Violent extremism is inherently global and a diverse phenomenon, it is neither new nor exclusive to any region, nationality, or belief; it is driven by a mixture of personal and societal factors, from individuals to groups. In some countries, narratives of grievance, actual or perceived injustices, empowerment, violation of human rights, and lack of good governance are being considered as the root causes. Violent extremism is becoming a significant concern in many nation-states, including Pakistan.
Therefore, there is a need to take a more comprehensive approach that encompasses not only ongoing, essential security-based counterterrorism measures, but also systematic preventive measures that directly address the drivers of violent extremism that have given rise to the emergence of some lethal groups such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In the last few years, Pakistan has shifted its approach from counterterrorism to religiously motivated violent extremism, as outlined by the 2015 National Action Plan (NAP).
In Pakistan, most of the extremist violence is executed by groups that practice religion to spread extremist ideas. Fluctuating and conservative interpretations of religious concepts has been common for almost half of a century. However, it is safe to say that if there are around 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, the majority are aware enough to have opinions about such matters, but on the flip side, 80 to 100 million have some sympathy with this kind of extremism. Of course, only a small minority commits terrorist acts but being able to find a sympathetic audience plays a role as a hurdle in overall countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. In Pakistan, successful counter-extremism and strategic communication procedures require a better understanding of national interest and establishing trustworthy sections for a better image of the country. So, the need of the time is to develop strategies, not only for Pakistan but for all violence-affected countries, to address the drivers of violent extremism considering the religious dimension.
To create change through communication, one must realise the significance of communication. The key to effective communication is an understanding that communication itself is a process to contribute positive energy to the world. To maintain a successful communication process, trust must exist between the giver and the receiver. Communication is the skill of building connections to solve problems.
However, in this communication age, handling hate discourse requires a significantly more thorough procedure than just prohibiting or blocking content; it requires a comprehensive methodology that tends to highlight drivers of pressure groups and division inside social orders. Strategic communication or ‘communication through words and deeds in pursuit of national strategic objectives’ is an emerging, broad phenomenon; and is becoming prominent across the globe.
The main objective of strategic communication is effectively imparting information that will appeal to the target audience. Within strategic communication, there are certain strategies one can adapt if needed in certain scenarios. One is called a ‘persuasive strategy’ which can be used when connecting to the public’s emotions and values. It often consists of a selected part of the information, to present to the public, usually in a neutral language. Persuasive strategy also highlights the situation that is at stake. The ‘power strategy’ is often seen as a coercive technique to gain compliance from another party. This sort of strategy is useful when there might be potential resistance to change.
In light of the power strategy, one can draw parallels to the military’s expansion of strategic communication planning during the last decade of the war in Afghanistan, as “a systematic series of sustained activities conducted across strategic, operational and tactical levels, that enables understanding of target audience, identify effective channels, and promotes specific behaviour through strategy development. Moreover, after the massacre of the Army Public School, the army has also intensified its bombing of militant strongholds in the lawless border near Afghanistan; such action was necessary, to deal with the threat. However, Pakistan cannot fight with certain extremists while enabling others, especially when these groups cooperate and connect with each other.
Counter Terrorism (CT) operations without CVE efforts represent an incomplete approach to the Violent Extremism (VE) threat; a comprehensive CVE strategy requires more integrated partnerships with civilian organisations and CVE expertise. In implementing any CVE program, it seeks to counter the acts of violence through disengagement, and the adoption of extremism through de-radicalisation or counter-radicalisation. Together, these elements comprise a working definition of CVE as a narrow process focused exclusively on disrupting extremist recruitment and radicalisation activities. The inclusion of CVE programming targeting schools and young people has been a particular source of concern for civil groups. Moreover, one of the comprehensive approaches to preventing violent extremism is for the government to develop joint and participatory strategies with all stakeholders, civil society, and local communities, to protect communities from the threat of violent extremism, and support confidence-building measures at the community level by providing appropriate platforms for dialogue.
Hence, there is a crucial need to discover new strategies of communication, to counter violent extremism before beliefs become radicalised. CVE methods offer the required cooperation needed for success. A well-planned CVE program might increase communication and allow greater information sharing so that the military can better target militants and the government can monitor radicalisation in the region. This kind of program will help decrease the potential of extremist groups and will also lead to more accurate arrests and strikes against militant groups. Moreover, the military must create secure spaces where civilian organisations can build the local capacity to participate in governmental processes and fight discrimination. One should realise that if there is hope, there is possibility, and one should realise the endless possibilities one can provide to the world while realising the power of communication.