Arguably, the level of violence and terrorism has been managed in Pakistan to an extent. However, reports on the involvement of women in suicide attacks are gaining the shape of a pattern. This is alarming because approximately half of the population in Pakistan constitutes women and if they fall prey to the propaganda machine of terrorist, it could aggravate the security concerns. More so, the ability to differentiate between implicit and explicit support of terrorism by the overall population is another matter of concern. Hence, the counter-terrorism policy of Pakistan should take these missing factors into account.
Even though women in Pakistan are not playing a primary role in terrorist activities, but the reported incidents reveal the role of facilitation provided by the women to terrorist organizations, particularly after the rise of the so-called IS. This significant shift seems to be driven by a number of factors. For instance, the role of women as a facilitator may be a way to exert influence or a consequence of the urge to become a part of something bigger than oneself. If one considers the assumption as true, this means that there is a need to create space for women to exercise influence in a productive manner, which could benefit the society rather than labelling them as negative members especially those who have been terrorist accomplices or proven guilty in the past. In the eastern culture, women play an undeniably major role in family dynamics. So, if they are brainwashed by the terrorist propaganda including the so-called IS rationale for waging ‘their version of jihad’, the social implications for Pakistan could be larger than the current level of threat and vulnerability. Mothers, for example, in the house generally spend more time with the children, which provide them the opportunity to impact the mindset of children than other members of the family. Hence, the chances of indoctrinating children by the women are more than men.
According to one school of feminism, some of the women become part of the terrorist organization as revenge tactics because they suffer from the trauma of losing their family at the hands of terrorists. This is not to say it can be justified, however, the explanation provides insights into the main drivers of women involved in the terrorist activities, especially the family members of those individuals who are killed in the terrorist activities. Therefore, there is a need to develop a mechanism, which would address the concerns of the female family members of the terrorists, in addition to taking steps to integrate them into the society.
Undeniably, attempts have been made by the Pakistan law enforcement agencies to probe the role of women operatives in the terrorist groups. However, the repercussions of women as a member of the terrorist organization in the context of Pakistan has been overlooked despite the prominence of such incidents in print media since 2015. In other words, the growing numbers of women involved in the terrorist activities have changed the tactics of terrorist attacks because women are not suspected by law enforcement agencies, as the societal norms make it hard for the security personnel to conduct the security checks. In order to understand the nature of the role played by the women, one can refer back to the Swat incident, where women sold off their jewelry to support the Taliban in Swat. Though not all women were willingly doing it, however, there was a small segment that came to be known as the ‘Taliban apologist’. Similarly, Bushra Cheema, who joined IS, indicates the burgeoning challenges for the security agencies of Pakistan.
Even though the soaring class difference between different segments of society is leading to the increasing radicalisation in Pakistan, in addition to unemployment and poverty, however, the recent case of a female student from Medical University, among other cases contradicts this argument. Similarly, the student of one of the Karachi’s top university in the incident of Safoora Goth is another case in point, which is not based on the traditional understanding of youth involvement in the terrorists’ activities. This is to say that in addition to the economic causes, unidentified precursors associated with the middle class and upper middle classes are also adding to the issue of countering terrorism.
As far as the countering violent extremism is concerned, a special program can be introduced to help the women distinguish between the implicit and explicit support of the terrorism, in addition to taking steps to address new causes of terrorism in the Pakistani context. Likewise, the political, social and economic drivers of terrorism can be tackled by addressing the structural problems. Moreover, study groups can be formulated to pinpoint the flaws in the counter-terrorism policy of Pakistan. Simply put, there is a need to reassess the popular causes of terrorism already under discussion in the policy circles, as they are becoming obsolete with time. Lastly, exclusive programmes to mainstream the marginalised segments of women populations can also help to mitigate the emerging trend of female involvement in the terrorist attacks.
Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on November 22, 2017.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.