The extravagant and coercive counterterrorism strategies such as drones employed by the US and military operations done by Pakistan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan to fight the terrorism that erupted after 9/11, has ultimately proved futile. A lot of people in Pakistan question Imran Khan’s stance on solving the issue of terrorism through non-coercive means i.e. by ‘Peace Talks’. But if we see the history of the last decade in which Pakistan has been continuously involved in America’s ‘War on Terror’, then we see that the frequency of suicide bombings in Pakistan has been on an incline and there is a growing need to revise counter terrorism policies. There is a saying by a famous American jazz singer Carlos Santana.
‘Peace has never come from dropping bombs. Real peace comes from enlightening and educating people to behave more in a divine manner’
This wisdom has been ignored by Pakistan’s top brass, while other countries like Saudi Arabia and Switzerland have been employing non-coercive means (i.e. education and vocational training) to curb radicalization in their midst. In Pakistan, a few wise civilian leaders and army generals understood the nature of the problem following the Swat operation. As a result they initiated pilot projects for the purpose of rehabilitating ex-militants.
After Operation Black Thunderstorm in 2009, a few militants in Swat surrendered. UNICEF with the collaboration of Hum Pakistani Foundation initiated a project of ‘rehabilitation and emancipation of ex-militants’. Few rehabilitation schools that are set up in northern Pakistan are Sabaoon and Rastoon, in Malakand Agency for Juveniles, Mishal in Mingora for adult detainees, Navi Saher in Bajaur for adult detainees, Female Emancipation and Skill Training (Feast) for women in Swat, Sparlay for family members of detained persons and in Tank. The Sabaoon Model is based on Saudi Model which is considered to the best model of de-radicalization of ex-militants worldwide.
The militants who are arrested undergo a screening process and the Taliban affiliates who are not hardcore fighters but classified as helpers, falling in the third tier, are incorporated into the schools. The rehabilitation procedure lasts for 11-12 weeks and it consists of psychological profiling, assessment, reversal of extremist indoctrination by means of lectures, psychological counseling, knowledge enhancement, training in personal grooming, ethics and vocational training. The most appreciable part of this program is that these institutes operate as learning centers and not ‘prisons’, enabling detainees to regain self-worth and understanding. The students are taught to be calm beings, nothing about good and bad jihad is inculcated in the minds of the students but a sense is created in them to differentiate between good and bad. They are given a chance to hone their skills, discover their potentials and later get admission in renowned schools across Pakistan. The women who promoted militancy and whose men were actively involved in it are guided towards the real meaning of Islam through lectures on peace and religion, and also receive vocational training in tailoring and stitching. Such a threat these schools pose to Taliban that Dr.Farooq a renowned cleric and Vice Chancellor of Swat University who was a leading figure in this project, was slain by the Taliban.
Pakistan is arguably going through the worst period of its history because it is ensnared in a vicious and volatile battle with its own people. The radical counterterrorism policies have not benefited Pakistan but rather they have escalated terrorism. The country is now having to deal with the unforeseen consequences of its defunct and inept counterterrorism policy. In Pakistan this initiative is taken by the military and it is important that the civilian government, must take back the space in determining policy toward extremism and militancy, and policing the FATA and troubled areas of Balochistan and KP.
In Pakistan there is no law that caters the need of the rehabilitation of terrorists and the absence of a legal framework for rehabilitation has left the country handicapped in ensuring de-radicalization. The provision of comprehensive legal framework for this purpose will make the the de-radicalization process more affective.
The new innovative approaches to counterterrorism should be encouraged rather than constant employment of coercive apparatus to minimize collateral damage. Before implementing any counterterrorism policy, SWOT analysis and its perverse affects/unintended consequences should be taken into consideration.
New ways to deal with recidivism/re-engagement should be researched because much of the groundwork research has been done on the areas of disengagement from terrorism and some significant gaps remain on the issue of recidivism and risk assessment in the context of terrorism.
Such trainings generally span over the period of 11-12 weeks which is not adequate and so chances of relapsed militancy and radicalization increase. Ample funds are thus required so the span of training can be prolonged and subjects of de-radicalization can be accommodated.
Strict monitoring should be done on the funds that are allocated to these programs as in 2009, the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Trust under the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education allocated Rs.100 million as seed money for the project but no developments ever surfaced or brought to light.
The Pakistan Institute of Rehabilitation Sciences (PIRS), under ISRA University Islamabad, teaches a course of rehabilitation of disabled people. They should also focus on introducing the new discipline of rehabilitation of militants as it is the time of need.
These schools in Pakistan train the Taliban affiliates who are not considered hardcore fighters. These schools can act as models for dangerous militants also as we see that in foreign countries like Switzerland the prisoners and criminals are reformed and they are positively reintegrated back into society.
Lastly, the best way is to follow the religion of Islam in its true spirit, learning the importance of tolerance. Government should take part in this de-radicalization campaign and should place special focus on incorporating tolerance speeches during Friday sermons as people of Pakistan have an innate inclination towards the clerics.
The author is a Research Associate at FATA Research Center, Islamabad and is a Scholar of M.Phil in American Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.