Pakistan's Fight With Extremism: Are Things Really Changing?

03/11/2015 12:13 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015

December 16, 2014 in some ways could be called the darkest day in Pakistan's history. That day the Taliban militants killed countless innocent children in order to "seek" revenge against the ongoing military operation against them.

Before that fateful day, a substantial part of the population had doubts whether launching an operation was good idea. In fact over the years, Pakistani population had by and large opposed the military action as it had considered terrorism merely a "reaction" against Pakistan' s support for U.S. instigated "War on Terror".

The horrific incident eliminated all the apprehensions against the military action and in fact united the Pakistani nation. Finally the government has acquired the support which had previously eluded it. With the public support behind it, the Government has taken a series of actions to bolster the ongoing action against terrorists such as establishment of military courts and removal of the moratorium on the death penalty.

But are things really changing? Are these steps really adequate to counter a menace which has become deeply entrenched in Pakistan's social fabric?

A closer scrutiny would reveal that these measures though a welcome change from the past are still inadequate. A real long term solution would actually require a multi-pronged approach aimed at: significant enhancement of the state capacity; revamping the entire Madrassa system; complete overhaul of the existing security doctrine; and at least some rectification of civil military imbalance.

Pakistan needs its state capacity to be enhanced because essentially it has a weak state which has not been able to really penetrate into the society. Due to low tax base coupled with bureaucratic incompetence, state has not been able to provide even basic facilities to a large chunk of population.

Moreover, the writ of the state is also largely absent. These weaknesses have allowed many Madrassas (religious schools) and other organizations to become extremely prominent throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan. These Madrassas operate at the grassroots level helping the poor by giving them financial assistance and inducting their young ones as students.

Due to low development spending by the government, these Madrassas have ended up filling in the gaps left by the state. For many poverty struck parents, these Madrassas give their young children some shot at life. Many of these Madrassas indulge in radical indoctrination of the students which end up being thoroughly radicalized. Moreover, some have direct connections with the banned militant organizations and provide them with the indoctrinated foot soldiers. In fact, the word "Taliban" means students.

According to an estimate, presently about 15,000 to 20,000 thousands of Madrassas are operating in Pakistan and largely without any sort of proper governmental oversight. Government does not regulate their education curriculum and nor does it monitor their sources of funding.

But the poor state capacity is just one part of the story. The worst part is that some of the Madrassas and their associated religious political outfits have also been used by the military establishment for "strategic" purposes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

What has happened is that though initially some of the Madrassas and affiliated religious parties were under some sort of supervision but over the years state has lost control of these. The "agents" are now largely independent and their relationship with the government has changed drastically. Apart from that there has also been a mushroom growth of completely independent Madrassas which do not have any sort of supervisory oversight. The so called "Bad Taliban" are the product of such Madrassas.

In many ways, the present climate also owes a lot to state's seriously flawed security doctrine which has ended up creating a breeding ground of religious extremism and establishment of thousands of radical Madrassas with many completely out of the state's control.

Today, it is largely due to prevalence of these Madrassas and their associated extremist outfits that the menace of extremism is not just concentrated in the bordering area of Afghanistan ( where military action is taking place) but is spread all over Pakistan. The action against Taliban is relatively easy because they had virtual control over those areas and Pakistan had to "liberate" its own territory and reestablish its writ. However, countering those extremists which are present throughout the rest of the Pakistan is going to be a herculean task.

Pakistan has to start with dismantling and revamping the entire Madrassa system. However, for that it also needs to build its state capacity so that it is able to properly discharge its duties at the grassroots level. Once the state capacity starts increasing the appeal of these Madrassas will also diminish.

And above all, it has to change the entire security paradigm which in the past has focused on using Islamic militants as proxy warriors. Even now some political analysts are of the view that state is still being selective in its action. It is targeting some while sparing others. Pakistani Taliban are being targeted while Jamat Dawa and Afghan Taliban are being spared.

As USA and India come closer, Pakistan is trying desperately to counter balance by moving closer towards China while trying to regain some lost influence in Afghanistan. Its current policy of selective action against the militants can be understood from that angle. However, history has proved that the entire concept of using these religious outfits was flawed. Pakistan has to discontinue this policy and change its security doctrine. Improving relationships with India is extremely critical. Without improving it, Pakistan will not be addressing its real problem.

December 16 may have united the Pakistani nation for military action against Taliban, but much more is needed if Pakistan has to come out of this quagmire.