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Willing executioners

Published Mar 16, 2017 02:03am


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TERRORISM, in one form or another, has existed for centuries. While its goals change according to the prevailing context, the basic technique ie using force to achieve political, social and religious ends has been the same throughout history, and has often included the use of suicide attackers.

Modern suicide terrorism began in the 1980s under conditions where the coercer was the weaker actor and the target the stronger. From Hezbollah, Hamas, the Tamil Tigers and Chechnyan rebel groups to Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group, the rhetoric of major suicide terrorist groups reflects the logic of coercive punishment. This technique’s purpose is to inflict punishment and provoke fear. Triggered in part by suicide attacks elsewhere, a trend of such attacks took off in Pakistan in 2004, with waves of increased frequency.

The protracted terrorism campaign in Pakistan seems to base itself on three levels of validation: strategic, social and individual — the strategy being to induce changes in the status quo through political coercion. If terrorist groups did not believe that suicide attacks would advance their political goals, they would not carry them out. The reason behind the uptick in such attacks is that its sponsors know that the strategy pays off and is effective in achieving some political and societal changes. People belonging to minority Islamic sects and minority religions, security forces, lawyers, etc are tactically selected to maximise the damage in terms of casualties and intimidation.

Preventing suicide attacks requires shunning intolerance.

Social validation comes from terrorist groups’ ability to exist, nurture and thrive in society. Our government and society seem to tolerate their existence and recruitment efforts, and legitimise their proclamations of hate and religious purity.

The endless supply of individuals willing to give up their lives to attack innocent people provides the third validation. Religious indoctrination, weak states, hegemonic structures, inequality, poverty, and a lack of democracy and rule of law enable this supply of ‘willing executioners’.

Suicide attacks do not appear out of thin air, they require systematic efforts. Stopping this heinous act requires a multi-pronged strategy involving intelligence, security and operational measures, response and deterrence mechanisms, awareness campaigns and community involvement, and influencing the attitudes of such groups’ constituencies.

Intelligence is key, and both the federal and provincial law-enforcement agencies need to enhance their capabilities. Data collection and analysis, with support from modern technologies, is vital for eliminating terrorism’s infrastructure. Increased coordination among intelligence and law enforcement to collect, share and analyse data on terrorist threats is needed.

Even with such measures, attacks may occur, which is why the government must have effective response measures. Disaster preparedness plans and structures must be developed, and technical, mitigation and relief teams formed, to deal with rescue and evacuation. This would reduce public apprehension and panicked demands for extreme measures that may imperil democracy. Involving the community in emergency disaster preparedness would be of benefit.

Terrorism is a group endeavour and, thus, deterrence efforts should be mainly directed at groups rather than individuals. A credible threat of severe punishment that implies a group’s demise would presumably act as a deterrent, while addressing the grievances of larger population groups, to which the terrorists belong, may be effective in changing sympathies. A consistent, well-publicised de-radicalisation and rein­­tegration plan for deserters and sym­­pathisers would also be invaluable.

It is imperative to gain insights into the conditions and processes leading up to terrorist atrocities to identify possible interventions to prevent/ break the cycle of retaliation. Physical security measures may prevent attacks from occurring, but they do not eliminate the ideology or the enthusiasm for it.

When we tolerate religious parties and schools censuring religious minorities, women, and progressive sections of society, and subscribe to the absence of separation between religion and state, terrorism is inevitable. Collective efforts are needed at all levels of government and society to create an environment that discourages militancy and fanaticism.

An outright rejection of sectarian religious education, and advocating for policies and laws that create a more unprejudiced and equal society, can serve as an antidote to terrorism. The syllabi taught in madressahs must be regulated. Civil society, progressive writers, academics, activists, and print and electronic media must be given support and protection to counter prevailing narratives that inspire extremism through education and awareness campaigns that promote tolerance.

The writer is adjunct faculty, Dept of Homeland Security, San Diego State University, US.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

Safdar Mar 16, 2017 02:22am

Well conceived but I think all suggested actions are or have been considered upon and mostly have been addressed.

Syed F. Hussaini Mar 16, 2017 05:29am

Terrorism is big business and so is counter-terrorism.

It is like manufacturing nail polish and nail polish remover under the same roof.

A Z Babar Mar 16, 2017 07:32am

Dear SOBHYA AGHA nice article but i would like to add one more point that MEDIA plays a vital role in this regard. Media should downplay such kind of acts but contrary to that they exaggerate most of the situations which inflict fear in the society...

Mush Mar 16, 2017 07:39am

Very comprehensive. Bravo!

Mian M Amin(Old Ravian) Mar 16, 2017 08:43am

To a large extent, Suicide Bombers come from destitute and illiterate families .The recruiters have easy money. The writer has given solid points to ponder .Well done,madam .

Engr JJ Mar 16, 2017 09:22am

Good points for terrorism eradication. The government should find the roots of suicide attackers and their trainers. The borders should be sealed.

maleeha Mar 16, 2017 09:34am


peer muhammad Mar 16, 2017 01:05pm

very objective and academic.......Political aspects must be discussed .....

Well Meaning Mar 16, 2017 03:33pm

normalising violence in society and using violence as a means to conflict resolution leads to this end result . follow Mahatma Gandhi preach no violence, love and respect every living thing,

muSTAFA Mar 16, 2017 06:00pm

thanks share for such type of Article

saqib Mar 16, 2017 07:56pm

intolerance is not only a madrasah but also in schools colleges and universities of worst kind ...a fresh approach is required to halt the situation ....teachers in educational institute should be well trained both morally and technically ...but the atmosphere is dictatorial no new approach is tolerated in this society .

saqib Mar 16, 2017 08:00pm

when right to differ ,right to free speech ,right to think is deliberately being brutaly suppressed in high level universities of this country than what else u would expect from others?

Pakistani Mar 16, 2017 08:01pm

Only solution for terrorism is negotiation with the dissent groups and giving accommodation their demands and make political arrangement for them to bring them into the human society.

Abdul Razaque Chhachhar Mar 16, 2017 09:03pm

Government should keep more monitoring system on Madarsah and Afghan refugees otherwise we cannot stop such brutal accidents in future.

asma Mar 16, 2017 09:21pm

Terrorisim is a big challenge for Pakistan.It must be addressed by taking a multi pronged strategy.

Solomon2 Mar 17, 2017 12:04am

"Our government and society seem to tolerate their existence and recruitment efforts, and legitimise their proclamations of hate and religious purity."

I converse with Pakistanis on-line several times a week. A popular attitude is, "for us Pakistanis, hatred is a birthright engraved in stone". For them, even some of the secular ones, intolerance is a test of loyalty, a source of strength, and something to be embraced, not rejected, or at least permitted rather than actively opposed. All the intelligence collection and military efforts in the world alone cannot change such values: these must be taught by family, teachers, and society.

Tariq soomro Mar 17, 2017 12:55am

Very well academic writing. Identification and assessment of socio economic factors are also most important.

Syed F. Hussaini Mar 17, 2017 12:56am