Tough measures alone are not enough to deal with the threat of terror. Counter-terrorism policies must also include psychological measures designed to lure people away from terror groups. “Soft power” inventiveness is needed to develop more humane methods. An example of this are the Disengagement, De-radicalization and Rehabilitation (DDR) programs in Pakistan.
Today, Pakistan is suffering waves of violence. Suicide attacks, bomb blasts, sabotage and attacks on everyone from soldiers to school children are threatening the country. The nation needs a creative, innovative and unconventional strategy based on DDR initiatives to deal with the extremism germinating rapidly throughout the country. Under carefully evaluated DDR programming, well-structured interventions striking at the core of the militants’ ideology can significantly shrink their supply of recruits.
Presently there are no widespread official DDR programs in Pakistan. Here are some measures that could be taken. First of all, there is a dire need to integrate indigenous police, municipal agencies and political agents in tribal areas to successfully assist the capacity-building and DDR projects that engage affected individuals and remove them from the temptations of recidivism.
Counseling programs entailing sessions with psychologists and social scientists could be designed for participants and their families. These can provide vital insights into how participants are progressing and help determine whether or not their rehabilitation is genuine.
Familial engagement is important in “Exit Programs” to overcome feelings of isolation and guilt. With stable relationships, eventually reinforced by having children and building new social networks, former extremists may establish their new lives. Similarly, the involvement of parent-driven initiatives has also proven to be highly effective in extracting children from the clutches of extremist groups.
We must provide alternatives to terrorist groups. They provide identity, community, protection, and exhilaration. Potential defectors from extremist religious identities are unlikely to take the plunge if they see no pragmatic, reasonably secure, and striking escape channels.
Those who withdraw from terrorist bands usually do so because continued membership appears unattractive and is no longer fulfilling their socio-psychological needs, whereas life outside the group appears more eye-catching.
Countering online radicalization is a systematic program which works through a pervasive public information campaign, showing the effects of violence on victims. This should be put in place to lower public support, which has been seen online and elsewhere, for terrorist writings.
Re-education and rehabilitation can be achieved by introducing a massive book distribution program. Persuasive and balanced studies of Islam and comparative religions through school libraries may also be an effective tool.
On the premise that extremism originates from a mistaken interpretation of Islam, rather than a willful inclination to terrorism, programs need to be constructed to re-educate individuals and promote a more holistic interpretation of religion, ensuring ideological immunization to rotten narratives. De-programming of extremist views of Islam has led to some members actually bursting into tears as they realize they have violated their religion’s principles through violence. Such initiatives allow discussions about values and belief systems of the religion and provide a vital counter-narrative to extremists’ theological reasoning.
As an aftermath of the Afghan war led to refugees coming to Pakistan, the number of Madrassas has grown over time and provided religious education to a large number of students. Religious seminaries essentially fill the vacuum created by a deficient schooling system in the public sector. But there is no credible monitoring of the qualifications of teachers, and many continue to employ militant sympathizers.
Critically, Madrassa graduates can only become religious teachers as they are not taught the skills they need for regular jobs. Registering such institutions and ensuring they meet students’ educational needs, rather than radicalizing them, is vital.
Besides, most of the media in countries such as Pakistan still seems wrapped in emotional responses to the foreign policy objectives of the US and its allies since 2001. Pervasive media strategies and informative campaigns need to be designed to neutralize radical media campaigns. The media should go for healthy debates and dialogues and not just report gruesome incidents.
By bringing the non-violent extremists into the fold of DDR programming, the government may kill two birds with one stone – winning the trust of the tribal people who would no longer be motivated to support the left-over terrorists and beginning the slow painful process of gradually disengaging itself from the US-led war on terror.
The article was carried by Global Times.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessary reflective of IPRI