In the fifth segment of NESA South Asia Interview Series, Professor Hassan Abbas interviews Professor Qamar-ul Huda who is a non-resident fellow at The Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C and an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a senior policy advisor to the U.S. State Department Secretary’s Office.
HASSAN ABBAS: Congratulations on your recent publication “A Critique of Countering Violent Extremism Programs in Pakistan” (Center for Global Policy, July 2020). What are the core findings from the report that are crucial for CVE practitioners today? What are your top 3-5 findings?
QAMAR-UL HUDA: I think the top five findings from the policy report are the following:
1. In Pakistan – a frontline state in the war of terrorism- Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) policies and programs are still fundamentally controversial, misunderstood, and strongly criticized by local human rights groups and religious leaders. Pakistan state institutions and civil society organizations have implemented a variety of CVE programs but there have been no measures of the programs’ effectiveness or impact analysis, and this raises concerns about the fundamental nature of CVE programs.
HASSAN ABBAS: The report appears to be cautioning CVE experts not to play with religious narratives and argues that engaging religious scholars to challenge and condemn violent extremism may not in reality be an effective or appropriate CVE practice. Kindly elaborate this point further as most Muslim states are heavily engaged in this exercise.
QAMAR-UL HUDA: Even before the White House Summit on CVE in February, 2014, the global CVE research and policy community were intent on finding and funding “moderate Muslim religious networks” (Rand Report), “supporting non-violent jihadi Salafi groups” (Graeme Wood), “to collaborate with global Salafism (William McCants and Shadi Hamid), and leverage the rising middle class Shi’ites in the Middle East against the Hezbollah movement and the ‘Ulama of Iran (Vali Nasr).
The role of religion in countering violent extremism — especially during the peak of Daesh’s rise after the capture of Mosul, Iraq, in 2014 — was tied to an abstract computation of funding a religious leader’s organization, building trusted networks, and supporting the dissemination of CVE messaging about peace and pluralism. Considering religious engagement as an aspect of security was problematic to some, but others argued that the stakes were too high to ignore the role of religious actors in CVE activities.