De-Radicalization: Pakistan’s Dilemmas

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Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal TI(M)[1]


(Many nations have been through the pangs of radicalization, and most of them were able to implement meaningful de-radicalization programmes successfully.  It requires political will, perseverance and a composite state-societal effort. Pakistan is in the thick of terrorism, at a stage when implementation of de-radicalization efforts may not show immediate measurable results.  Nevertheless, the effort must go on and gain enough adequate momentum to stay sustainable. One size does not fit all; strategies successfully used by one nation may not yield similar results when replicated by another. Pakistan needs to evolve its home grown de-radicalization policy and implement it persistently. Taking care of de-radicalized persons is a life long commitment. Their rehabilitation calls for management of a robust social security arrangement. De-radicalization, disengagement and rehabilitation are essential components of any counter extremism, or say, counter terrorism strategy. – Author)


The prevalent environment of terrorism requires primary focus on meeting the immediate objectives of national security through application of hard power; the root cause of terrorism – the proliferation of radicalism and the associated causes – have attracted only periphery attention. While radicalization is virulent; it spreads fast, de-radicalization, on the other hand, is a slow and painstaking process.  It is tedious yet doable. Many nations have been through the pangs of radicalization, and most of them were able to implement meaningful de-radicalization programmes successfully.  It requires political will, perseverance and a composite state-societal effort.

Pakistan is in the thick of terrorism, at a stage when implementation of de-radicalization effort may not show immediate measurable results.  Nevertheless, the effort must commence and gain enough momentum to stay sustainable. In the Swat area a meaningful de-radicalization programme has been put in place; the results have been encouraging. Taking care of de-radicalized persons is a life long commitment. Their rehabilitation calls for management of a robust social security arrangement. National deradicalization policy should be comprehensive, taking in to account all contributory factors while catering for socio-cultural sensitivities of the subjects. One size does not fit all; strategies successfully used by one nation may not yield similar results when replicated by another. Pakistan needs to evolve its home grown de-radicalization policy and implement it persistently.

Concept of Deradicalization

At the strategic tier, extremism is a global phenomenon needing a global effort to counter it. At operational and tactical levels it requires a regional approach. Nevertheless, at a tactical level, there is sufficient space to develop and implement national level de-radicalization campaigns. This would help in choking fresh recruitments, and hence create a bottom up strategic effect in due course.

De-radicalization essentially means de-programming extremists individually and collectively[i]. Radicalization is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine the status quo or  reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice. For example, radicalism can originate from a broad social consensus against progressive changes in society. Radicalization can be both violent and non-violent, although most academic literature focuses on radicalization that manifests into violent extremism[ii].

There are multiple pathways that constitute the process of radicalization[iii], which can be independent but are usually reinforcing[iv]. Likewise the processes of de-radicalization are complex. One size does not fit all. Hence, each group of radicalized people need an exclusively designed de-radicalization programme while keeping in view local socio-economic, cultural and religious sensitivities.

Like many other countries, Pakistan is in the grip of terrorism. De-radicalization, disengagement and rehabilitation are essential components of any counter extremism, or counter terrorism strategy. Success of a counter-radicalization campaign requires broad international support, commitment by immediate neighbours to refrain from any trans-border support to extremist elements and an effective state and societal partnership. Above all, it requires spearheading towards an innovative thinking process in policy making[v].

The dangers posed by radicalization are clear. Less publicized are the results of the numerous academic studies on how it occurs[vi]. There is a near consensus amongst security experts that the process of de-radicalization is complex and deeply ingrained in the evolution of political and socio-economic forces. Radicalism begins with a grievance and ends in violence. Bad governance, collapse of order, decimation of institutions, polarization of societies, poverty, illiteracy, feeling of oppression, sense of marginalization, etc. result in alienation of the youth from society that drives them towards radicalization. Radicalization is the starting point of the cycle that moves to extremism and terrorism.

