journals that should be created for this purpose. Debates should be encouraged. The community, the maulvi profession and especially the Auqaf council could occasionally highlight the best sermons and research and use these as an element in the evaluation of the maulvi.

Fatwas and other religious injunctions: In this system, then, fatwas and religious injunctions cannot be initiated by any maulvi. These will only be issued by the Auqaf council with adequate review by the council and the senior layers of maulvis.

Sectarian concerns: The constitution of the Auqaf council would have to be such as to allow some sect-specific issues to be referred only to the members of the council belonging to that sect. No sect big or small should have the feeling that it is losing out to a tyranny of the majority.
If a system such as this is developed, it will soon fall in sync with the aspirations of us ordinary Muslims who find no incompatibility between our faith and the modern world. Our community will also develop as it gets more integrated through a system of mosque management that helps learning and skill development.

Most important, our youth will be the biggest gainers as they benefit from the community mosque that promotes skill development.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Understanding the APC

So we had an APC in Peshawar to deal with the terrible tragedy of the school attack. And by the commentary following the APC it was largely successful especially for the incumbent government. Nawaz Sharif who has not looked like a Prime Minister for months now especially after the Dharna looked quite content and Prime Ministerial.

“The refrain of Parliament is the forum for dealing with state affairs” used often in the Dharna was forgotten and the APC was used to get Imran Khan into a room and use that occasion to develop the image of a “Prime Minister in charge.” Why not Parliament now?

Who was invited and why? Do they have security clearance? How were they chosen?The photograph of the APC shows that these questions were not clearly considered. It was left up to parties and indeed the clever people to wheedle their way in to photo ops to be seated at the table.

How was the meeting conducted? What kind of discussion took place? Was their a briefing by the Interior Ministry, the Army, Intelligence, few if any know. Most likely not. Indeed in such a large crowd with little serious whetting let us hope not.

It was clear by the opening remarks of the PM that there had been little preparation for the meeting. On a momentous occasion such as this the PM should have read a prepared statement that outlined some initial thoughts towards a policy to galvanize a meaningful discussion. Instead we got a few adlib meaningless remarks.

Was there an agenda? Policy options? Plans? We watched carefully for the PM press conference after the meeting so that we could hear a thundering momentous declaration. All we got was 'we all agree terrorism is a problem and we will now form a committee to give us a way forward'. It is easy to see that there was no agenda, no thought and no serious discussion.  

No heads rolled. No marching orders given to the security forces to “bring back their heads”. No prices on heads of known terrorists. No curbs on the madrassaahs and the mullahs preaching violence. No summary process for dealing with terrorist cases. No implementation of harsh justice for the hate-mongers. No rollback of legislation and institutional developments that have brought us to this pass.

They put in place the usual commission made up of politicians to give us a plan with no expert back up. 

Would it not have been better to give us a longer term commission made up of serous civil society intellectuals to give the nation a serious analysis of this immense issue. 

911 commission comes to mind where several former politicians of stature combined with several intellectuals in a well funded process over 2 plus years to conduct hearings and investigations produce a report. Why can this not be done here. After all the issue requires deep analysis.

The meeting was however successful as most commentators and columnists were happy with this. Government got what it wanted a 'photo op' and an end to the criticism it was receiving. No wonder the PM was in a jovial mood despite the somber occasion and cracked a very bad 'point scoring' joke: “if I was not going to the hospital, I would be going to the Dharna with Imran Khan.” Yet he received no blowback from any of our pundits. But it was distasteful!

Surprisingly our parliament is not even scheduled to meet.

Then there are those who love to give our politicians an out by saying what can they do the decisions are with the army. Well with such unimaginative and unprepared leadership, let us be thankful that the army is there.

Well now we can go back to normal mega projects and borrowing which is what governance is to these people. No need to think, legislate or manage issues.

Judge for yourself what did we achieve in the APC!