Hyderabad’s Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) was set up in 1881 with the purpose of enhancing the state of medicine, public health and sciences in the region.
Today, it is in the news for one of its star students, Naureen Leghari, who self-confessedly left behind an impressive academic career to join the Islamic State.
Naureen, a second-year student pursuing an MBBS degree, was arrested after her husband was reportedly killed in an encounter with law enforcement agencies in Lahore on Friday night.
She is reported to have visited Syria after leaving her home in February to join the militant Islamic State (IS) group. Earlier this year, she is said to have returned to Pakistan, armed with the ability and motivation to wreak havoc.
“I was assigned to conduct a suicide bombing mission at a church on Easter,” she said in a video statement made public during an army press briefing on Monday.
While Naureen is not the first Pakistani to have left the country to join a global terror outfit, her story has restarted the conversation on the atmosphere within which students and young people gravitate dangerously close to violent extremism.
Going by the findings of a recent study conducted by the Sindh Counter-Terrorism Department, it is evident that law enforcement agencies are familiar with cases of university students and young people gravitating towards extremism.
Sources privy to the findings say the study considered a sample of 500 ‘hardcore militants’ currently in Sindh's jails. It revealed that at least 64 such militants had master's level degrees or above. As many as 70 ‘hardcore militants’ had bachelor’s degrees, while 63 had matriculate and intermediate degrees.
‘Parenting is crucial’
So what are the factors that contribute towards an individual becoming radicalised? One expert says detached children are easier prey.
“Parenting is crucial,” says Dr Nausheen Shehzad, Executive Director at the Neuropsychology Center Pakistan.
Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, too, seems to echo the psychiatrist’s views when he says, “the threat present online needs to be dealt with by the families.”
Citing the ‘attachment theory’, Dr Nausheen points out that children who are not attached to their parents are at risk of finding themselves in the folds of someone else’s attachment.
This seems to ring true in Leghari's case.
"She [Leghari] was in contact with a boy on social media for quite some time," the Vice Chancellor of LUMHS, Naushad Sheikh had told DawnNews.
"[Her contact with the boy] transformed her mindset and influenced her towards extremism," he added.
The exact nature of Naureen’s relationship with her parents remains unclear, but authorities say she left her home in Hyderabad to participate in a global movement rooted in violence.
Naureen’s father, a professor at Sindh University, raised the alarm when his daughter went missing — but it may have been too late.
Radicalisation: A ‘human problem’
Pausing on the hysteria surrounding the militant Islamic State’s presence in Pakistan, Dr Nausheen emphasises that in order to understand radical behaviour one must separate ‘behaviour’ from ‘ideology’.
“Why do people insist on equating radicalism with Islam?” she asks.
"Just like a majority of Muslims distance themselves from IS, a lot of Christians distance themselves from the Klu Klux Klan, as do Hindus from the RSS."
Dr Nausheen points towards the human condition that underlines the outwardly extremist end of the political and ideological spectrum.
The challenge of deradicalisation
The most prominent counter-extremism rehabilitation facility in the country is currently run by a local NGO called Hum Pakistani Foundation in collaboration with the military. Located in Swat valley, Sabaoon is a one of a kind institution that started in 2009. Since then, it has already rehabilitated around 192 former young radicals.
Dr Feriha Peracha, the psychologist leading the effort at Sabaoon, has committed her team of female psychologists to a unique task; deprogramming children who have been brainwashed by extremist outfits.
“We want them to be children again. We give them education, vocational training and most importantly, sports. Nothing has worked better than sports. So they play a lot of matches…and they begin to heal,” she said in a recent interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Dr Nausheen has also seen sports — tennis, to be precise — help one of her clients out of the clutches of radicalism. “In universities and schools, you have to let the child play to the extent that they’re fully intoxicated with sports. That is the most important thing to do,” she said.
Muhammad Munawar, a sports instructor at Naureen’s old university, LUMHS, while speaking to Dawn.com, admitted that “sports takes a back seat at LUMHS since it is primarily a medical university. But we do have a gym, a small ground for cricket, a badminton hall and other sports like table tennis and snooker.” Asked about female participation in sports, he answered; “three days out of a week, we allocate for girls; the rest are for boys.”
“If you give students sports facilities, they will avail them — it is as simple as that. The responsibility for providing facilities rests upon the university management,” added Munawar.
Additional reporting by Imtiaz Ali and Muhammad Hussain Khan