Marc Sageman, a former CIA operations officer, conducted the largest survey of radical Muslims to locate the causes for radicalization. He analyzed over 500 profiles and concluded that:

“this phenomenon normally occurs in four distinct stages: It is sparked when the individual reacts with moral outrage to stories of Muslims suffering around the world; for some, that spark is inflamed by an interpretation that explains such suffering in the context of consistent policies in Western countries that are viewed as hostile to Muslims around the world; the ensuing resentment is fuelled by negative personal experiences in Western countries (e.g., discrimination, inequality, or just an inability to get on despite good qualifications); and the individual joins a terrorist network that becomes like a second family, albeit one closed to the outside world. This situation stokes the radical worldview and prepares the initiate(r) for action and, in some cases, martyrdom”.[vii]

Most terrorists are between their mid-teens and mid-twenties[viii]. This is related to the fact that the period of youthful identity formation is one when some (often socially isolated) individuals are most vulnerable to the attractions of networks that offer both social solidarity and a clear narrative to explain what is going on in the world[ix]. Young peoples’ potential susceptibility to radical narratives leads them towards radicalization. All of the academic research on how best to counter violent radicalism among young Muslims points to the importance of education[x].

The crucial stage is reached when a young person begins to believe that his set of beliefs justifies vigilante justice and closes his/her mind to other viewpoints. To prevent such a situation, his radical thought process must be cut off at the roots by challenging radical interpretations of his faith[xi]. The radicals do not subscribe to the prevalent set of beliefs; rather they reject and undermine traditional authority because it is the very force that would deny them their modus operandi. To de-radicalize, the radicals need to be engaged directly and exposed to other viewpoints.

Quintan Wiktorowicz, author of “Radical Islam Rising: Muslim Extremism in the West” (2005) notes that the most susceptible young people are those who are not in a position to objectively evaluate whether a credible understanding of Islam is being provided or not. Most of them are, in fact, religious novices exploring their faith in depth for the first time. Thus, the best way to prevent radicalization and the terrorism that it allows, is simply to educate young people in mainstream Islamic teachings so that they will be able to recognize and, place radical narratives in correct perspective. For radical Islamists, mainstream Islamic scholarship, views and ethics are a very real – perhaps the largest – threat[xii].

De-radicalization Strategy

There is an emergent consensus among counterterrorism analysts and practitioners that to defeat the threat posed by extremism and terrorism, there is a need to go beyond security and intelligence measures, take proactive measures to prevent vulnerable individuals and communities from radicalizing, and rehabilitating those who have already embraced extremism. This broader conception of counterterrorism is manifested in the counter-and deradicalization programmes run by a number of Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and European countries.

In a society like Pakistan which is hard hit by terrorism, de-radicalization and counter terrorism strategies are likely to crisscross paths and most of the steps taken to accomplish either of the two would also help in strengthening the other, either directly or indirectly. It would be appropriate that a comprehensive strategy should cater for both.

Countering radicalism is like a game of chess but the international approach so far has been more akin to playing chequers, says Bruce Hoffman, an American scholar who has spent years studying the phenomenon[xiii]. A chess-game approach means understanding the threat and enemy and being able to anticipate and thoughtfully respond to how it changes and adapts. This means a strategy that uses reason and guile, not just brute force[xiv]. Chequers becomes a one-dimensional numbers game which measures gains more by how many leaders or militants are eliminated than how the flow of recruits is retarded[xv].  For a game changing “strategic reversal the attrition of terrorist leaders has to be accompanied by concerted counter-radicalisation efforts” that thwart recruitment[xvi].

A key dilemma is whether the objective of these programmes should be disengagement or deradicalization of militants. Disengagement entails a change in behavior, but not necessarily a change in beliefs. A person could exit a radical organization and refrain from violence, yet retain a radical worldview[xvii]. Deradicalization is the process of changing an individual’s belief system, rejecting the extremist ideology, and embracing mainstream values. Deradicalization is particularly difficult for the extremists who draw their inspiration from religion. Nevertheless, deradicalization may be necessary to permanently defuse the threat posed by these individuals. There is also a point of view that deradicalization may not be a realistic objective and that the goal of terrorist rehabilitation programmes should be disengagement[xviii].

