The counter-terrorism phenomenon as observed in the contemporary world today is getting complicated. Hard 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 is the Disengagement, De-Radicalisation and Rehabilitation (DDR) programmes in Pakistan. The country needs more creative, innovative and unconventional strategy based on DDR initiatives to deal with extremism. Under a carefully evaluated DDR programming, well-structured interventions striking at the core of the militants’ ideology can significantly shrink their supply of recruits.
Conceptual divergence between de-radicalisation and disengagement is imperative in pointing out that not only one gets rid of terrorism movement but also one becomes de-radicalised. De-radicalisation implies a cognitive transformation, a fundamental transition in understanding and a re-orientation in outlook, often due to some personal traumatic experience of the violent ideologies, engendering post-traumatic growth in the form of rehabilitation. It leads to the opening up of cognitive avenues, making the individual receptive to logical ideas.
Disengagement envisages a transformed role for an affected individual by undergoing behavioural and social changes such as leaving a band or changing one’s role within the band by discarding the commonly shared norms, values and attitudes of the terrorist network. It also implies some persistent recognition of these values and attitudes, and concurrently engaging in some other socially germane support behaviour, but no longer indulged in real terrorist manoeuvres.
Pakistan has already taken several measures to counter extremism such as de-radicalisation programmes (Swat Programme 2009 and Punjab Programme 2011) and counter-radicalisation initiatives (Counter-Terrorism Operations, National Internal Security Policy 2014, National Action Plan 2014, and Pakistan Protection Act 2014). Here are some measures that may be taken to further improve the country’s existing DDR programmes. First of all, there is a dire need to integrate indigenous police, municipal agencies and political agents in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to successfully assist the capacity-building and DDR projects that engage affected individuals and remove them from the temptations of recidivism.
Counselling programmes 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 Programmes’ 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.
The country must provide alternatives to spoilers. They should 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 radicalisation is a systematic programme, 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 programme. Persuasive and true 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 wilful inclination to terrorism, programmes need to be constructed to re-educate individuals and promote a more holistic interpretation of religion, ensuring ideological immunisation to rotten narratives. De-programming of extremist views of Islam has led to some members actually bursting into tears as they realise 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.
In the aftermath of the Afghan war, 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 a few credible monitoring of the qualifications of teachers, and many may continue to employ militant sympathisers. 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 radicalising them, is vital.
Pervasive media strategies and informative campaigns also need to be designed to neutralise radical media campaigns. The media should go for healthy debates and dialogues and not just report gruesome incidents. By bringing the extremists into the fold of DDR programming, the government may kill two birds with one stone — winning the trust of the vulnerable people who would no longer be motivated to support the radical ideology and ultimately beginning the slow process of gradually disengaging itself from the war against terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2018.
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