Deradicalisation is an arduous process for any country, which has remained afflicted with the threat of terrorism. The same has stood true for Pakistan, which after undertaking successful military operations such as Rah-e-Rast, Rah-e-Nijat, and Zarb-e-Azb, has been carrying out initiatives across the country. Based on the report of United States Institute of Peace, Pakistan currently runs, six deradicalisations programs the country, namely Sabon, Mishal, Sparley, Rastoon, Pythom, and Heila. According to the report, some of the programs provide instruction in formal education, counselling and therapy, vocational training, and corrective education on religion along with a discussion module on social issues. The report identified a lack of national strategy on addressing the issue of de-radicalisation. It also acknowledged absence of contextualised interventions across the country. This can serve as a first step into building holistic structures to address the issues of radicalisation.

However, so far, interventions have remained focused on providing formal and vocational education. Although, formal and vocational education can serve in providing the means for the rehabilitating individuals to seek normal and mainstream methods of generating their income. It will fail to account for the pivotal reasons individuals often fall prey to radicalisation. This admission is enough in the face of cases such as Saad Aziz, and Abdul Karim Sarosh Siddiqui and Shehryar of the Ansar ul Shariya, who had all come from elite educational institutions. Individuals with contemporary and secular education are just as vulnerable to radicalisation and terrorism as someone going to a Madressah.

The dedicated programs being run by Pakistan Army mostly in Swat and FATA also provide counselling and therapy to individuals enrolled at the rehabilitation centres. The diagnosis of the issue suggests that radicalisation is a product of process. A process, which mostly results in grooming or self-developing set of concepts about social, political, economic and religious issues, and to condition a specific recourse, which is viable and acceptable for redressal of such issues. Resulting in lack of tolerance for accommodating alternative course of actions and discourses. Most radicalised individuals may not cross the threshold to become violent, but all radicalised individuals are likely to condone violence exercised by those holding views similar to theirs own.

The nature of intervention that deserves attention revolves around the psycho-social perspective. These programs can also be best contextualised to meet and best account for the local factors.

For execution of these programs the Federal government will need to empower NACTA with certain operational powers to work in tandem with the provincial police departments to build a referral system at the most-risk areas, where population is being targeted by elements inclined to radicalise local population. Such interventions require building capacity of federal and provincial police departments, particularly in all such districts of interest. Federal and local governments can draw best practices of counselling, therapy and discussion modules being executed under ongoing de-radicalisation programs. The program will require composition of teams with trained psychologists, social workers, law enforcement officials and team of local mentors that can work as single teams with at-risk individuals enrolled in these programs.

The referral systems will need composition purely on psycho-social basis and with a rehabilitative outlook. This will require building up of a public-friendly and open-door program. This initiative can also serve as an opportunity for civil and military institutions to enter in partnerships with civil society organisations that serve as local partners. The operational facets of referral systems will need building up of effective public awareness campaigns. It will require community out-reach and winning over their trust about the transparency of such programs. Such programs will need to abide by principles of do-no-harm, by respecting and ensuring privacy and confidentiality of beneficiaries and their families accommodated under such programs.

Program design aspect require development of focused, standardised and contextualised interventions. While working with beneficiaries, at the psychological level, the program should help them identify their social networks, cognitive patterns and conditioned behaviours that result in conformity to peer-pressure or influencing behaviour of others, which leads to radicalisation. At the social level, it needs to help them understand their interaction with social institutions such as educational institutions, offices, places of worships, households and the presence of online content on terrorism. Similarly, beneficiaries will need to be facilitated in reorienting their social priorities and understand the democratic and legal norms of contributing to social, political and economic progress and reformation of the country. Local mentors and psychologists can play a pivotal role, as former can serve as role models by allowing beneficiaries to build and sustain professional bonds in contributing to their progress. It’s important to remember, that youth are most vulnerable to identity crisis, either for their desperation to bring change or vulnerability to confusion about their meaningful significance in the society. Beneficiaries need to be taught about sociopathic tendencies which could lead to inability to empathise and in some cases dehumanisation of other people. Significantly, beneficiaries will need constant promotion, reinforcement and follow-ups for sustaining the gains of the program.

This uphill task is crucial, if Pakistan aspires economic progress in coming years. Particularly, under CPEC, it needs a conducive environment for local and foreign economic activity inside the country. Moreover, Pakistan needs to continue denying proscribed and banned organisations from exercising their presence, and this needs to be acknowledged and encouraged by the world. However, to take this feat, the earliest we start with building and sustaining deradicalised environment, the sooner we will reap its benefits.

The writer is a consultant at Islamabad Policy Research Institute.