If a militant disengages solely for instrumental reasons, when the circumstances change, he may once again take up arms. Conversely, when deradicalization accompanies disengagement, it creates further barriers to relapsing. Moreover, there may be a tipping point. When enough ex-militants renounce radical ideology, the organizations that adhere to it are fatally discredited. Even short of this tipping point, as greater numbers of militants renounce extremism, radical organizations experience greater hurdles in attracting adherents and sympathizers[xix].

As regards to disengagement, it is important that efforts be made during the crucial early stages. Individual disengagement begins as a result of a trigger, often a traumatic or violent incident. Although these types of events can impel a person to leave a radical organization, however, if they are not exploited, they could strengthen the militant’s commitment to the group. If extremists who are weighing the costs and benefits of staying or leaving could be identified, it may be possible to influence their strategic calculus.

A government can take actions that make disengagement more attractive and continued extremist behavior less appealing by implementing counterterrorism measures that increase the costs of remaining in an extremist organization while strategically offering incentives that increase the benefits of exiting. Repression alone often backfires and causes further radicalization; however, at other times, it can be an important measure that decreases the utility of remaining in a radical organization. It appears that a dual strategy—including both hard- and soft-line measures—is the best policy for inducing individuals to leave a militant group. A Deradicalization programme should assist the ex-militants in finding a job and locating a supportive environment. In addition, it is prudent that ex-militants continue attending counseling sessions and their behavior and associations be closely monitored. The probability that an individual will disengage or deradicalize is inversely related to the degree of commitment to the group or movement[xx]. Commitment can be measured in terms of affective, pragmatic, and ideological bonds. Affective commitment is an emotional attachment to other members of the organization and to the group itself. Pragmatic commitment refers to the practical factors that make it difficult to exit a radical organization, such as material rewards and punishments. The ideological component justifies the actions that the militant is asked to take and the hardships that he or she must endure to achieve the group’s objectives[xxi].

A de-radicalization program should work to break the militant’s affective, pragmatic, and ideological commitment to the group. Individuals may vary in the level of each type of commitment, but because it is prohibitively costly to tailor a program to each person, rehabilitation efforts should include components to address each type of attachment[xxii]. Deradicalization programs appear more likely to succeed when all three components are implemented together so as to provide individuals with multiple reasons to abandon their commitment to the radical group and ideology. Most Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian programs employ a form of theological dialogue in which mainstream scholars and, sometimes, former radicals engage extremists in discussions of Islamic theology in an effort to convince the militants that their interpretation of Islam is wrong. Collective deradicalization has occurred infrequently—only when a state has defeated an extremist organization by killing or imprisoning most of the group’s leaders. Collective deradicalization differs from the programmes established to rehabilitate individual extremists. Instead, governments have responded to overtures from  radical group leaders who have already begun to reconsider their positions and then engaged these leaders to facilitate their process of disengagement.

Policymakers should encourage group deradicalization where it seems feasible and facilitate the public disclosure of the writings and arguments of militants who renounce extremism. Demonstration effects are one of the least discussed but most important aspects of deradicalization. When an influential ideologue or operational leader renounces an extremist ideology—and, more importantly, explains his or her reasons for doing so —it raises doubts in the minds of radicals who subscribe to a similar worldview. When a critical mass of a group’s key leaders and members are imprisoned with little chance of being released, this hopeless situation precipitates a strategic crisis that is often followed by an ideological crisis. Experience has shown that a mixed strategy—one that relies on hard-line counterterrorism measures as well as soft-line measures—is the most effective way to encourage militants to disengage and deradicalize[xxiii].

