By Arifa Noor
April 09, 2019
ONCE again, as the state rolls up its
sleeves to rid society of militancy, plans beyond the conventional security
operations are under the spotlight. And this includes figuring out how to deal
In this regard, words such as
‘deradicalisation’ are being bandied about; but it is hard to figure out what
the specific plans or strategies are. The information minister, Fawad Chaudhry,
is one of the few to provide any details — he has said that it is to be a
three-step strategy. The first will be to disarm the groups; the second to help
them get jobs and interest-free loans; and the third will be to integrate them
Other news reports quote unnamed officials
as saying the militants could be accommodated in the paramilitary forces.
There has been criticism of this idea of
integration, instead of punishment, as it is argued that militants should be
punished for crimes, instead of being facilitated into society. But while this
has its merits, punishment cannot be the only solution.
The problem in Pakistan is the absence of
details about the government’s deradicalisation plans.
Simply put, not every militant will be
found guilty of such crimes that he can be given the death sentence or life
imprisonment. There are many lower-level operatives who cannot be put away
forever, even if they can be convicted.
And this is why the state has to think more
broadly. It is in this context that deradicalisation has to be considered for
those who are not beyond redemption. The ‘strategy’ has been adopted by a
number of states, even though its success is far from evident. But the debate
over the efficacy is for another time.
At the moment, the problem in Pakistan is
the absence of details available about the government’s deradicalisation plans.
If the deradicalisation programmes in other
Muslim countries are to provide any hints of what the stakeholders in Pakistan
may be considering, then such projects tend to focus on inmates or convicted
Be it Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, the
programmes run by these governments aim to ‘reform’ or deradicalise imprisoned
militants. Clerics or former militants are brought in to talk to them, mentor
them in a bid to turn them away from extremist views and radical ideologies. At
a later stage, they can be facilitated economically by being offered employment
to help them integrate into their families and society.
For example, in Indonesia (which initiated
such efforts after the Bali bombings), the programme is based on the idea that
radicals will only listen to other radicals. As a result, reformed extremists
were recruited to talk to and engage with convicted militants. And the second
aspect was to offer them financial assistance — paying the school fees of their
children; providing their wives with money to raise the family. Eventually, the
released prisoners were provided with some money. (In fact, there were some who
argued that the programme’s ideological component was not too effective and
that militants opted for it only because of the financial incentives.)
Despite the Indonesian authorities touting
this as a success, not everyone agrees. However, other Southeast Asian states
have implemented similar programmes.
Apart from Muslim countries, the European
countries, too, have such programmes, though these tend to be divided into
counter-radicalisation (which are preventive in nature) and deradicalisation
An example of a deradicalisation programme
was the Violence Prevention Network run in Germany which targeted prisoners
from the far right as well as religious extremists. The prisoners were offered
a programme in prison, followed by support for a year after being released. In
addition, their families were provided financial help. But instead of the
engagement being based on religion, the dialogue was more focused on delving
into the perpetrators’ sense of anger, their crimes and re-educating them about
democracy and handling conflict.
On the other hand, the prevention
programmes work entirely differently — they aim to identify those at risk or
those who may be involved or engaged with extremist organisations and working
to disengage them.
For instance, a programme in the
Netherlands, which was run by the government in collaboration with the local
authorities, reached out to young people in right-wing groups. These youths
were offered support in withdrawing from groups; this support could be in the
form of help in returning to school or getting a job and accommodation.
But Muslim states have tended to mostly
focus on deradicalisation. The Saudi and Yemeni programmes and the
deradicalisation centres in Swat — like the Indonesian efforts (and to some
extent the German example) — have been aimed at convicted extremists.
To return now to Pakistan, one can assume,
in the absence of details that the deradicalisation the government is now
promising will be akin to the Indonesian model discussed here; especially as
this is what the Swat centres also did.
If so, this means that only convicted
prisoners will be targeted.
But this raises a few questions. How
successful will this be in settled areas where without reforms the capacity of
our judicial system to ensure convictions may remain rather limited?
Second, how will this work in the case of
militants linked to organisations that so far have not carried out attacks on
Pakistani soil? How will they be convicted or imprisoned and then made part of
Third, will the deradicalisation programme,
like the Indonesian model, aim to use former militants to engage with these
convicted militants, or will it use traditional ulema (which the Indonesians
did not use as they felt they were too discredited in the eyes of the militants)?
Fourth, is the government planning to set
aside funds for the financial rehabilitation of these militants once they have
served their sentence?
Raising these questions is not about
questioning the government’s sincerity. Instead, it is to highlight the absence
of a debate on the various aspects of a policy before it is given final shape
and implemented. Indeed, the government needs to hold a more open dialogue on
the issue, which the opposition must also engage in, if the state is serious
about putting an end to the militancy that plagues Pakistan and consequently
also endangers its place in the international community.
Arifa Noor is a journalist.