(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
Addressing the plenary session of the SCO Council of Heads of State on September 17, Prime Minister Modi called for SCO to develop a strong network between the moderate, tolerant, and inclusive institutions and traditions associated with Islam in India. He asked almost all SCO countries to address the challenge of increased radicalism in the region, which is at the root of the challenges of peace, security, and trust deficit.
With Taliban military occupation of Afghanistan and its extremist ideology set to dominate the UNGA this week, Prime Minister will talk about counter-radicalization and other tools to fight political Islam in his speech on September 25. It is the weaponization of religion with an aim to capture political power that has led to bloodshed in Af-Pak region.
This important statement came as the first SCO Summit met after the departure of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan and Taliban once again took complete control over the country. Concerns have once again risen about the fate of the Afghan people, impact on regional stability and security, and the likelihood of Afghanistan once again becoming a well spring of terrorism. At the very least, Taliban have already shown that their extremist ideology is not a thing of the past.
Prime Minister Modi has made five important points. One, he has pointed to the Islamic heritage of India, which is inclusive, tolerant, and moderate. Two, this version of Islam has been the prevalent one in the region for centuries. Three, as he has argued over the past several years, the fight against terrorism will succeed when terrorism is delinked from religion and when the more enlightened, progressive and inclusive vision of Islam prevails over the radical and extremist interpretation of Islam, for political purpose, in this contest of ideas. Four, he has once again, as he had done in Central Asia tour in 2015, reminded the world of the spiritual links between India and Central Asia. Five, he has rejected the idea of an inevitable clash of civilisations.
PM Modi also sees Afghanistan in that context. In his address at the inauguration of the Afghan Parliament building in December 2015 or during the inauguration of the Salma Dam a few months later, he lauded the tradition of liberalism, the message of Sufi saints of Afghanistan and the achievements of the country in literature and poetry. At the SCO Summit, he was once again making the point that the Taliban way of life is not either natural or inevitable for the people of Afghanistan. This is an important message that we will carry to Washington DC and UNGA in New York.
With Taliban military occupation of Afghanistan and its extremist ideology set to dominate the UNGA this week, Prime Minister will talk about counter-radicalization and other tools to fight political Islam in his speech on September 25. It is the weaponization of religion with an aim to capture political power at the behest of an ambitious and unscrupulous neighbour Pakistan that has led to bloodshed in Af-Pak region
Beyond the state sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan against India as a politico-military strategy, terrorism has also sprung from violent and extremist twists given to certain schools of Islamic thoughts. Some of it is framed against occupation and injustice by the western world or for political purpose. Often, though, it has also turned into a contest between different strains for domination, leading to spiralling level of violence. Institutions of undivided India have taken different forms in independent India and Pakistan.
This is not the first time PM Modi has spoken about the need for advancing the traditions of Sufism and the liberal worldview of Islam to combat terrorism and extremism. He spoke at length on this issue in the keynote address to the World Sufi Forum in Delhi in March 2016. Just as he had called for reviving the ancient Buddhist links for a peaceful future in Asia in his address to the Parliament in Mongolia.
In his remarks, PM Modi has once again highlighted that in addition to the instruments of diplomacy, military and intelligence, it is important to win the battle of ideas, hearts and minds to deal with the security challenges in the region. This was also a clear message to Pakistan that has sought to use Islam to pursue its own political aims and project the existence of a polarised religious order in the region.