A militant’s stereotype

Posted by Admin On Sunday, 15 September 2013 0 comments

Muhammad Amir Rana

A MILITANT, if we were to stereotype one in Pakistan, would appear to have three characteristics. He would be considered emotionally charged with a narrow worldview, be seen as religiously conservative and appear to have poor educational credentials. This stereotype would usually be applied to a madressah graduate.

These stereotyped notions portray a person who is barbaric in both thought and appearance and who belongs to a primeval or tribal society. The metropolitan mindset is afraid of this image, which reduces the level of sympathy for a fellow human being and also probably his chances of reintegration in society.

But empirical data provides a different picture and is not in conformity with the stereotypical image. It is certainly not a given that a militant bears all these characteristics. He could be well educated, graduating from a modern educational institution, be modest, accommodating and well-behaved in his personal life and aware of societal and cultural norms.

Empirical evidence collected by security institutes and think tanks on militants’ profile shows that they come from diverse educational, social and ethnic backgrounds. A study based on the profiles of 20 militants conducted by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) shows that only two had come from madressahs. The majority had received a graduate-level education and most of them also had an interest in sports and social activities. Their early lives did not demonstrate any signs of abnormal behaviour.

Many of them were known to be fond of books — their reading was not found to be confined to literature on a specific ideology, sect or interest. For example, one of the militants mentioned that he was fond of philosophy, history and fiction and he had extensively read Karl Marx. Dr Mubarak Ali, a Pakistani historian, and Ghani Khan, a secular Pushto poet, were his favourite writers. In fact, before joining militant organisations, listening to music, watching television and movies were tendencies common to most of the 20 militants.

Most were not extraordinary in their childhood, but, quite naturally, their parents wished they would be successful in life. But once they fell into the militants’ trap, their families suffered much — mainly at the hands of law-enforcement agencies, something the 20 militants regretted. They still aspired for a normal life but were not hopeful of achieving that.

Politics and religion were critical aspects of their lives. The soul of the militant was caught between two different ideals. For example, some of the militants had tried to simultaneously value and practise the teachings of Baacha Khan, Mullah Omar and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Another cited Ahmed Shah Abdali, Allama Iqbal and Haq Nawaz Jhangvi as his ideal figures. It seemed that they were trying to reconcile their militant tendencies with influences which had come through their educational curriculum.

Their religious and political affiliation or support had been diverse as well. They had at some point in their lives backed the secular Awami National Party, the Muslim League, and mainstream religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. But now they considered all political parties and the military leadership responsible for the crises in the country. They cited the failure to enforce Sharia, economic disparity, absence of justice and pursuit of pro-US polices as the causes of the crises. They were not very optimistic about the crises ending soon and the solution, they believed, was jihad.

There was a consensus among all 20 militants that the US was the biggest enemy of Islam.

While the common Pakistani may hold similar views, two key factors delineated the militants from the rest of their countrymen.

The first factor was the influence on their lives of preachers from militant organisations who, through their publications and literature, had indoctrinated and recruited them. The second factor was that they were politically conscious and not satisfied with the situation in the country and the Muslim world.

An important finding noted in the PIPS study was that to a large extent the recruiters had not exploited the militants’ socioeconomic deprivations (although these factors compelled some militants to join extremist organisations), but only played on their religious sentiments to urge them to extricate the nation and the ummah from the prevailing crises.

After joining the militants, most of them were not comfortable with their new lives and it took them several months to get used to the unfamiliar environment. It was noted that the number of new recruits quitting the organisations and going back to their previous lives remained quite high during the initial stages. To counter these attempts, different strategies were adopted and recruits were offered financial benefits and initially easy assignments at the camp or offices.

The militants who were arrested and detained by the law-enforcement agencies were found to be more hard-line. They alleged that some of their companions had either been killed after arrest or tortured in custody and complained that several innocents, mainly their family members, had also been arrested.

The general profile of these 20 militants showed they were young, not properly guided or supervised by their parents, and were inspired by militants’ literature and publications, which remained easily available across the country. But, they still harboured hopes and aspirations for a normal life.

Although the state has made a few attempts to exploit this desire among militants for reverting to a normal life and has set up some rehabilitation initiatives in Swat and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, these programmes are on a small scale and their effectiveness has also been called into question.

Disengaging a militant from violence and extremist tendencies is an uphill task because of his entrenched ideological and political associations. The Swat model can be replicated in other parts of the country after addressing its deficiencies and intellectual and financial constraints. But at the same time, the civil administration there and in all conflict-affected areas needs to shoulder responsibility.

In other countries, such initiatives have been taken by the political government and implemented by the civilian administration. Only a representative and accountable political set-up can have the credibility, legitimacy and mandate to take on the ideological and political sensitivities involved in the de-radicalisation process.

For effective reintegration of militants, breaking of the stereotype is vital. Militants should be punished, prosecuted and brought to justice if they are involved in terrorism or violation of the law. At the same time, they should not be labelled on the basis of certain narratives, which may not be completely different from the majority’s thinking patterns. Countering narratives is a separate area and deserves due attention, but first considering militants a part of society and reflecting on what prompted them to go to extremes is imperative.
Courtesy Dawn , Sep 23, 2012


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