Pakistan Needs A Strategy To Reform And Reintegrate Militants

The terrorism fracas that once shocked human society’s entire ecosystem seems in many ways to be wrapped up. The deportation of non-state actors and violent extremist groups from South Asia seems a big victory. And yet another task of equal import remains – the de-radicalisation of the affected. The ideologies of militant groups have captured many minds and transformed them into radicals. The de-radicalisation of the stalwarts of such ideologies is modern society’s next big challenge. The seemingly extinguished ashes of violent ideologies need only a little ignition to blow over again.

South Asia, particularly Pakistan, is seriously affected by violent extremist groups. Lashkar-e-Taiba is an example of one such group whose de-radicalisation is indispensable.  Lashkar-e-Taiba is notorious for playing a central role in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. India alleges that the terrorists involved were in contact with someone in Pakistan. Later, the US and UN declared LeT a terrorist organisation, and Pakistan was pressurised into arresting its chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Although Pakistan arrested him, he was later acquitted from court due to lack of evidence. But soon he was arrested again in a terror-financing case along with many others and continues to be behind bars today.

The LeT (rebranded later as Jamat-ud-Dawa) is not only a UN designated terrorist organisation. It is also one that claims itself to be engaged in a de-radicalisation process. After his release from home arrest in 2017, Hafiz Saeed was featured in many interviews in which he was seen talking about his organisation’s charity work instead of its violent ideologies. This was perceived as a positive sign, but it is no secret that much is left to be done, and the state needs to play a pivotal role in it. Saeed’s support for ISIS and al-Qaeda are all too well recorded to just be erased from memory, even though his book Khutbat-e-Qadsia seems to renounce his earlier support for these groups. Nor too are militant ideologies confined only to particular groups, but are instead quite widespread. If not dealt with on time, much collateral damage could take place. Much of the earlier literature of JUD reveals that they strongly oppose democracy, voting and election. They have declared it anti-Islam and a pagan ideology. However, one can also see in this, like in the group's support of ISIS and al-Qaeda, an evident shift when, in 2018, the JuD organised their own party by the name ‘Milli Muslim League’ to participate in the 2018 general election. This was a historic move in the ideological shift of JuD. And it is one bead of the chain to change the radical ideas.

The JuD had also published a lot of books, journals and pamphlets to promote anti-India, anti-America and anti-west sentiments among the masses. They first published jihadist literature but later disowned it quietly. Now in an effort to counter that narrative, they have formulated an institution by the name, Radd-e-Fitna, which has started a thread by the name, Counter-Narratives Series. This series is building a new narrative and negating the ideologies of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and conducting an effort to stop the process of ‘takfeer’.

The JuD has supported Pakistan’s efforts in eliminating terrorism and has published books. They openly supported operations carried out by Pakistan Army such as Raddul-Fasaad and Zarb-e-Azb against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other foreign militants. The JuD had always opposed the suicide bombing. A terror attack in Paris during a football match has been condemned by the JuD. In his book, Ameer Hamza calls the attackers terrorists.

The point worth considering about the JuD is that it never participated in the sectarian killing or such violence. JuD chief Saeed strongly opposes the idea of ‘takfeer’ and considers it an evil implanted to divide the Muslims. This is evident in the speeches he delivered at his mosque, Qadsia. This is something the other religious organisations lack. In the wake of opposing the idea of ‘takfeer’, Hafiz faced criticism from Al-Qaeda and they called him a hypocrite. Al-Qaeda allegedly published literature against the narrative being promoted by JuD.

Jumat-ud-Dawa founded a charitable organization, thus shifting from violence to humanism. They are sometimes at the forefront in helping the poor and downtrodden people of society. The prominent are Al-Dawa Trust and Falah-e-Insaniat foundation. They have built dispensaries. They also have an ambulance service for the remote areas, and they also supply water for rural and poor areas. They are putting in their efforts to adjust themselves in the framework of civil society. JuD has also partnered with aid organizations in Gaza.

Some experts argue that organizations like these should not have any room in the political calculus of the state. But in Pakistan where the de-radicalisation model seems vague, it is quite important to engage them in political activities. This can be quite helpful in their drift towards the mainstreaming process. Barring them is synonymous with planting hurdles in a path to betterment.

The problem with the religious communities is that they hesitate when talking about their transformation. The main cause of the issue is that they are afraid of their zealous supporters who are only driven by emotion and not reason. This creates a pressure that we sometimes witness in the shape of different violent episodes. But there is a dire need to engage such people in dialogues and discussions which will hopefully open new doors of hope towards the de-radicalisation process.

There is a need to formulate a new de-radicalisation model that engages the people holding radical ideologies. Firstly, the model we have in Pakistan isn’t a mature one. There is a need to open dialogue on the issue in which we have to involve the academia, religious leaders, civil society experts, government officials, media persons and psychologists. The dialogue will pave the way to betterment.

Secondly, the de-radicalisation models that organizations such as JuD have themselves formulated need improvement. Such models should be exposed to discussions and must be brought to public knowledge. The peace-building organisations must engage the people by holding different workshops and events to promote harmony among civil society and radicals.

The ideological transformation of the radicals is also very necessary. Libya and Saudi Arabia’s model failed because they were unable to change the ideologies of the radicals. The so-called de-radicalised were seen fighting again when they saw an opportunity for violence, showing that it is the ideology that steers them. If the model lacks the ability to change the ideology then it should be pushed under the rug and a new one should be formulated.