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Deradicalising youth

Updated May 24, 2019

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THE case of Naureen Leghari, a former medical student who was radicalised on the internet by the militant Islamic State group in 2017, has re-emerged following news that another university has recently revoked her provisional admission after the administration became aware of her prior history.

Though she had undergone a deradicalisation programme under the supervision of law-enforcement agencies, little is known of this process.

While it would be extremely unfortunate and counterproductive if individuals who have been genuinely accountable for their actions and have repudiated extremist views were denied a second chance, the absence of public transparency regarding Ms Leghari’s reintegration into society makes it difficult to assess whether the university had legitimate concerns regarding her presence on campus.

Indeed, Pakistan has experimented with such programmes (most notably the army-led effort with militants in Swat) with reportedly mixed results.

Now, even with the government renewing efforts to crack down on proscribed outfits, this remains a sticking point: what are the specific plans and strategies regarding the deradicalisation and mainstreaming process?

Are there clear metrics for sorting out low-level cadres from ideological masterminds, collaborators from combatants, and defining what interventions would apply accordingly?

What kind of probationary or counsellor follow-up, or other mitigating steps, are there to prevent relapses among deprogrammed ‘graduates’?

And what should public or private institutions’ response be to such individuals when these details are not known to them?

As cases of former university students and graduates like Ms Leghari and Saad Aziz demonstrate, radicalisation is far more nebulous than simply ascribing it to poverty and illiteracy alone.

University campuses and online spaces alike have emerged as fertile grounds for recruiting and exploiting impressionable, disaffected young minds.

Yet though political rhetoric (particularly in the aftermath of the APS attack in Peshawar), has always pointed to a holistic, intra-institutional counter-extremism response, the reality has been almost entirely security-centric.

Therein lies a significant gap in the country’s non-kinetic approaches so far — the lack of a broad-spectrum treatment to target violent extremism at the roots and nip it in the bud.

While there must be a clear path for wayward young adults to find their way back into the mainstream and away from the purveyors of hate, this process must be fully known and owned by all stakeholders.

Moreover, it is absolutely essential — and well past time — to not only address but also prevent radicalisation through the development of national counter-narratives.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019