The Need for Civil Society


By Ahmed Rashid
Al Jazeera, Feb. 25, 2015

Pakistan will never be able to defeat the Pakistani Taliban and other terrorist outfits unless the Army enlists the help of civil society and the public at large.

A stunning example of what is possible and where the public now stands on critical social and political issues and on being able to discard their age-old prejudices was evident last week at the Lahore Literary Festival. Over three days, the festival—the third in three years—drew some 75,000 people of all ages and classes to its 75-plus sessions in English, Urdu, and two regional languages.

Never before has an Afghan ambassador to Pakistan and an Afghan media mogul been welcomed in a public gathering with standing ovations every time either one spoke. For years there has been a high level of tension between the two countries. Pakistanis have been fed that the Afghan government is nothing more than an ally of enemy India. Now suddenly peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan is all that is being talked about and there is the suggestion that the militaries of the two countries will take a joint run against their common problem—the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

Neither have half a dozen serving and retired Pakistani generals dressed in suits, with their wives in tow, ever slipped into a public audience to hear India’s leading historians and other Indian intellectuals speak of India’s past and future problems and the need to make peace with Pakistan. Every time a speaker mentioned peace between the two countries, there was applause. To its credit the Army, too, is slowly changing and is now pursuing an across-the-board, zero-tolerance counterterrorism strategy.

However, the Army wants to fight, look after refugees, and rebuild shattered cites on its own. This will not work. What the festival demonstrated is that the battle against extremism cannot be won or achieved without a strategy that involves civil society and the public.

See the full piece here.

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