May 032008

By Dr Sadia M. Malik


IN the aftermath of 9/11, terrorism and religious extremism came to be recognised as the key threats facing the US and other countries, particularly those in the West.

To counter this threat, the key global players, led by the US, declared what is widely known as the war on terror. Pakistan is a key ally of the US in this global war that aims to curb terrorism.

How do we fight this war effectively? Has anyone chalked out a comprehensive, well-thought-out and well-researched plan that addresses this problem in all its dimensions? We have tried the use of force. It has been a couple of years since Pakistan’s military started targeting the so-called terrorists’ ‘hideouts’ and ‘havens’.

The question that we need to examine is whether this strategy has been effective in meeting the objective of the state to curb terrorism and ensure the people’s security. The answer can hardly be in the affirmative. In fact, many believe that the military-led operations in the tribal regions and the north have led to retaliation, exacerbating insecurity among people not only in the tribal regions but also in other parts of the country.

The use of military force might be justified but shouldn’t this have been the last resort after all other ways to curb terrorism had failed? It is high time that we start addressing this critical problem in a much more creative manner. Policy in this direction as in any other field must be guided by sound research. It might be worthwhile for the US as well as the Pakistani government to devote a few dollars to financing policy-oriented studies that objectively examine the root causes of this menace. The resources devoted to such efforts would be peanuts compared to those expended on the military-led war on terror and might pay off in terms of a strategy that hits the nail on the head being devised.

Terrorism and religious extremism are complex phenomena. The root causes are varied and that is why professional research in this area can be useful. The causes may differ from region to region and so would solutions. A uniform policy to hit terrorism across all regions in the world may make matters worse. All policies, whether economic, social or political, must be devised and implemented in a local context.

It is not hard to see even in the absence of professional research that one of the root causes of terrorism and religious extremism is the sense of despair among the youth, arising from rampant poverty and the lack of opportunities. If madressah education is considered as one of the breeding grounds of religious extremism, do we know why the majority of students opt for madressahs?

Clearly, the majority if not all of the students who opt for madressahs are the ones who are too poor to afford basic food, shelter and clothing, let alone education. Madressahs provide them with free food, shelter and clothing apart from giving them religious education. Obviously, it is the gap in the public provision of quality education and other safety nets that these madressahs have filled.

Recently, a survey was conducted in Fata (the only survey that I came across on this issue) by the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme in collaboration with the British High Commission. The results of the survey indicate that the people in Fata believed that amongst the major causes of religious extremism in Pakistan, illiteracy was the foremost, followed by the Afghan conflict, poverty, bad governance and unemployment.

The hopelessness, desperation and resignation arising from poverty and deprivation no doubt make the youth more prone to becoming victims of a kind of brainwashing that promises them hope in the hereafter if not in this world. The sense of hopelessness that a woman named Bushra experienced and that led her to kill her two children and commit suicide because of poverty is unimaginable. Yet, it is a reality. This incident and the majority of other such incidents that go unreported should be an eye-opener for policymakers.

In fact, it is time that we start looking at a much wider concept of security: security from hunger, security from deprivation, security from illiteracy and security from disease. About 20 years ago, Mahbub ul Haq, a renowned development economist, offered such a concept to the entire world.

While delivering a speech at the United Nations NGO/DPI Annual Conference, New York, on Sept 8, 1993, he said: “Human security is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode in violence, a woman who was not raped, a poor person who did not starve, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed. Human security is not a concern with weapons. It is a concern with human dignity.”

Haq’s concept of human security as security of income, employment, food, health, education as well as security from conflicts and natural disasters is much broader and much more comprehensive than the traditional concept of security. While the traditional concept of security is mostly concerned with territorial security and focuses on protecting people from external aggression only, the concept of human security emphasises the protection of people from social, political and economic injustices.

In 1997, Mahbub ul Haq called South Asia “the most endangered region”. The reasons behind this were not rhetorical but based on a sober analysis of the socio-economic and political situation in the region. The threats posed by poverty and human deprivation that continue to prevail in countries of this region, despite impressive economic growth, justify Mahbub ul Haq’s remarks more so today than when he uttered those words.

At present, the types of insecurities that threaten the common man in Pakistan include economic insecurity, food insecurity, health insecurity as well as insecurity arising out of lack of education and empowerment. It is time that the policymakers, including foreign donors, realise that without addressing the basic needs of the people in terms of food, health, education and employment opportunities in an equitable manner, neither terrorism nor extremism can be curbed effectively at least in this part of the world. n

The writer is director of the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre in Islamabad.

Source: Daily Dawn, 3/5/2008

 Posted by at 9:17 pm

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