Combating Radicalization Tendencies in Punjab  
Project Details

Combating Radicalization Tendencies in Punjab
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December 5, 2009 – February 28, 2010
Supported by: Auswärtiges Amt (AA) ? German Foreign Office and Heinrich Böll Stiftung


Forces of neo-conservatism and religious fanaticism are increasingly threatening the lives and security of citizens of Pakistan . This is a particularly sensitive juncture, with violence on the rise. While conservative and puritanical forces directly impinge on the rights of citizens (security, free speech, information, etc.), they also threaten the foundations on which a democratic society is predicated. This second, less direct, impact of growing, violent, fanaticism is creating a rupture in the culture for peace and democracy in the country. The Center staff conceived and implemented a project in the Department of Communication & Cultural Studies, National College of Arts, Lahore. Working toward an overall goal of “enabling a democratic culture in Pakistan,” the project purpose was to “sensitise students and policy makers to the role of culture for peace and democracy in Pakistan.” A key objective of the project was to open and explore a space to contest rising fundamentalism through sound academic research and education activities. The project delivered all its outputs:

Recently, the Pakistani state has also proven unable to establish its writ in large parts of NWFP and the tribal belt. Many areas have been ceded to extremists, who practice their own brand of ideologically defined ?justice?. One of the first acts of extremists upon controlling these parts of the country, have been torching and forced closure of music shops and TV channels, as well as public hoardings. The second direct act has been enforcing bans against public appearance of women. The third extreme act has been widespread torching and forced closure of girls? schools.

Clearly, from the above examples, gender and culture are central concerns to the battle with extremists. However, international and domestic attention is fixed on political-security solutions. While this is also important, what is largely ignored is the radical ideology implemented by extremists, which is winning the hearts and minds of people.

This radicalizing ideology is directly impacting the population of the tribal areas. However, it is also spreading, via mainstream and alternative electronic and print media, across the country. This spread has begun to create fertile ground for extremists to take advantage of throughout the NWFP, Balochistan and even the Punjab. Again, this well-developed, extreme ideology is not only threatening the lives and security of people, but is also attacking the very foundations of democratic culture in Pakistan. The notions of gender equality and the role of women in society, which have only recently begun to develop in the country, are also under threat from radical actions.



At the national level, part of the problem is that there is no well-developed, academically rigorous, institutional space to conserve the foundations of democracy against fanatical threats. Neither students, nor policy makers, nor moderate intellectuals have access to such a space to share information and generate avenues for action. The youth, in particular, is offered no coherent, locally grounded understanding of what the fanatical, radical ideology actually means for their cultural heritage.

While the seeds of radical extremism are being planted by vested interests, these seeds also require fertile soil to grow. The seeds of radicalism could not grow without fertile soil to the level of violence we now see in Swat, Malakand, Waziristan and even Peshawar, Quetta, and Lahore.

There are few spaces where this forced identity is being contested in a sound, intellectual manner. No institution in the country is dedicated to theorizing gender and culture rigorously and relevant to Pakistani history and heritage. Likewise, there is no directly gender and culture-related contest to the radical identity of extremists.

Conserving Democracy

One attempt in this regard was a project, entitled “Contesting Fundamentalism- Conserving Democracy through Culture & Education”. The project was undertaken by the Department of Communication & Cultural Studies, National College of Arts, in partnership with Heinrich Böll Stiftung. The project worked for an overall goal of “enabling a democratic culture in Pakistan by sensitizing students and policy makers to the role of culture for democracy.”

The project proved to be largely successful in terms of stakeholder response. However, it also highlighted the need to develop an independent space to interact with students and academics from various institutions, beyond NCA. Building on this, and its own extensive experience, the project team has established an independent institution: Center for the Study of Gender & Culture. With a mission to develop cultural theorization through research, education and dialog, the Center draws on a distinguished panel of international academics in leading universities globally.

The same team is now undertaking a second pilot project, building on the first experience, through the Center. Critically, the Center will be able to operate outside the constraints of Government-controlled NCA, but will continue to draw upon students and faculty from NCA and now other universities.

Project Outline

The overall goal to which the project contributes is to ?contest extreme radicalization in Pakistan by engaging students, intellectuals and policy makers on the role of gender and culture for peace and democracy.? To this end, the project works toward the following objectives :

  1. to open an academic space to contest growing radicalization and polarization in Pakistani society;
  2. to employ that space by reaching and engaging academics, students and policy makers on issues of culture and gender that underpin violent fundamentalism.

Between December 5, 2009 and February 28, 2010, the Center will engage in the following project activities:

  1. Research & Publication:
    1. Two research-based policy briefs on the role of culture-related scholarship in contesting radical ideology in Pakistan, and on the need for a broad-based communications strategy to counter that ideology; dissemination by hand and mail to key decision-makers.
  2. Dialog and Education:
    1. Exclusive meeting with about 10 leading intellectuals in Lahore on the above topics, along with a report.
    2. Dedicated project webpage on Center website, with updated project resources and materials.
    3. 1-2 seminars to build conceptual understanding of about 20 university students (NCA plus other institutions) in Lahore regarding fundamentalism and democracy; students will receive handouts and a report will be published.
  3. Institution-building: Institutional support for the Center
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