THEY used to belong to shadowy groups that inspired such fear that in Swat, for example, where they briefly held sway, an intersection was named Khooni — bloodied — Chowk. But on Friday, at a function organised by the Pakistan Army, 60 former militants presented tableaus, sang national songs and delivered speeches. Belonging mostly to the Swat, Dir, Swabi, Malakand and Nowshera areas where militancy remains a challenge these men have received three months’ vocational training in the Swat area. One of them, who received training as a welder, said that he had learned the means to be a good citizen; another said that he had realised his mistake in taking up arms against the state. Cameras flashed and civil and military officials as well as local elders applauded. It was a moment of bonhomie and only goes to show that should the piper play a different tune, much can be achieved.
On a more practical note, though, the success of such efforts at rehabilitation can only be judged in the long term. It is true that apart from those that are ideologically motivated, extremist outfits also sweep into their criminal embrace other people who join out of economic need, a twisted sense of belonging or sometimes just fear. These people can be redeemed. But to judge the efficacy of the rehabilitation methods such people need to be kept track of, and the success of their rehabilitation into society assessed. Further, once back in their hometowns, they are also vulnerable to being convinced or coerced into returning to their former activities, in which case help should be at hand. State and society must have faith in the men who exchanged their guns for welding or sewing machines, as well as keep a watchful eye.