Published in The Express Tribune, December 14, 2017
This year incidents of terrorism in the name of religion by the educated youth drew the attention of many towards growing radicalisation in universities. Incidents of lynching Mashal Khan, Noreen Laghari, a medical student, who was about to blow up a church and in 2015 the attack on Ismaili community by a student of an elite business school are cases in point.
Such a trend doesn’t suggest that universities have been instrumental in nurturing such extreme ideas. However, these incidents do raise concerns about human development experiences of Pakistan’s youth. These also show that education doesn’t prevent militancy. According to the Sindh Counter-Terrorism Department, out of the 500 militants held in Sindh’s jails, 64 hold a master’s degree and 70 a bachelor’s.
The recent incidents have made one thing apparent that madrassas aren’t the only factor leading youth to radicalised ideas. Based on evidence, it is now an accepted fact that Pakistan’s youth is getting radicalised and turning militant in thought and behaviour. The problem isn’t new and has taken decades to grow. During the 1980s the state education went through a change full of Islamic orientation with emphasis on Islamic values while projecting minority faiths as anti-Muslim and hence anti-Pakistan. Ziaul Haq also saw student politics as possible threat to his dictatorial regime. All political parties were banned to function inside universities except the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba. Since it had practically no opposition it managed to sweep the student union elections in 1969, 1970 and 1971 consecutively. Just like the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam it became part of the political process and endorsed violent jihad in select situations. The recently founded political party Milli Muslim League is the political face of Jamaatud Dawa, a banned militant outfit in Pakistan. It is alarming how a banned militant outfit has been allowed to form a political party to take part in mainstream politics. The party will surely recruit youth for running the party affairs which will have a huge negative impact on the educated youth, which believes in democracy and Islam.
The National Action Plan (NAP) calls for registering and monitoring the madrassas, stopping the distribution of extremist literature and blocking the access of banned militant organisations to social media platforms. It is interesting to note how social media has abundantly been used by militants for hate speech and recruitment whereas progressive accounts/webpages have been blocked. NAP has no defined mechanisms as to how the extremist narratives should be countered. There are no clauses which particularly address the issue of stopping extremist groups from working on university campuses.
There is a need to overhaul the systems in the universities by rationalising the courses, academic programmes and the number of students on campus. More importantly, the administration must cleanse the preacher professors and motivational guest speakers brought by the jihadist professors and administrative sympathisers. There is no quick fix. The problem has taken decades to grow and now needs serious efforts to be solved. To stop the growing radicalisation it is important to revamp the entire curricula. The importance of culture and cultural activities should also be instilled in the students. The media should also be engaged in building and promoting a counter-narrative. Above all, political will is needed.
The government has been avoiding taking tough decisions. Organisations like IS are active in the cyberspace for promoting their agenda and recruitment, so collective efforts are required by the government to restrict their activities. Also, it is of utmost importance that the government stops appeasing the religious right as they just did in case of Faizabad dharna. Such appeasement only creates confusion in young minds where they consider that damaging public property, beating police officers and using offensive language is a routine job and will only result in cash rewards or bring praise for being ‘our own brethren’.