We need an open debate on what motivates young persons to join the TTP or the BLA
While we have been confronted with the menace of extremism for decades, there is hardly any organised effort to look into the real reasons behind the escalated trends of extremism. One section of society attributes extremism to growing poverty and illiteracy. There is another section that believes extremism is the by-product of the prolonged Afghan war and post-9/11 developments.
While there is much talk on this issue in the media, there is hardly an effort to apply the universal journalistic formula often termed as the “5Ws & 1H” (what, where, when, who, why and how). Such journalistic probing is not possible without employing the techniques of interpretative and investigative journalism. While the media tries to follow the questions posed by the journalistic formula mentioned above, nevertheless it has failed to answer crucial questions like, ‘who’ were the culprits or the masterminds behind any particular terror attack; ‘why’ the terrorists carried out a particular attack; ‘how’ did they successfully achieve their target; ‘what’ was the modus operandi; ‘who’ facilitated and financed the terrorists?
Nations best learn when faced with adversities, but such learning should not be confined to one institution alone. Rather, collective endeavours are required. The current situation warrants that the media, law enforcement and academia should knit an equation and scrutinise the push-and-pull factors leading to violent extremism. A nation which has lost more than 55,000 innocent souls needs to opt for a diagnostic approach and plug in all probabilities that may have given birth to such a volatile situation.
The push factors include structural dynamics, like poverty, grievances and a lack of access to justice or political processes. The desire for revenge and reactions to perceived humiliations are always exploited by the architects of extremism. The situation requires open debate on what motivated young persons to join the TTP or the BLA. The law-enforcement apparatus and academia should jointly assess how the radicalisation process takes place, how the youth is inspired and talent hunters of proscribed organisations do their work. The question here arises: if terrorist organisations can hunt talent from within society, why has the community at large failed to identify such agents? Often the hardships confronted by refugees and internally displaced persons push sensitive souls towards the conversion process and a few of them end up becoming violent extremists. Preventing such conversions is a collective responsibility of the state and communities. Occupation of land by a foreign force is another potent factor that multiplies extremism. Such appeal was effectively exploited in Afghanistan and Iraq by extremists to their advantage.
Conversion to violent extremism is not an instant process. It often incubates and multiplies gradually but steadily, with the carrier of the ‘virus’ prone to becoming violent at any stage. Here close relatives, as well as institutions like the police and educational institutions can play preventive-cum-regulatory roles.
Eliminating extremism is not possible without having an understanding of all push and pull factors responsible for fostering it. Countering violent extremism requires intelligence-sharing, but owing to communication gaps between intelligence agencies, the police and the communities, the state primarily only has at its disposal the tool of technological surveillance. In the post-9/11 scenario, reputed police organisations the world over have invested hefty amounts in devising strategies to identify and prevent violent extremism. What is really needed to prevent political, ethnic, religious and sectarian extremism is an effective partnership between the police and communities. In this regard, community policing can play an effective role. Engaging, educating and partnering with communities and devising problem-solving approaches are some of the ingredients of community policing. Fear and a lack of trust can prove to be major irritants between the police and community. By gaining the community’s trust, the police can accrue vital knowledge about it. In a society where the police and community are poles apart, knitting a professional and respectful equation seems like a distant dream. Information-sharing with the police can be problematic in such an environment. Since the detection of violent extremists requires close interaction with relations, neighbours, educational institutes and local government representatives, communities and the police need to redefine their existing equation.
The 1,400-mile long porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is an important pull factor that provides opportunities to extremists to cross, stay, accomplish their mission and then return. We have failed to mobilise communities in Fata, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan against this trend. Without educating them, the desired results cannot be attained as improved border security requires the cooperation of local communities. The police possess neither the requisite training nor the capacity to interact with communities. Consequently, the use of force has become the police’s favourite option.
The nefarious use of religious and other ideologies, as well as being offered positions of authority in terrorist organisations also make for significant pull factors. The youth is psychologically manipulated in a way that joining the terror brigade becomes akin to fulfilling a religious obligation for them. Hence slogans like ‘fighting enemies of Islam’ become very potent pull factors. Other pull factors include the attractions and benefits of belonging to an extremist organisation. The followers of these groups are often convinced that the passive governance apparatus cannot bring change and that resorting to violence is the only shortcut available to them. Brotherhood within that community and prospects for fame are other attractions. Examples of the al Shabaab and the Islamic State luring young people from Europe are there for all to see. The younger generations of migrants to the US and Europe are confronted with an identity crisis today. That quest for identity and to reestablish what they see as broken links with their religion have been important factors in the growth of violent extremism.
Push factors leading to violent extremism include negative social, cultural and political characteristics of one’s environment that facilitate in ‘pushing’ vulnerable individuals towards the path of violence. Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, discrimination and political marginalisation all play a role here. However, poverty alone cannot be attributed as a factor that fosters violent extremism. For example, while Karak and Lakki Marwat are underdeveloped districts, predominantly inhabited by Marwats and Khattaks, owing to the strong role of the community leaders and awareness within the community, the inhabitants of these areas have kept away from the extremism virus. Nevertheless poverty and unemployment cannot be ignored all together. Reportedly al Shabaab pays its members sums ranging from $50 to $150 on a monthly basis.
The options that we have before us are either to remain in a perpetual state of denial or to confront the reality that confronts us. Proclamation of the National Action Plan signifies that perhaps at last we have divorced ourselves from the state of denial and are gradually heading towards a realistic approach.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2015.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.