When Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry apologised to the ECP for his intemperate words against its members recently, he said that — as the government’s spokesman — “At times I say things but the words uttered are not my own.”
However, while addressing a consultative conference on terrorism in Islamabad on Thursday, he seemed to have been articulating his own views. Mr Chaudhry acknowledged that remedial steps taken to counter extremism in Pakistan were not enough, and added that neither the government nor the state was sufficiently prepared to deal with the problem.
Giving the example of the recent face-off with the TLP, he said: “We saw how the government had to go on the back foot.” Such an approach was, according to the minister, a ticking time bomb. He described extremism within Pakistan as the “biggest danger” facing the country today.
While one cannot always agree with Mr Chaudhry’s stance on various issues, it is difficult to not concur with his position on extremism or his statement that “The state should have only one business, and that business is the enforcement of the law”. Only then, indicated the minister, would diverse points of view be able to flourish without one group using violence to impose its view on the rest of society.
In the early days of the latest confrontation with the TLP, Mr Chaudhry at a press conference following a federal cabinet meeting had asserted that the then proscribed outfit would be treated as a “militant” group. The government, he said, would not tolerate anyone who challenged the writ of the state. What transpired later, the shameful capitulation by the authorities which shredded any semblance of the ‘state’s writ’, illustrates yet again that the PTI government has no coherent strategy or long-term policy for dealing with violent ultra-right movements.
Ad hocism is particularly dangerous when it comes to extremism for it inevitably resurfaces with increasing lethality and an expanding agenda. At what point will the price of appeasement be too high for the state to accept? These considerations become even more urgent in the light of government talks with the TTP, that murderous outfit responsible for shedding the blood of tens of thousands of Pakistanis. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s views about its members seem to have changed little from when he described them as “our misguided brethren”.
If there is a silver lining in Mr Chaudhry’s address to the conference, it is that his words offer evidence that members of the PTI government are not on quite the same page where the issue of extremism is concerned. Indeed, there have been several occasions when members of the federal cabinet have voiced opinions that were somewhat removed from the official position, and more reasonable to boot.
The prime minister should give due consideration to his information minister’s views about extremism.