South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Unplugging terrorism through de-radicalisation
K Iqbal

On the eve of Haj, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz said the terrorists have gone astray and are destroying the image of Islam. He cautioned the Muslims about the menace of terrorists using the religion’s name while sabotaging peace. He urged Muslims to strive for spreading the real message of Islam— peace, love and brotherhood. And while addressing the UNGA on September 25, Pope Francis said; “Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective… and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion... including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organised crime… We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges”. This convergence of thought amongst the leadership of two major faiths is a healthy sign; hopefully the corresponding political leadership would join hands to come-up with a global counter terrorism action plan.

Though terrorism is a global phenomenon, during recent years it has converged more on to Muslim countries, including Pakistan. Menace of terrorism stems out of extremism, which in turn draws its origin from radicalism. Therefore, beside terrorism, any meaningful counter terrorism effort should also focus on radicalism and extremism.
While dealing with terrorists, Pakistan has all along resorted to rational and relatively proportionate responses to maintain its respect in the international community and amongst own citizens. Pakistan and for that matter any state confronting terrorism must ask itself three questions. First, what can it do? Second, are the terrorists convinced that it will walk the talk? Third, are its actions defendable under national and international law? From Pakistan’s perspective, the National Action Plan, international acclaim for military operation Zarb-e-Azb, and Supreme Court’s acceptance of necessity for military courts alongside the proviso of judicial review of military courts’ verdicts by superior judiciary answer these questions adequately.
Academic opinion is widely divided over the efficacy of deterrence in counter terrorism policies. The argument that terrorists cannot be deterred is reductionist, and the assertion that deterrence if of significant utility fails to acknowledge the level of harshness and brutality required of the State to establish a practicable deterrent mechanism. Experience indicates that successful strategies involve first crushing the current threat and then setting up a deterrence mechanism to make future terrorist acts less likely. While deterrence per se may be a viable approach, its available policy choices may be politically and legally quite problematic.
A typical counterterrorism policy alone cannot resolve the complexities of the challenge, which is deep-rooted in societal and state structures. While the government of Pakistan is striving to counter terrorism, countering extremism and radicalism are the weaker links in the National Action Plan (NAP). NAP evolved from the urgency of countering terrorism and thus has significant relevance in overall security matrix to address the immediate need of connecting different responses and incorporating these in a functional policy framework. However, in the process, actions focused at de-radicalisation and counter extremism did not attract requisite focus. It is expected that in due course, government will come up with a comprehensive de-radicalisation and counter-extremism strategies as well to complement existing provisions of the NAP.
Radicalisation is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine the status quo or reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice. Radicalisation can be both violent and non-violent, although most academic literature focuses on radicalisation that manifests into violent extremism. De-radicalisation essentially means de-programming the extremists individually and collectively. De-radicalisation, disengagement and rehabilitation are essential components of any counter extremism, or say, counter terrorism strategies. Success of counter-radicalisation campaigns requires broad international support, commitment by immediate neighbours to refrain from any trans-border enabling support to extremist elements and effective state and societal partnership.
Pakistan’s policy on countering terrorism and extremism owe its origin to country’s foreign policy objectives of global peace, security, stability, and development. Counter extremism and counter radicalisation components of counter terrorism effort are difficult to evolve and yet more difficult to implement. At times, such efforts revolve around application of soft power for preventing the appeal of radical and extremist ideas to graduate to terrorism. Adoption of this approach by Pakistan implies not only de-radicalising the radicalised and extremist elements within Pakistani society but also preventing the society from mass absorption of such violent ideas, from within and outside.
De-radicalisation means a combination of methods or actions to stop the activities of people, who are prone to violence to achieve their political and or any other connected objectives. Countering radicalisation and de-radicalisation are essentials for cutting the recruitment base for those who execute terrorist activities. Without support of counter extremism and counter radicalism efforts, result of counter terrorism campaign is akin to lawn moving, radicals are able to keep pace in replacing the dead terrorists.
Many nations have been through the pangs of radicalisation, and most of them were able to implement meaningful de-radicalisation programmes successfully. Pakistan could also do it through political will, perseverance and a composite state-societal effort. However, strategies successfully used by one nation may not yield similar results when replicated by another. Pakistan needs to evolve its homegrown de-radicalisation policy and implement it persistently.
Pakistan is in the thick of terrorism, at a stage when implementation of de-radicalisation and counter extremism efforts may not show immediate measurable results. Nevertheless, such efforts must go on and gain enough momentum to stay sustainable. Taking care of de-radicalised persons is a life long commitment. Their rehabilitation calls for management of a robust social security arrangement.
Radicalisation is virulent; it spreads fast, like wildfire. De-radicalisation is a slow and painstaking process, analogous to one-step forward and two backwards. In Swat and other terrorism-hit areas, Pakistan Army has managed very meaningful de-radicalisation programmes. However their effects have remained confined to those localised pockets. To succeed, it needs to be a national level enterprise. National de-radicalisation campaign should be comprehensive, taking in to account all contributory factors while catering for socio-cultural sensitivities of the subjects.
At strategic tier, contemporary extremism is a global phenomenon needing global effort to counter it. At operational and tactical levels it has a translational texture requiring regional approach. Nevertheless, at tactical level, there is sufficient space to develop and implement national level de-radicalisation and counter extremism campaigns. There are multiple pathways that constitute the process of radicalisation, which can be independent but are usually mutually reinforcing. Likewise the processes of de-radicalisation are complex. Each group of radicalised people need an exclusively designed de-radicalisation programme while keeping in view the local socio-economic, cultural and religious sensitivities.
There is an emerging consensus among counterterrorism analysts and practitioners that to defeat the threat posed by extremism and terrorism, there is a need to go beyond security and intelligence measures, take proactive measures to prevent vulnerable individuals and communities from radicalising; and rehabilitating those who are willing to renounce extremism and radicalism. A key dilemma is whether the objective of these programmes should be disengagement or de-radicalisation of militants. Disengagement entails a change in behaviour, but not necessarily a change in beliefs.
Grand Mufti and the Pope have done their bit in this direction, now the global political leadership should pick up the threads and move on towards devising a global plan of action for deradicalisation.