Taking care of de-radicalized persons is a life long commitment. Their rehabilitation calls for management of a robust social security arrangement. National policy should be comprehensive, taking in to account all contributory factors while catering for socio-cultural sensitivities of the subjects. Hence, each group of radicalized people needs an exclusively designed de-radicalization programme while keeping in view the local socio-economic, and cultural sensitivities. Most programmes focus on reforming less committed radicals. Although it is extremely difficult to induce committed militants to renounce extremism, it may still be necessary to target the more devoted militants—the activists and the “hard-core”—because these individuals have more influence on the rank and file[xxiv].

Collective deradicalization is the most efficient way to change the behavior and beliefs of a large number of militants at once and ultimately discredit the extremist ideology. Therefore, national level policy should be easily convertible to ‘easy to do’ plans of action for each pocket of radicalized people.

Pakistan has adopted a two-pronged strategy to fight the menace of religious militancy: it has tried to undertake development activities in the troubled northwest of the country, hoping to wean its people from militant influence by addressing their economic grievances; and it has launched numerous clear-and-hold military operations in militant-infested areas, trying to prevent terrorist threats from reaching urban centers. Militant violence has, however, become endemic in recent years[xxv].

National security can be empirically defined as protection of core national interests from external threats. Even though security can easily be defined as physical security, economic prosperity, and preservation of national values, institutions, and political autonomy, the contexts of these can vary tremendously at different times, according to the relevance of these issues in real-politick.[xxvi]

Then there is the issue of ‘the national security uncertainty environment’. These are the ambiguous threats, ones that have not been properly understood because they tend to operate outside the paradigms of a conventional national security strategy, since any such strategy would have to be against an opponent. Perhaps the biggest national uncertainty producer of modern times is terrorism, which has changed the entire context of national security uncertainty.[xxvii]

Extremism and as a corollary, radicalization is a hydra-headed monster. Eradication of radicalism is a tall order; it requires a mammoth effort encompassing a multi discipline and multi dimensional approach. Within an overall broad counter extremism strategy, five phases operate in mutually complementary and interlocking ways to accomplish de-radicalization as shown in the figure. These are prevention, containment, curtailment, elimination and consolidation phases; encompassing immediate, short, medium and long term objectives[xxviii]. These phases need to be meticulously formulated and set into motion in various combinations, on case to case basis. In chronic situations, like the one faced by Pakistan, the first four phases need simultaneous employment, and are required to be kept on a fast track[xxix].

The Preventive phase

It is an all pervasive and perpetual phase. It continues to make supplementary contributions even when other phases are functional. Prevention comprises of monitoring the factors that could contribute towards radicalism and keeping the proliferation and effects of these factors below boiling point. Some of the indicators are hate literature, appeal of intellectually dishonest demagogues, larger than life charisma of clergy based agitators, socioeconomic deprivation, hatred promoting customs and traditions, exclusive claim to self-righteousness, etc[xxx]. These indicators need to be managed through indoctrination, statutory measures and constructive social engagements. If this phase is well managed then half the battle is won against radicalism.

Preventive phase requires institutional and structural support at local, national and international levels. This requires an elaborate monitoring and intervention system, including control over trans-border movement of men and material. State intelligence systems alone cannot perform these actions until societies also join hands[xxxi].

The tactic of undermining radicalization’s intellectual conditions has already succeeded in those countries that have tried it properly. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have used these tactics for many years and have de-radicalized imprisoned radicals by drawing attention to credible Muslim (and sometimes ex-Islamist) authorities who have renounced violence. For example, Dr Sayyid Imam al-Sharif is a respected Islamist thinker. In 2007, he published “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World”, in which he renounced terrorism in the strongest terms possible. The courses selected are designed to give students a sound grounding in “authentic Islam”. They cover contemporary relevance of classical theology, the rules of worship, spirituality, the philosophy of law, and case studies of applying Islamic teachings to areas of contemporary issues and realities. One of the main sources misinterpreted by radicals is the Prophet’s life, and so putting it in its proper context is essential[xxxii]. This is in keeping with addressing the issues that are most frequently exploited by radicals, such as jihad (the martial tradition in Islamic law), citizenship and civic involvement, anti-Semitism, religious extremism, and so on. To educate a new generation of Islamic role models, strengthen communal ties, and reduce the motivation to radicalize is the only way to keep the world safe from the threat of radicals[xxxiii].

The Containment phase

This phase comes into play when preventive measures are unable to keep things under control and brewing radicalism finds occasional manifestation in the form of brawls and riots. The preventive threshold is breached when protectionism on the basis of ethnicity and sectarian alignments becomes an accepted norm and   group preferences begin to take precedence over merit and efficiency. Moreover, when economic disorder divides the population into haves and have-not groups, the stage is set for manifestation of radicalism into extremists in various forms. The starting point could be in the form of sharp rise in street crimes, or targeted attacks against the persons or property of a particular ethnic or sectarian group[xxxiv].

Containment effort focuses on isolating the ideologically committed extremists through active interventions like legal penalties, social pressures and corrective dialogue, etc. It may also include occasional use of force to prevent emergence of serious law and order situations. However, the mainstay of the containment phase is positive engagement through constructive dialogue with the moderate majority[xxxv].

Political engagement with saner elements and economic support incentives, to ‘not so hardened extremist elements that look for an opportunity to break away from hardened radicals, is an effective line of action[xxxvi].   Here also, public-private cooperation is essential to generate synergy to accrue desired credibility for containment measures. Stringent scrutiny of trans-border movement is an essential component of this phase.

A proficient containment strategy ensures that public opinion is not swayed in the favour of extremist elements.  Side by side, non compromising elements are taken on boldly, through tactical use of force when required. An appropriate media policy is formulated to ensure that the public at large is made aware of the consequences of the potential hazard. A campaign must start to de-glorify radical elements. Influential communicators drawn out of mainstream ethnic groups and clergy can reinforce the effects of containment measures, by putting across the facts to the general public, in correct perspective.  Here, state and society’s partnership is essential to generate due urgency and the requisite synergy to add desired credibility for the containment measures. Potent preventive measures reinforce containment actions[xxxvii].

The Curtailment phase

It concentrates on interventionist measures by isolating the radicalized elements from the general public. It determines further classification of extremists in the categories of ideologically committed hardened elements and those who are being exploited emotionally, or economically. Then, effort is made to reclaim the latter category through de-indoctrination and incentives. This phase essentially focuses on the economic needs of soft extremists, who desire to breakaway from the hardened cells. Through capacity and capability enhancement, these returnees are made capable of leading an economically and socially viable life.  This is an investment intensive phase and it must start as soon as the signs of brewing extremism become discernable. Concurrent with curtailment actions, appropriate preventive and containment measures must remain operational to supplement the gains of this phase[xxxviii].

The Elimination phase

Elimination does not mean killing of individuals. It essentially means elimination of their capability to terrorise. This phase carries forth the effort of curtailment phase and eliminates the positively identified hardened cells of extremists through proportionate use of military power and judicial accountability. Here an important caution is due; use of excessive power causes unwarranted collateral damage and breeds sympathisers of hardened extremists. Brute use of force may produce more extremists than what it is able to eliminate. Generally, this phase runs concurrently with the preceding phases[xxxix].

The elimination phase must be of short duration, and it should run simultaneously, alongside a meaningful political process. Due care must be taken to ensure that the elimination phase does not end up in a stalemate. This is the actual combat phase, with the military in the forefront, and other mechanisms in supportive roles.

