July Issue 2013

By | Bookmark | Published 11 years ago

rana-575-by-3001Radicalization in Pakistan is the latest publication by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) on the most pressing issue facing the country today. PIPS has established itself as the premier think-tank in Pakistan and produces authoritative works on terrorism, radicalisation and extremism emanating from within the country’s borders, among other topics. The book is authored by Muhammad Amir Rana and Safdar Sial, who are experts in the field and have done extensive research on the topic.
The book consists of surveys that were carried out by PIPS between October 2008 and April 2009. Adults all across the country were asked an array of questions in order to assess their views on issues ranging from desirability of interdenominational marriage to the American invasion of Afghanistan. The authors give the relevant details about the socio-economic status, education levels, age and gender of respondents, as well as explaining the methodology of the surveys.
The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter explores different definitions of radicalisation, extremism and terrorism and debates which ones are the most accurate for a country like Pakistan. In the second chapter, the authors go through different reasons, such as socio-cultural, religious, ideological, political, economic and external factors that lead to radicalisation, extremism and terrorism. Chapters four, five and six contain results from the surveys and provide an insight into how Pakistanis in different parts of the country see the role of Islam in local, national and international settings. Chapter five focuses solely on the youth, while chapter six looks at the media’s discourse. The final chapter deals with de-radicalisation programmes and evaluates the challenges for Pakistan when it comes to running a successful scheme and reversing some of the worrying trends in the country. The chapter also looks at such programmes in other countries — both Muslim and non-Muslim — and highlights the lessons Pakistan can learn from them.
The survey results show Pakistani society in all its contradictions and confusions. One might struggle to make sense of opinions that the country’s public holds on various issues. Pakistan is such a mosaic — a canvas of different colours that are somehow found in one place — that makes it hard to find a logical explanation to these dynamics. This is the main challenge that readers will face as they go through the book. The survey results are rather meaningless if no worthwhile theory is formulated in order to make sense of why and how Pakistani society has come to have such opinions. Nonetheless, it is not an impossible task to discern the rationale behind some of the views held by the population.
The authors, for their part, provide reasons in chapter two as to why Pakistani society might hold the views it does. Some of the factors include state Islamisation, sectarian interpretations of religion, lack of education and increasing Wahabi influence. What the authors demonstrate is the amalgam of factors that could explain radical and extremist behaviour. Pakistanis find themselves surrounded by a sea of elements that could lead to violent views and actions. Although the factors are listed separately, the reader might notice that there are many overlapping reasons that motivate terrorism, radicalisation and extremism. None of the factors are watertight.
But are all the factors equally important? The authors state that it is not helpful to take a “firefighter” approach and treat every case on its own. Despite their claim, the reader would find that there does need to be a hierarchy and not all factors can have equal influence on an individual. In fact, even the explanation given by the authors shows that not all factors carry the same weight. Does every terrorist or a radical not have a different profile and do some explanations not apply to some as they do to others? On a general level, overarching explanations might be acceptable but it is inevitable that when one looks at individual cases, some factors turn out to be more important than others.
A more pertinent criticism is that the authors do not differentiate between different radical individuals and groups that use violence. The book proposes a neutral definition of radicalism which means that this phenomenon is not exclusive to religion. No doubt this is true but in doing so, one risks putting all radical groups in the same basket. The reader should not make the same mistake which the authors, inadvertently or otherwise, make. It is erroneous to think that Baloch nationalists are the same as jihadi groups. It is also disrespectful to the Baloch people who have been facing serious state repression for decades and have legitimate grievances that have not been addressed by the government.
Another issue is found when offering poverty as a reason for terrorism. Even if most jihadis are poor, it is not poverty that drives terrorism. If poverty was to drive terrorism, it would mean that terrorists are engaged in a class struggle or they get important financial benefits from taking up arms. However, this is not the case. The authors themselves acknowledge that poverty does not explain terrorism, yet for some reason they shy away from making a confident conclusion about it. Similar to the problem highlighted above, one gets the feeling that every act of violence born out of poverty is lumped together.
The authors should have been conscious about pointing out that there are several actors — both individual and groups — that resort to violence for entirely different reasons. One cannot tell which radical and violent phenomena the authors are talking about. It is a poor analysis if they consider jihadis in Punjab, armed fighters in Waziristan, MQM in urban Karachi, and Baloch nationalists in the same light. If the reader does not have prior knowledge of these completely different social and political actors, they would unfortunately take them to be one and the same.
The word ‘terrorism’ is a loaded term which is something the book does not appreciate either. Is a Baloch nationalist who attacks government forces in his province the same as a jihadi who attacks the state because he wants Pakistan to be an Islamic state as per his interpretation of Islam? Would the moral condemnation also be the same for both? Certainly not if one recognises the reasons behind violence that comes from different groups, the values that these groups espouse and what their ultimate goals are.
Radicalization in Pakistan is recommended for those who wish to know what Pakistanis think of different social and political issues, but one might feel dissatisfied with some of the analysis as to why people hold these views. n