Originally Published 2011-07-27 00:00:00 Published on Jul 27, 2011
Despite the positive connotations of a de-radicalisation initiative in Pakistan's Swat, lead by Pakistan's army, the relationship between the military and terrorist groups still remains unclear.
De-Radicalisation Programme in Swat: An assessment
Pakistan has undertaken a de-radicalisation programme in Swat as part of a move to halt the growth of militant extremism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. After a protracted effort to liberate the Swat valley from Taliban control, the army has embarked on the latter stages of its policy to 'Clear, hold and transfer'. The de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of former militants is considered integral to the success of the army's counter-terrorism initiatives.

It is over two years since Pakistan's army wrested control of the region's main town from the Taliban. Residents had previously been subjected to the radicals' own brand of justice. Fear had cleared the streets, women were systematically persecuted and the infamous 'Khooni Chowk' acted as a physical manifestation of the regime's brutality. Today the scene is quite different. At a three-day Seminar in Swat's Mingora, Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani explained to journalists, politicians, and policy makers the reason for their success:

The Initiative:

Drawing on success stories of 'soft' approaches in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan's army has sought the help of experts in religious education, sociology, and psychology to create a programme for the reintegration of former Taliban members into society. The programme begins with religious re-education, 'correcting' the young men's understanding of Islam and violence. Following acceptance of a 'de-radicalized Islam', the emphasis shifts to academic and vocational training. The 'New Dawn' Center aims to teach partially educated inhabitants to high school diploma level. Meanwhile those who have never attended school are equipped with practical skills in electrical work and tailoring. On graduating from the course the young men are given placements and their progress is monitored. The focus of this initiative is long-term success. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced his belief that the reintegration of those guilty of 'lesser' crimes, in conjunction with a policy of exemplary punishment for a 'hardcore' category of terrorists, offered the best formula to combat terrorism in the region.


However, the consensus of commentators has warned against hailing the story of Swat as an unmitigated success.  Reports of army involvement in extra-judicial executions in the region undermine the positive message of rule of law. Similarly, the high security prisons containing thousands of 'hard-core' militants were not included in the tours given to seminar guests around Mingora's rehabilitation facilities. No doubt conditions stand in stark contrast to the 'floral bedcovers' reportedly found in the young boys' rehabilitation center. The fate of these more senior Taliban members remains undecided as politicians delay action while debating the introduction of special legislation.

Another word of caution is offered by time itself. The final judgment on the success of the Swat Program cannot be made on the number 'graduating'. Instead we will have to wait for accurate long-term and short-term recidivism rates. Some fear that unless underlying economic, social and political issues are successfully addressed, the region may, overtime, become vulnerable to extremists once more. The message to the political class is clear: they must make themselves relevant to the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.

Wider Picture:

Despite the positive connotations of a de-radicalisation initiative lead by Pakistan's army, the relationship between the military and terrorist groups remains unclear. Historically the army has supported and even encouraged terrorist, sectarian and extremist groups in the pursuit of domestic and foreign policy aims. The irony of their resources now being used to de-radicalise militants has not gone unnoticed. While the case of Swat suggests a positive commitment to tackling militancy, the continued persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Punjab goes unpunished and even celebrated. This has lead to accusations of a centrally ordered 'PR stunt' by which Pakistan looks to assuage international concern without a comprehensive policy change. It remains to be seen whether the programme in Swat will form part of a nationwide strategy that extends to those areas in which extremism has traditionally strengthened the army's hold over society.

(Katie Trim is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation)
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