The judicial process is another component of the elimination phase. This requires specially trained judges and comprehensive legislative cover. Judges and prosecution witnesses need to be protected against intimidation. Forensic skills need to be upgraded for developing all encompassing circumstantial evidence. So far, this has proved to be the weakest link in Pakistan’s counter terrorism effort. Hardly anyone has been punished meaningfully. Many on bail or those acquitted have been caught again for their involvement in fresh incidents of terrorism.  Recent jail break incidents of Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan have brought forth a serious flaw in the elimination strategy.

The strategy of elimination has recently been successfully employed by the Sri Lankan Government against the LTTE[xl]. Protracted insurgency of the LTTE had cost lives of thousands of innocent people besides, social, political and economic disruption of Sri Lanka for over twenty-five years, from 1983 to 2009. Since the elimination of the LTTE Chief Mr Prabhakaran there is, generally, peace in Sri Lanka.[xli]

The Consolidation phase

This phase capitalises on the gains of the elimination phase. Its prime objective is to convert an uneasy calm into permanent tranquillity. Disorganized cells of extremists are destroyed though a well executed mopping up operation. This phase focuses on establishing such institutional checks to ensure that the elements which breakaway from the extremist gangs do not relapse due to residual contributory factors[xlii].

Benchmarks of success at the end of this phase are that extremists lose public appeal and sympathy, they are reduced in capability and capacity to an extent that they are neither able to regroup and reconstitute nor make sporadic revisits. Overall, they lose the ability to function as an organised entity.

During this phase, the military instrument goes into the background while maintaining an effective deterrence. To complete the cyclic process, the preventive phase resumes the charge to capitalise on gains of all previous phases.  Operators of preventive measures strive to ensue that there are no relapses. This is done by abiding by any political or other agreements reached with the converted elements. Furthermore, it concentrates on blocking the reappearance of previous contributory causes. For example, any adult without compatible means of livelihood is a potential radical[xliii].

This process has to be carefully executed, as a whole, by taking into consideration the local socio-cultural sensitivities.  Historically, a number of countries have gone through the spells of home grown terrorism; most of these states have come out of this menace. Sri Lanka is a recent example where decades’ long terrorism has been effectively tamed. Likewise, many other countries like Lebanon, Italy, Ireland, Indonesia, India, Egypt, etc. have been through this agony; all these countries have overcome the problem through national resolve and innovative strategies suiting their local conditions. In case of political deprivation as an underlying cause, reconciliatory accommodation has helped in ending terrorism. Many former terrorists, form a part of the current political leadership in Ireland.[xliv]

Pakistan has a long way to go for putting its house in order in the context of countering the growth of radicalism and its manifestation into militancy.  The Pakistani nation and leadership stands committed to take on the menace of terrorism. There is a need to simultaneously handle domestic and foreign factors contributing towards the proliferation of radicalization. A wholesome and concerted effort would slowly show the results. Certainly, the process is painstakingly slow and Pakistan is in for a long haul[xlv].

Pakistan’s Policy Dilemmas

Pakistan’s policy on countering terrorism and extremism mainly stems from her primary foreign policy objective of global peace, security, stability, and development. This policy is primarily based on using soft power to persuade terrorists by understanding their motives and objectives, and preventing the appeal of terrorism to be effective and penetrating into Pakistani society. It is a mix of de-radicalization and counter-radicalization concepts, which means not only de-radicalizing the extremist elements within Pakistani society but preventing the society from absorbing the violent ideas and countering the threats of incitement by terrorists within Pakistani society. Pakistan has become the hardest hit victim of terrorism and extremism. According to South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) in 2012, there were 6211 terrorism fatalities in Pakistan, including 3007 civilians, 2472 militants, and 732 Security Forces Personals, as against 6,303 fatalities, including 2,738 civilians, 2,800 militants, and 765 SF personnel in 2011. The first 69 days of 2013 have witnessed 1,537 fatalities, including 882 civilians, 116 SF personnel, and 539 militants.

Pakistan believes that terrorism has become a global phenomenon and every nation has been affected directly or indirectly by violent extremism. Therefore, Pakistan believes in a multidimensional approach rather than uni-dimensional approach to counter this problem.

A counter terrorism strategy is based on a three pronged approach, famously known as 3-Ds approach of Deterrence, Development and Dialogue. Deterrence emphasizes the enhancement of security measures that could possibly deter terrorists from using terror tactics. Pakistan believes that effective measures should be adopted to prevent the extensive aims of terrorists. The next step is to develop the society and address the issues that lead to radicalization. It is a proven fact that societies that are deprived of their basic rights are more determined to use violent means to achieve their objectives. The basic need in development is development of education and justice to every one despite their culture and religion.

This policy has not shown the desired results. Deterrence has been really shaky; it probably broke down as many times as it held the sway. Some of the contested areas have exchanged occupation many a times between the militants and the security forces.

Dialogue was used by the militants as a tool to regain time to regroup. Many local level agreements and commitments were broken by the militants as and when they felt strong enough to do so. There was no viable dialogue partner who could ensure implementation of the mutually agreed terms and conditions. However, this does not mean that dialogue is not a workable option. Many insurgencies have been resolved through dialogue among opposing parties. The most recent example is the political and negotiated settlement of Northern Ireland in 1998. IRA fought a protracted war against UK. The British Government had announced huge bounties on the heads of IRA members. During the dialogue, same members were negotiating with the British Government for the resolution of Northern Ireland. Now, there is peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland[xlvi].

Development remained below par because the writ of the law enforcing agency was never strong enough and long enough to provide an enabling environment for carrying out sustainable development activity.

Realizing the shortfall of its 3-D policy, the new government of Pakistan is contemplating a rehash of the entire national security policy. As a part of that, an anti-terrorism strategy is also under consideration by the government.[xlvii] The proposed 4Ts strategy envisages tracing the elements, trailing coordination among intelligence agencies, tackling extremists or terrorists by taking action and seeking conviction as well as transforming of roles of religious scholars, mosques and seminaries in line with true teachings of Islam.

The experts believe that there is a need to formulate comprehensive and coordinated counter terrorism and counter insurgency strategies as terrorism and insurgency are an existential threat to Pakistan’s security. The proposed 4Ts strategy is aimed at overcoming this threat[xlviii]. The National Counter Terrorism Force (NCTF) has been proposed to be established with intelligence and law enforcement powers. It will be headed by the prime minister. It will collect information and strike at the root of terrorism and extremism. Regular police will continue to do its routine crime control work but will also cooperate with NCTF. There is also a proposal to establish a National Counter Insurgency Force (NCIF) to replace armed forces deployed in the insurgency hit areas. There is general consensus in Pakistan that the real danger to its security stems from these internal challenges, while at the same time the external threat has also not receded. More than 48,000 people have died in terrorism related incidents in a few recent years[xlix].

Policy Recommendations

It is difficult to venture on recommending policy options on a tricky issue like de-radicalization. Some of the moorings to peg the national de-radicalization policy are:-

–           Develop a counter-narrative to challenge the ideological base of radical thought process.

–           Create enabling environment to discourage feeling of deprivation through economic incentives, fair play and taking care of socio-cultural sensitivities.

–           Undo disenfranchisement through political reforms in the tribal areas.

–           Educate the people and enable them to judge the reality rather being told by exploiters about their options.

–           Improve governance through effective structures and efficient bureaucracy.

–           Institute a sustainable social security network.

–           Ensure availability of jobs for the youth. Investment in this field may appear pinching, yet it would be more economical than combating terrorism.

–           Programmes should benefit from contemporary best practices while embedding social and cultural characteristics of respective localities.

–           Focus on breaking extremists’ affective, pragmatic, and ideological commitment to a radical organization and worldview.  A considerable aftercare package should be a part of the overall effort.

–           Disengagement and deradicalization programs will likely remain a necessary part of larger counter-radicalization and counterterrorism strategies.

