In this age of globalization the phenomena of terrorism and extremism has become a complex issue posing multidimensional security challenges to states and societies all over the world. The transnational nature of these non-traditional challenges has added new complexities and confusion in this respect. In the last more than sixteen years, the counter-terrorism policies and strategies mostly focused on hard approach/use of military force to counterterrorism and destroying their hideouts. There has been a lot of talk of having holistic strategy covering all aspects of countering terrorism and extremism by using a combination of hard and soft approaches but the use of hard approach remains dominant in most of the counter-terrorism strategies.
However, partly some states focused on the soft approach especially in the form of deradicalisation and rehabilitation programmes, many of which were more successful than hard approach and less likely to foment a new generation of violent extremists. Deradicalisation programs, which are geared toward peacefully moving individuals and groups away from violent extremism, have grown both in popularity and scope .These programs are diverse in terms of their targets ranging from ‘prisoners’ to ‘potential terrorists’ and from ‘convicted criminals’ to ‘repentant extremists’ with multiple aims such as abandonment of extreme views, disengagement from terrorism, rehabilitation into society. These programmes are of different sizes -from just a handful of participants to hundreds.
Pakistan’s policy on countering terrorism and extremism mainly stems from her key foreign policy objective of global peace, security, stability and development. This policy is primarily based on using soft power to persuade terrorists by understanding their motives and objectives and preventing the appeal of terrorism to be effective and penetrating into Pakistani society. It is a mix of de-radicalisation and counter-radicalization concepts, which means not only de-radicalizing the extremist elements within Pakistani society but preventing the society from absorbing the violent ideas and countering the threats of incitement by terrorists within Pakistani society.
Pakistan runs six main deradicalisation programs throughout the country: the Sabaoon Centre for Rehabilitation (Sabaoon is the first ray of light at dawn), Mishal, Sparley, Rastoon, Pythom and Heila. The objective of the first three is to educate detainees in curricula that include formal education, including corrective religious education, vocational training, counselling and therapy and a discussion module that addresses social issues and includes sessions with the students’ families. Disengagement and de-radicalisation are the two techniques by which a radical individual can be de-programmed and rehabilitated in a favourable environment. Disengagement requires a change in behaviour but not essentially a change in a belief system. It is termed as short term and the person could depart from a radical network and not indulge in violence but still hold a radical worldview.
De-radicalisation on the other hand is a long term arrangement and refers to an agenda directed against individuals who have become radical with the aim of reintegrating them back into the society and dissuading them from violence. It also means de-programming extremists individually and communally. De-radicalisation, disengagement and rehabilitation are indispensable components of any counter-extremism strategy. The national de-radicalisation policy should be comprehensive taking into account all the possible reasons that trigger the spark when individuals react with moral outrage to the stories of their fellow Muslims who are suffering across the nation which is inflamed by an explanation that elucidates the suffering in the context of consistent policies in Western countries that are viewed as antagonistic to Muslims around the world. The consequent resentment is fuelled by negative personal experiences such as discrimination, inequality, inability to get good qualification etc and thus an individual is bound to devote himself to a terrorist network that unfortunately becomes a close knit family.
The continuous efforts are required to prevent young minds from falling into the trap of extremism and to help them find a way back into the mainstream once they quit the way of the gun. Pakistan has experimented with deradicalisation programmes, most notably in the KP especially in Swat where the army-led effort has produced mixed results. Initially more than 2500 militants were rehabilitated. In 2011, another de-radicalisation programme was initiated in eastern Punjab under the joint management of Police’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and Technical Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA). The de-radicalization programme in Punjab was shelved in 2012 by the Punjab government due to fund scarcity. In January 2017, officials of the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department announced a deradicalisation and rehabilitation plan for around 300 militants lodged in Sindh’s prisons. It has also been working with various universities in Sindh since July 2017 to prevent the spread of militancy among educated youth.
Radicalization is a reality of the contemporary world that is unlikely to disappear soon. While learning from the Deradicalisation Centres in Swat run by Pakistan Army, the federal government along with provincial governments should start deradicalisation centres at grass-root levels under well planned strategy by involving all segments of society. Disengaging militants and the general population without violating their sacred beliefs is critical. Interfaith dialogue and deradicalisation at gross-roots level with the involvement of civil administration and local government representatives at Union Council, Tehsil and District levels would be useful in making this effort a sustainable process. Lack of capacity and financial resources may pose some challenges at the initial stage but if there is a political will these challenges can be overcome gradually.
Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on March 4, 2018.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy