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What Drives Extremism in Pakistan?

March 15, 2018

Madiha Afzal, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Global Policy Program and non-resident Fellow, Brookings Institution
Joshua T. White, Associate Professor of the Practice of South Asia Studies and Fellow at the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asia Studies
Moderated by Shamila Chaudhary, Foreign Policy Institute Fellow

The Foreign Policy Institute hosted professor and author Madiha Afzal for a discussion on her new book, ”Pakistan under siege: Extremism, Society and the state." Afzal’s research lies at the intersection of development, security and political economy, with a focus on Pakistan.

The panel examined contemporary Pakistani attitudes regarding extremism and their connection to education policy. Beginning with an overview, Afzal stated that in the years since the 9/11 terror attacks, Pakistan has been defined in one dimension: its relationship with terrorism. Pakistanis are characterized as the victims or perpetrators of terrorism, she said. The roots of such attitudes include the Pakistani state's chosen identity as an Islamic state and its existential fear of rival India. Afzal explained how these pillars of identity have led to a regressive form of Islamization in Pakistan’s narratives, laws, and curricula. These, in turn, have shaped its citizens’ attitudes.

Afzal pointed out how the rhetoric and strategic actions of Pakistan’s military, government, and Islamist parties have encouraged citizen attitudes toward extremism. She argued that regressive laws instituted in the 1980s have contributed to mob violence.

Moderator Shamila Chaudhry and Professor Joshua White emphasized that the book deals with the issue as it has been sensationalized in US and global media. The book positions Pakistanis as individuals with their own domestic concerns. Most importantly, they said, it encourages the US to look at security issues from a more constructive perspective.