–           Prison-based deradicalization programmes, in particular, need to exercise caution, carefully evaluating each individual before release and implementing safeguards, such as monitoring, to protect against the eventuality of relapse.

–           Jail security needs immediate attention.


Countering radicalization and de-radicalization are the essentials for cutting the recruitment for those who execute terrorist activities. This calls for a resource intensive effort. Political will is the core from which national de-radicalization policy draws strength. The state alone cannot implement the policy without co-opting the effected societies.  There is a need to come out of naiveties of Ds and Ts and move forward to formulate a comprehensive national policy, strategy and plan of action. Experiences of other countries should be studied but not replicated. Pakistan’s national de-radicalization policy should be home grown, grounded in local realities and owned by effected societies.

[1] The author is Consultant Policy & Strategic Response at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). He is a retired Air Commodore and a former assistant chief of air staff, Pakistan Air Force. He is on the panel of experts, Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS).

[i] Susan Muhammad, “To Deprogram a Jihadist”, Macleans, ca, (online), February 2, 2009. (accessed on August 4, 2013).

[ii] Wilner and Dubouloz, “Homegrown terrorism and transformative learning: an interdisciplinary approach to understanding radicalization,” Global Change, Peace, and Security 22:1 (2010). 38.

[iii] McCauley, C., Mosalenko, S. “Mechanisms of political radicalization: Pathways towards terrorism,” Terrorism and Political Violence (2008). 416.

[iv] Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Radicalization: A Guide for the Perplexed. National Security Criminal Investigations”, June 2009.

[v] Tore Bjorgo & John Horgan (ed.), Leaving Terrorism Behind: Individual and Collective Disengagement ( London: Routledge, 2009), 1-10

[vi] Malik, Aftab Ahmed, “Generation Jihad: Why British Muslims are drawn to Radical Islam. PhD thesis, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham, 2009.

[vii] Though the sample is Muslim specific and religion is not the only underlying cause which leads the youth towards radicalization, however, it points out some pertinent causes which may be equally applicable to followers of any religion who may harbour such feelings of deprivation, due to persecution.

[viii] Azeem Ibrahim, “Tackling Muslim Radicalization: Lessons from Scotland”, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, June, 2010.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Chess or chequers? The News (Islamabad), June 01, 2010.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Chess or chequers? The News (Islamabad), June 01, 2010.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Angel Rabasa, Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Jeremy J. Ghez & Christopher Boucek, “Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists”, RAND, National Security Research Division, ISBN 978-0-8330-5090-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) (Published  by the RAND Corporation, Santa Monica:2010), xiii-xxiii.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), Pakistan Security Report 2009, p. 3

[xxvi] Dr Manzar Zaidi, “National Security,” Express Tribune (Islamabad), March 13, 2013.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] The Nation (Islamabad), July 22, 2009.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] The Nation (Islamabad), May 20, 2009.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Azeem Ibrahim, “Tackling Muslim Radicalization: Lessons from Scotland”, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, June, 2010.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Khalid Iqbal, “Combating Terrorism”, Defence Journal, March, 2009.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] Khalid Iqbal, “Extremism and Counter Extremism”, Criterion Quarterly Vol 6, No 4, October-December, 2011.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Dr Muhammad Khan, “Counter-terrorism: Models for Pakistan”, Pakistan Observer (Islamabad) July 29, 2013.

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] Khalid Iqbal, “Combating Terrorism”, Defence Journal, March, 2009.

[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Khalid Iqbal, “Extremism and Counter Extremism”, Criterion Quarterly Vol 6, No 4, October-December, 2011.

[xlv] Ibid.

[xlvi] Dr Muhammad Khan, “Counter-terrorism: Models for Pakistan”, Pakistan Observer (Islamabad) July 29, 2013.

[xlvii] Ashraf Ansari, “Government may adopt 4Ts anti-terrorism strategy: Trace, Trail, Tackle, Transform key elements”, Pakistan Observer (Islamabad) July 29, 2013.

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Ibid.