World / Asia-Pacific

Army-led 'war on terror' isn't working, activists say

By Agence France-Presse in Islamabad (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-19 11:46

Worshippers at the infamous Red Mosque in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, still gather in their hundreds for Friday prayers, but the fiery sermons calling for Sharia law led by hard-line cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz are now a thing of the past.

The preacher, who once led a weeklong armed conflict against Pakistan's army and has repeatedly called for the overthrow of the government, has now been muzzled by authorities - though technically he remains a free man and a revered figure among the Taliban.

It is this duality - where hardened resolve against groups such as the Taliban is blunted by a willingness to tolerate and even fan the flames of extremism still bubbling beneath society's surface - that activists say sums up the country's battle against a homegrown Islamist insurgency.

Official and public opinion was galvanized against the Pakistani Taliban in the wake of a massacre at a school in the city of Peshawar in December 2014 that left more than 150 dead - mainly children.

It was at the dun-colored mosque at the center of Pakistan's capital that Muhammad Jibran Nasir, a 28-year-old lawyer, organized a demonstration in the wake of Aziz's refusal to condemn the attack.

That protest, which called for the cleric's arrest for inciting hate speech, snowballed into a nationwide movement among marginalized urban liberals who rallied to "Reclaim Pakistan" from the clutches of Islamist violence.

One year on, and an army-led crackdown has put the country on course to see the fewest casualties linked to extremist attacks since 2007.

But Nasir said a military operation against extremists and government crackdown in the wake of the massacre have simply diverted attention from what lies beneath.

"The main thing is extremism - textbook reforms, madrassa reforms, mass awareness community reform cutting down the influence of the clergy in the society," he said.

"What we're doing now is stifling the growth of the cancer, but we're not addressing the reason why we keep on getting cancer."

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