What Drives Extremism in Pakistan?

Admitting There is a Problem

One of the goals of The Pakistan Forum is to go beyond the news headlines about Pakistan, digging deeper on the issues that the country faces.

We can’t talk about Pakistan today without acknowledging the challenge of extremism.

Extremism dictates the day to day of ordinary Pakistanis, who live in constant fear of suicide attacks and bus bombs, among other threats to their lives. The Pakistani state has acknowledged the challenges and in 2014 established the National Action Plan to fight extremism.

India and Afghanistan have also been impacted by the growth of extremism in Pakistan. And it goes without saying that the United States views extremism in Pakistan as a direct threat to its national security.

The challenge is clear and undeniable, and at this point, no one has blinders on with regards to its existence. On the drivers and root causes of extremism in Pakistan, however, there is no uniform view or consensus.

Lack of Consensus

India, Afghanistan, and the United States blame the Pakistani military for enabling a permissive environment for extremism. Pakistan, on the other hand, will say that its neighbors and on again-off again American friends are the invisible hand destabilizing the country. And what do ordinary Pakistani citizens think? A little bit of everything.

That is why Professor Madiha Afzal’s new book, Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society and the State is critical reading for policymakers and ordinary citizens alike.

The Link to the Military and State

Afzal assesses the many surveys produced in recent years on Pakistani attitudes towards extremism. She then looks at how the strategic alignment of the Pakistani military towards Islamist parties; the military’s rhetoric on India; and the state’s construction of a Muslim identity all encouraged certain citizen attitudes towards extremism – ones that rationalized mob violence, accepted discrimination against non-Muslims, and blaming India for Pakistan’s problems.

Connecting the pieces between survey data, military narratives, and laws and policies is no easy task, but Afzal succeeds in constructing a concise and rational narrative on why extremism exists in Pakistan – and why there is nothing accidental or conspiratorial about it.

Learn More

For more of Afzal’s pragmatic and informed analysis, watch her talk hosted by The Pakistan Forum at Johns Hopkins SAIS, where she was joined by Foreign Policy Institute Fellow Shamila N. Chaudhary and Professor Josh White:


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shamilach View All →

D.C. based writer, foreign policy analyst, photographer, and former White House and U.S. State Department staffer and Afghanistan and Pakistan junkie now recovering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

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