PAKISTAN may be grappling with devastating floods, but the menace of terrorism has not receded. In the latest spate of terrorist attacks, at least six people, including a former peace committee head and two policemen, were killed when a remote-controlled bomb struck their vehicle in the Kabal tehsil in the Swat valley. A statement claiming responsibility for the attack by the outlawed TTP effectively ends the ceasefire earlier announced by the militant grouping.

Pakistan has paid a steep economic and political price since the onset of the global ‘war on terrorism’ in 2001. A report by Brown University’s Costs of War Project notes that war-related violence has killed 65,000 people in Pakistan in the last 17 years, including 23,000 civilians, 9,000 security personnel, and 90 US contractors.

In terms of measuring the impact of terrorism, the 2020 Global Terrorism Index prepared by Australia’s Institute for Economics and Peace ranks Pakistan seventh (for greatest impact), after Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen (in that order), and followed by India, Congo, and the Philippines. Having Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan among the top 10 in this category is not an encouraging sign for regional counterterrorism efforts.

The measures taken by the Pakistani civil and military leaderships to counter violent extremism (CVE) can broadly be categorised as: militant de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programmes, drafting reforms and updating laws, and national security policy measures.

How effective are CVE programmes?

Overall, the rehabilitation programmes have been a major success in Pakistan’s efforts toward CVE, with some tangible results. A major factor in this is targeting the detained militants and sectarian extremists who surrendered. The state adopted an incentivised approach by offering religious and vocational training and soliciting help from psychologists and religious teachers.

CVE is a wide-ranging term that describes initiatives to reduce the spread of violent extremist ideologies espoused by Al Qaeda and similar terrorist networks. The Obama administration used the phrase in 2011 in its policy paper, Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. Eleven years down the road, the term CVE and its related concepts still have to gain currency and acceptability, particularly in Muslim-majority countries.

There has yet to be a comprehensive, credible evaluation or large-scale assessment of CVE programmes in Pakistan. Major concerns raised about CVE include: its premises and assumptions are imported; theories of radicalisation are applied broadly; religious communities are over-targeted; and that select religious figures or organisations are prioritised. Finally, say critics, CVE programmes do not provide accountability for human rights and civil liberties violations.

CVE policies were shaped and seen as effective preemptive measures to halt violent extremism before it is manifested. How­ever, based on threat perceptions, these policies provide governments with some kind of justification to target political opponents, protesters, and activists; bypass judicial procedures; and violate basic human rights.

Steven Hawkins, former executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that the international diffusion of CVE frameworks raises the prospect of repressive governments “taking advantage of ‘CVE-mania’” and “using international funds to violate human rights in the absence of appropriate safeguards”. Amnesty International even stated that: “Brick by brick, the edifice of rights protection that was so carefully constructed after the Second World War, is being dismantled.”

Most of the communities, local leaders, or youth engag-ed through CVE pro­grammes are se­­­­­l­ected on the criteria of their per­­ceived vulnerability to extremist ideas, already promoting or supporting extremist ideals, and/or their position of influence over the local communities. When communities are asked to participate in programmes based on assumptions of their latent criminality, any claims of ‘buy-in’ are manufactured. Amnesty International has reported that CVE programmes have not been responsive to community input or insights and critiques from civil rights and civil liberties groups.

It’s not about dismissing the whole CVE edifice. Countering and preventing violent extremism is essential to create an enabling environment for societal peace. Before we take further strides to devise our CVE policy and ensuing implementation, there is a dire need to first review and assess the impact (whether positive or negative) of the multiple actions already taken in the realm of CVE by the government and civil society. We must determine what works for the purpose, and what does not. Scrutiny of CVE measures nationally and internationally must be demanded.

The writer is a consultant and researcher working on social issues, including building resilience and cohesion in stressed communities.

[email protected]

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2022

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