Sanitising Pakistani youth from extremism
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces organised a seminar on May 18, 2017 about the “Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism”. The event was attended by academics, students, media practitioners and senior officers of Pakistan Army. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chairman HEC Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, Professor Ahmed Rafiq Akhtar, Dr Shoaib Suddle, Dr Furrukh Saleem, Ghazi Salah ud Din and a female student from Islamia College Peshawar addressed the audience and shared problems and solutions in detail.
The event was well organised and justice was done with regards to the topic, including a free and fair question/answer session. However, this scribe, who was also invited to attend the seminar, wanted to ask the question regarding sanitising the armed forces from extremism but was not afforded the opportunity. Hence it is being raised here.
The Armed Forces of Pakistan comprises of elements from Pakistani society and are not immune to penetration by extremists, who can wreak havoc with tender minds. The leaders of the Armed Forces have taken serious steps to protect the personnel under their command from the power of the extremists who have the uncanny capability of sowing doubts in their mind or corrupt their thought process with subliminal programming and propaganda.
Despite the efforts of the Armed Forces Command and Control, there have been isolated but heinous incidents of terror attacks where members of the armed forces may have aided or abetted in the execution of the deadly attacks.
The PNS Mehran attack is a case in point. It was carried out by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda on May 22, 2011. The PNS Mehran attack was an assault at the headquarters of Pakistan Navy’s Air Arm located near the Pakistan Air Force Base Faisal at Karachi. In the course of the event, 15 attackers killed 18 military personnel and wounded 16 in a sophisticated terrorist attack. Two American-built P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft were destroyed.
According to the United States and Western intelligence sources, the attack was far more dangerous than the 2009 Pakistan Army General Headquarters attack, and was better planned and more rehearsed than the previous attack. It was the biggest attack on the Navy and its assets since 1971, and is believed to be the last major attack of militant mastermind Ilyas Kashmiri. The Special Service Group of Pakistan Navy carried out the counter-attack and ultimately cleared PNS Mehran and declared it safe for operations.
The cause for concern is that the Pakistan Navy had been apprised of the infiltration of al-Qaeda members within its ranks. Raids were carried out and certain members were arrested by the Naval Intelligence. The talks that ensued between the Navy and the al-Qaeda did not succeed, since the Navy did not release the arrested members. Warnings were issued and after the US Navy SEALs’ operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the assault on PN Base Mehran was conducted. A month prior to the attack on PN Base Mehran, the Pakistan Navy was twice targeted for bombings in various locations of Karachi by unknown perpetrators. The first of the bombings took place on April 21, 2011 on two naval buses and the second attack happened on 28 April 2011 on a naval coaster. An estimated 12 lives (all of them were medical staff and naval officers) including one lady naval officer, were lost since the start of the bombing. Prior to the attacks, naval intelligence was twice alerted by the TTP’s attack on Pakistan Naval facilities in Karachi.
The TTP publicly claimed the responsibility of the attack. Reuters quoted the words of Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesperson of TTP, by telephone from an undisclosed location: “It was the revenge of martyrdom of Osama bin Laden. It was the proof that we are still united and powerful.”
Inquiry into the attack led to the conclusion that the assailants had been provided inside information and steps were taken to insulate members of the Armed Forces from extremism.
It is essential to inculcate in the minds of the Pakistani youth, the esprit de corps of our founding fathers and the Quaid’s first address to the nation, in which he assured that Pakistan was a sanctuary not only to Muslims but to the followers of every faith and creed free to go their place of worship and live in peace, has been flouted with impunity. Islam on the other hand preaches not only tolerance for all faiths but also entrusts the duty of the security and sanctity of the places of worship of minorities upon all Muslims and especially the rulers. Religious intolerance and the total disregard for human lives is such a dangerous trend that if left unchecked will permeate into our society gnawing at the very roots of existence. Whereas, the government can be faulted for not providing adequate protection to the minority group, when they had been receiving threats, it becomes imperative for every Pakistani to share the responsibility of reporting suspicious activities, which if checked in time, can help avert a major crisis. Simultaneously, it is the duty of every opinion builder in society, the teacher, the religious leader, the politician and above all the media to disseminate the message of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Unless we root out the dangerous elements of intolerance, the twin headed monster of extremism and terrorism will devour us completely as well as enable the enemies of Pakistan to achieve their machinations against Pakistan easily.
Islam itself teaches moderation, to the extent that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is depicted as one of the world’s “leading law givers” in the US Supreme Court main hall in recognition of the use of the “Charter of Medina” in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Muslim scientists, litterateurs and scholars like Avicenna, Omar Khayyam, Ibn-alHaitham, Ibn-alRushd, Razi, Jabir Al-Hayan, Al-Bairuni and numerous others who lit the torch of knowledge and laid the foundations of modern science, were also acknowledged not only as enlightened humans but also moderate personalities. Is it not ridiculous that the same Islam and its followers are being labelled as harbingers of terrorism and extremism?