August 05, 2010

Pakistani analysis on extremism, its causes and solutions

Yesterday, I attended a conference on counter radicalisation strategies organised by the Pak Institute of Peace Studeis (PIPS) and the United States Institute for Peace (USIP). I'm pasting my notes here because I think many readers working on the region and Pakistan in particular will find them useful. But at the same time, for the general reader, it provides a rare opportunity to see what professional analysts with an intimate knowledge of context and history as well as the advantage of local language knowledge make of current situation.

PIPS is a fantastic organistation. Unfortunately, I don't think the Pakistani government has the capacity to take on what they have to say. Counter Radicalisation Strategies conference

Hosted by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) and US Institute for Peace (USIP)

Amir Rana, director of PIPS:
Radicalising factors in Pakistan are:
1. Inequality - contributing
2. Religion - catalyst
3. Politics - major factor
4. State of mind - contributing factor
5. Socio-cultural - transformational

Radicalisation amongst Pakistan's societal groups:
1. Lower income - poor governance, religious networks = Talibanisation
2. Middle Income - political and ideological radical tendencies, informal educational institutions = sympathy for Talibanisation, sectarianism etc.
3. Upper income - isolation from rest of society (also common in Muslim/Pakistani diaspora) results in identity crisis. This is shared with diaspora communities. The catalyst is the religious-extremist environment. This manifestation is very different form the other two groups.

The general manifestations of growing extremism and radicalisation are:
1. The Islamisation of Pakistan
2. Militancy in AfPak.

Globally networked organisations eg. Hizb ut Tahrir and al Huda.

It's clear from opinion polls such as Pew etc, the common man is against manifestations of militancy. Support for al Qaeda's methods is very low. In Pakistan it support for al-Qaeda and/or suicide bombing comes in at about 10%-15%. In the rest of the Islamic world you'll find up to 85% support for such measures.

Support for terror is low, so why is there much extremism in Pakistan? Because extremist networks are a major driver. There are literally hundreds of groups that are sectarian, anti democracy etc. If you include large and small groups, we are talking about 600 distinct entities. This is transforming small level of support into a high level of actual violence.

Saba Nur, PIPS researcher:
Topic: women

Gradually, the role of women in extremism is growing. There have been cases of women trained for suicide bombings.

Women have very limited access to religious knowledge (mostly parents)

When asked about religion; most women said scholars had an important role to play in public life.

A high percentage of women though that sectarianism was important to "keep Islam pure".

Wahjat Ali, PIPS researcher and journalist:
Topic: Emerging trends in Radicalisation in Pakistan

There is a need for counter narratives to take on the extremism narrative.
"The fight against extremism will be fought in the craggy mountains of Waziristan but it will be won in the newsrooms."

Dr Shabana Feyaz, asst. Professor of Defence Studies at Quaid e Azam university.

Extremism in Pakistan is a mixed bag. It's anti US, anti Jewish, anti capaitalist, ethnic, sectarian etc.

There needs to be a state societal partnership. The ideology of extremism needs to be challenged educationally and socially.

Military force is necessary but it can't lead. We need a more wholeistic approach.

The state should be an engine of transformation. The government needs to work on the rule of law and governance.

We need a new societal contract between the rulers and the ruled.

We have to engage the youth. We have a huge youth bulge. A huge percentage of the population is between 15 and 35 years of age. There needs to be a qualitative shift in education from primary to university level.

Women need to be engaged to wean brothers, sons etc away from extremist ideas. Women are often on the receiving end of extremist practice because they are often seen as the symbols of collective religiosity.

Moeed Yusuf: United States Institute for Peace

We tend to believe Pakistan's problems are external. Why is there this inclination to refuse to do anything until outside problems are dealt with.

There is a core message: A Western conspiracy aimed at destroying Pakistan is radicalising the whole country.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, when they first appeared, said they weren't against the Pakistani state, only that they were against the United States and government's role in US foreign policy.

This was picked up by the media and gained popular appeal.

If you see the problem as only US driven (Afghanistan etc) then what happens? The Taliban come to attack Pakistani cities, Pakistan does nothing. There is no talk of de radicalisation or counter extremism.

Does it matter how it started? The change has to come from within. The solutions reside in-house.

The coming issues for Pakistan are: Need to increase the economy by about 5% a year just to employ young people entering the work force.
The option of sending the spare workforce abroad is no longer there (to a greater degree)
Urbanisation is rising and the urban poor are the main recruiting ground for extremists
There is easy access to militants.

In essence; if you believe the extremist narrative and want to get involved and fight, then you will be able to find people to facilitate you.

Imtiaz Gul, journalist and researcher:

The rule of law and governance is a major driver.

Ijaz Haider, scholar and journalist.

The government's interventions so far has only been the use of conventional force. There is no counter radicalisation or counter extremism.

Previously, the government relied on Barelvis to counter extremist thought and this led to Baraelvis being killed. Pursuing this further could lead to violence between the two groups.

An overall societal effort is needed. Not rely on coopting one group or individual.

Pakistan is a country of many communities and religions. Even if people say they are Muslim, people follow vastly different interpretations of the faith.

Sharia is like a unicorn. No one knows what it exactly entails.

The problem is beyond the specific ideology of extremism. It's about society in general. For eg, seminary students mishear a religious leader referring to Christians and think local Christians have defamed the Quran, and then lynch them. This is a societal problem.

Extremism in a wider sense is a gangrene is Pakistan.

Tariq Rehman:
Former army guy and now an educationalist:

Anything from the government is not trusted. This is a trust deficit issue. When TTP said they didn't kill Benazir, people believed them rather than the government of Musharraf.

Why not use educational tools (books and processes) to instil the values of coexistance and not extremism

Sherry Rehman
PPP MP and former minister of information

We are aware of what's happening. There needs to be a look at integration of the state's actions. Interagency coordination is a challenge.

We need to have a look at governance. There is a lack of governance.

Even a commitment from all political parties against terrorism is not easy. There are always ambiguities and exceptions. We need interagency coordination.

We have huge gaps in policy execution. Civil service reform hasn't happened for a long time. It's been talked about but hasn't happened.

Governments don't plan for the next 40 years, it's true. This is because they are worried about the coming year.

"You should be able to hold a government accountable without threatening he premise of democracy."

"We have to remember that we (Pakistan) was complicit in the policy that brought terrorism home."