Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday made a subtle distinction between terrorism and extremism, saying the military could only defeat terrorists but extremism is something civil society is better equipped to deal with.
He was speaking at a seminar in Islamabad, titled “Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism”, attended by students, army personnel as well as dignitaries from the world of academia.
Gen Bajwa said extremism is the foremost factor driving terrorism, adding that though the former is a term “relative to our perception of what is normal,” it has a lot to do with the environment in which people live.
“From that perspective,” he added, “We must admit that Pakistani youth is being exploited due to the poor governance [of the country] and lack of justice in society.”
Citing the demographics of the country, he said 50 per cent of the Pakistani population is projected to be less than 25 years of age, adding that the future of this country “literally lies” in whatever direction the youth takes.
“The most important stimulus driving a young adult is to find purpose and meaning in life. It is during this stage that one is ready to commit: to professions, to relationships, to causes and to ideologies,” the COAS said.
“It is a wonderful stage in life, but it is also the most vulnerable.”
Therefore, he said, it is crucial that the youth not only receive education but also develop a “balanced” personality, and become “productive citizens and future leaders”.
“Our homes, educational institutions and media houses are first in the line of defence against extremism in the society,” Gen Bajwa said.
The army chief said both “state and non-state” elements are “waging the biggest and most sustained hybrid war against Pakistan”, trying to connect to the country’s disillusioned youth via smartphone technology and the internet.
Differentiating between religiosity and terrorism, he pointed out: “These so-called Muslims [who sponsor terrorist activities] have nothing to do with Islam.”
“If you ever ask them why they are laying Muslim lands to waste, they will tell you that they are only doing it for reform,” Gen Bajwa said.
“They have realised they cannot achieve power through the ballot but through violence … Therefore, coercion, fear and destruction are their tools of choice.”
“The ultimate objective of any religion is to teach you how to live a good life, not how to die a destructive death,” the Army chief said.
“Islam expects you to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. That is all as far as your social responsibility is concerned,” he added.
“You cannot impose your views on anyone,” Gen Bajwa told the audience.
“There is no compulsion in religion.”