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The softer option

Some time ago, 38 ex-militants were released after receiving vocational training at Navi Sahar, an armed forces’ institute in Bajaur. It was an endeavour to reintegrate them into society, as violent extremism cannot be eliminated through force alone.

Radicalisation is not a quick process; rather, it is the product of historical events, ideological conflict, and social and economic deprivation. The mistreatment of the masses by the mighty has been a reality throughout history; it is this injustice that propels people towards radicalisation and extreme actions.

De-radicalisation is an endeavour directed at changing an individual’s value system and helping him reject the extremist ideology and embrace mainstream values. This is a constructive approach. The prevailing impression that the elimination of terrorism and other forms of violent extremism can only be tackled by the law-enforcement and security agencies is erroneous.

De-radicalisation equally requires the involvement of academics, researchers, sociologists, anthropologists, the media and clergy. Those who think that the law-enforcement agencies will be able to eliminate this menace in isolation are living in a fool’s paradise.

The hard approach to countering terrorism is primarily based on the use of force. In the post 9/11 scenario, few countries opted for soft counterterrorism approaches. In fact, de-radicalisation needs to be understood in the context of radicalisation itself. People who may be spiritually curious but have only a limited knowledge of their religion and are in dire need of money are most susceptible to radicalisation. In their search for potential extremists and terrorists, the hunters focus on a person’s psychological, financial and social needs, and then proceed to assess his capabilities.

De-radicalisation helps reduce the number of terrorists, increases the government’s writ and constitutes a cost-effective option for dealing with militancy. Various strategies of the method have been tried over the past decade by countries including Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco and Jordan.

Bangladesh’s de-radicalisation programme is based on incarceration, intelligence and intellectual intervention. The strategy was created primarily focusing on the Jamaatul Mujahideen and Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami, and the programme chiefly targets religious educational institutions.

On the other hand, the overriding feature of Morocco’s de-radicalisation initiative is a human rights-centric approach. The programme is a joint initiative by the government and civil society organisations. By encouraging the investigation of past grave human rights violations such as kidnappings and enforced disappearances, the government tried to win the people over.

Further, human rights bodies such as a committee for justice and reconciliation and a centre for the rights of the people were established. These forums actively engaged with communities for the protection of human rights, while investment in the training of imams yielded positive dividends. The electronic media has also been effectively used in the de-radicalisation process.

The Jordanian model revolves around the perception that extremism increases due to misguided youth buying into perverse views of religion. Their de-radicalisation programme is based on military measures and educational inventiveness. Moreover, through the enactment of an anti-terrorism law and a fatwa in 2006, the state defined the procedure of issuing religious decrees.

Jail reform is another method that has been incorporated in the Jordanian programme, since prisons are a breeding ground for extremism. During the de-radicalisation process, it was also learnt that apart from other reasons, weak parental control plays a significant factor in radicalisation.

The Saudi programme, launched in 2005, is rooted in a psychological, cultural and religious basis. The programme appears to be a benevolent one as beneficiaries are entitled to pursue an education and marry with financial help. The programme brought 4,000 former extremists back into the mainstream. There is increasing realisation regarding education and the capacity-building of imams. The Saudi model believes in the segregation of radical and ordinary criminals.

In Pakistan, we should give prison reforms serious thought as our jails are places where ordinary criminals can be transformed into extremists. An estimated 63 per cent of the population is under the age of 25 years. Owing to illiteracy, abject poverty and poor parental control, young people are likely to fall prey to extremism.

A de-radicalisation initiative in Swat was introduced in 2009. The programme has three components, focusing on juveniles, adult prisoners and family members of detained persons. The Swat model can be studied for its impact and replicated in other parts of the country.

In Punjab, counterterrorism authorities, with the collaboration of a technical and vocational training institute authority, initiated a pilot project to de-radicalise former extremists. More than 300 former members of banned organisations belonging to 15 districts of the province benefited from the programme. The joint venture intends to enrol another 1,300 people.

The pilot programme was allocated Rs9.33 million, and former extremists aged between 16 and 35 years have been inducted. Trainees get Rs500 a month as pocket money, and upon the successful completion of training, are entitled to a maximum of Rs30,000 as an interest-free loan.

It is imperative that it is understood that incarceration alone will not counter the spread of radicalisation. The police and prison departments should be closely associated with de-radicalisation programmes. Our prisons push prisoners towards more isolation, making them vulnerable to radical thoughts. If we deny them access to positive information, we will be the losers.

In a few countries, an education-based approach has successfully been introduced in jails. Under such initiatives prisoners are in jails close to their homes. They are encouraged to study and access newspapers and television. Further, they have frequent meetings with family members. Such a humane approach has yielded positive dividends in terms of de-radicalisation.

This is a cost effective option. The United States spends $150 billion annually on its fight against militancy while Saudi Arabia runs a de-radicalisation programme at the cost of only $12m per year.

De-radicalisation is a soft approach to combating terrorism within the orbit of respect for fundamental human rights. Therefore, Pakistan will have to invest more in such initiatives.

The writer is a deputy inspector general of the police. alibabakhel@hotmail.com

Mohammad Ali Babakhel, "The softer option," Dawn. 2013-03-25.