YET again, we have been reminded of how perilous are the recent gains in the fight against religious extremism. The Sindh police on Monday arrested three suspects in Karachi with alleged links to banned organisations. Two of them are educated individuals with post-graduate degrees. Among them is a faculty member at a public university in Dera Ismail Khan who had joined the TTP and participated in attacks on Nato and Pakistani security forces. The second man, an IT expert with an MBA from a prestigious institute in Karachi, was, according to police, assisting the militant Islamic State group with IT-related matters.
The militant from the educated middle class, a phrase that once seemed to be a contradiction in terms, no longer has the power to shock. Not after Faisal Shahzad — who had an MBA from a US university — tried to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square; or after Saad Aziz, an IBA graduate, was convicted in the Safoora Goth carnage case. Some women have made it to this category as well, such as Naureen Leghari, a medical student who travelled to Syria and received training from IS. And this is far from an exhaustive list. Nevertheless, after a hard-fought peace, the recent arrests reinforce concerns about the extent to which radicalisation has seeped into society. Last year, a few months after Mashal Khan’s lynching by a mob of fellow students, the HEC directed university administrations to take measures to prevent their campuses from becoming breeding grounds for extremism, recognise signs of radicalisation among students, and offer them counselling opportunities. Militants from educated backgrounds can in some ways be more dangerous because even while they may need to connect with militant networks, they are often inclined towards ‘lone wolf’ attacks, and are, therefore, more difficult to detect. To completely excise such ideologies from society requires unflinching, consistent efforts, not the least of which is an intellectually stimulating academic environment where different worldviews can be freely debated and diversity of opinions is valued.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018