CTD seeks to de-radicalise youth with educators’ aid

Karachi:11July:Sindh’s top counterterrorism official has called for the educational fraternity’s help to devise a mechanism for de-radicalising students in a bid to control rising extremist mindset prevalent among the youth.

Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) chief Addl IGP Sanaullah Abbasi, who also holds a PhD in law, told The News that they had written to the vice-chancellors of various educational institutions of the city, inviting their professors and lecturers to attend a meeting at the CTD DIG office on Wednesday to discuss the spread of extremism at institutes of learning.

Abbasi said the meeting would also discuss setting up research centres, assessment of emotional quotient, extremist tendencies and peer, parent and faculty reporting among other relevant subjects.

He said that since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan had been a victim of terrorism, losing more than 80,000 lives, incurring economic losses of around $102.5 billion (approximately Rs11 trillion) and causing serious damages to its cultural and religious ethos.

“Of the several by-products of terrorism, the threat of violent extremism is the most potent. Even though the masses are the ultimate victims of radicalisation, a certain level of sympathy for extremist causes hidden under religious colour exists in Pakistani society.”

He, however, clarified that support for such causes did not mean that the people condoned violence, saying that with the mushrooming extremist groups within the country, violent extremism had gained ground and marginalised the moderate voice.

“The problem has been compounded by ambiguous and ambivalent perception of home-grown terrorism as something external. Weak governance, widespread social injustices and the intellectually stagnant madrasa and public education systems have further helped this thinking.”

He stressed that a comprehensive counterterrorism policy based on CVE (common vulnerabilities & exposures) was required to overcome violent extremism, saying that heavy reliance on hard counterterrorism policies without a corresponding soft counterterrorism regime was not only capital intensive but counterproductive as well.

For a sustainable counterterrorism policy, Pakistan needs to balance the hard and soft counterterrorism approaches to introduce smart approaches, he added. “Soft counterterrorism strategies remain underutilised in Pakistan. At best, such strategies operate on ad-hoc basis, lacking a systematic long-term vision.”

Swat de-radicalisation programme

Abbasi said Pakistan’s first de-radicalisation programme started in September 2009 after completion of the army’s counterterrorism offensive against the Taliban in Swat. “Most of the militants apprehended during the operation were teenagers and young kids trained as suicide bombers.”

He said the overwhelming presence of the youth among the detainees forced the security forces to revisit the traditional counterterrorism approaches. “A need was felt to introduce a militant rehabilitation programme. To start the programme, the army converted four large school buildings in Swat into de-radicalisation centres.”

The programme in Swat aims to rehabilitate the militant detainees who worked with the Taliban. The idea is to provide them with a second chance by restoring their self-worth and make sure they do not return to terrorism. So far 2,500 Taliban militants have been rehabilitated.

The Swat de-radicalisation programme comprises the Sabaoon centre for 12- to 18-year-olds, the Rastoon centre for 19- to 25-year-olds and the Mishal centre for militants’ families to help them look after the rehabilitated youth.

Punjab de-radicalisation programme

In 2011 another de-radicalisation programme was initiated in eastern Punjab, but it was shelved the next year due to inadequate funds, depriving around 1,300 militants of rehabilitation.

The programme focused on former militants of the Kashmiri jihadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed as well as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.

The plan was based on a three-pronged strategy of prevention, rehabilitation and aftercare. It comprised three modules: psychological assessment, religious rehabilitation and vocational training. Three batches of around 311 participants each completed the training.

Sindh de-radicalisation programme

Abbasi said the CTD had planned to execute a comprehensive programme prepared for de-radicalising militants, adding that a core team comprising a forensic psychiatrist, a psychologist, a facilitator or mediator, a religious scholar and a CTD official had been formed for the purpose.

He said a few young suspected militants who were in police custody for indulging in minor offences had been selected for the pilot project in the first phase of the de-radicalisation programme.

“A number of sessions will be held at the police headquarters and, if required, at the suspects’ residences. They had gone to Afghanistan for training, but were persuaded by their families to return. So far the police have found no evidence of their involvement in organised militant activities.”

If the pilot project succeeded, it would be implemented on a larger scale, he added. “A host of reasons will be taken into consideration for de-radicalisation of every individual. Once the CTD feels that the suspect has been de-radicalised, he may be allowed to return to society.”

However, he stressed that the suspect would remain under surveillance of his family, local religious scholar or prayer leader and the CTD, saying that the scholars and leaders would be asked to hold regular sessions with the de-radicalised suspects, preferably on a weekly basis.

The official said the suspects would be told to keep in touch with the CTD every week initially and, if required, further sessions would be conducted.

Regarding the roles of the core team members, he said the psychiatrist and psychologist would help the suspects deal with possible mental health issues, adding that the mediator or facilitator was likely to help uncover the underlying interests of the suspects inclined towards militancy.

As for the roles of the religious scholars and prayer leaders, he said they would be asked to talk with the suspects about interpretation of different religious texts and traditions, which were usually misinterpreted by militant groups.

Vocational training

The vocational training module focuses on teaching the rebels employment skills in the fields of electronics, computers, carpentry, masonry, automobile mechanics, welding, appliance repair, woodwork, basic electrician skills and poultry farming.

The idea is to equip them with a set of technical skills to support themselves if they are academically weak or unable to find employment. It follows the basic philosophy that having an actual job and a place to go to every day is a better protective mechanism to avoid re-engagement in terrorism.The news.