Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Radicalisation abroad

FOR decades Pakistan has re lied on remittances from its workers abroad to finance eco nomic and social development at home. In 2009, one of the most difficult years for the Pakistani economy, the only thing that showed some improvement was the level of remittances.
While exports declined by six per cent and imports by 10 per cent, remittances increased by 22 per cent. Without an in crease of this magnitude Pakistan’s ex ternal situation would have been even more difficult today. The fact that the State Bank of Pakistan was able to re build its external balances to a comfort able level owed a great deal to this steady increase in the then level of re mittances. Any disturbance in this trend will have grim economic consequences.
For years the US had become the largest source of remittances from abroad, as the people who traced their origin to Pakistan became more involved with the development of what was once their homeland. However, much to the concern of many, the Pakistan-US link seems to be providing another type of flow: there are some among the Muslim community in the United States who seem to have decided that they should join what they view as the Muslim world’s fight against the Christian West. Some of these misguided people are heading towards Pakistan.
The arrest in Pakistan some time ago of five young men from the suburbs of Washington on suspicions that they were planning to fight against the Pakistani state and the US has raised a number of disturbing issues. They need to be addressed seriously by the people of Pakistan, by the Pakistanis in the United States, by Washington and by Islamabad. If what we are witnessing is a trend it will have worrying economic, political and social consequences for Pakistan. It will, most certainly, isolate the country even more from the world at a time when it needs external support for dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis.
A comforting conclusion was reached by many analysts and possibly also by Washington that there were good reasons why the United States was spared another terrorist attack following 9/11. It appeared that the focus on homeland security kept potential troublemakers out of the country. And there was the belief that the Muslims in the United States were not vulnerable to radicalisation.
Was the latter conclusion incorrect? Are the American Muslims susceptible to the kind of influences and pressures that have driven so many of their co-religionists in Europe to take desperate action against the countries in which they reside? According to one analyst, “the notion that the United States has some immunity against terrorists is coming under new scrutiny”.
The conclusion that the American Muslim community has not been radicalised seems not to be entirely correct although by and large it is better integrated in the US economy and society than is the case with the one in Europe. This is in part because a large number of Muslims in the United States have different socio-economic backgrounds than those who went to Europe.
Are the Pakistanis in America more inclined towards radicalisation than Muslims from other communities? There have been disturbing incidents of terrorism in America lately, as well as apparent intentions of committing them. Many have either involved young men from Pakistan or visits to Pakistan for training to commit violence. The fact that Pakistan has become the hub of global terrorism inspired by various Islamic causes should be of considerable concern to Islamabad.
What are the various choices available to the makers of public policy to stop this situation from deteriorating? First, Washington needs to ensure that in its zeal to protect itself, it should not further limit access to the country to Pakistani youth. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Pakistanis to get visas to attend colleges and universities in the US.
This is unfortunate since Pakistan’s educational system is extremely weak and one way of compensating is to send the youth to institutions in America. Restricting this will alienate the Pakistani youth even more. Washington should also encourage non-radical imams teaching and giving sermons at the various mosques in the country to stop the young from drifting towards extremism.
While the US has a role to play, much of the action needs to be taken by Islamabad and the country’s provincial governments. There are two obvious areas of policy intervention. The first, of course, is improving the educational system. This needs to be done at all levels.
Not only has Pakistan neglected primary education, it has also paid relatively little attention to higher education. Without improving the skill base of the vast army of the young in the country — Pakistan with a me dian age of 18.2 years has one of the youngest populations in the world — the youth will continue to be attracted to radical causes.
Of equal importance is the action by the state against organisations in the private sector that have openly recruited the young for pursuing extremist causes. There is no point in denying that this was being done by the state to compensate for India’s growing military strength. The jihadi groups were being prepared to do battle in case the two countries went to war again.
This strategy has massively backfired. These groups have turned on the Pakistani state and the Pakistani people. The state policy has taken a 180-degree turn. These groups have to be eliminated by the use of all means, including force, available to the state. Keeping them in reserve as insurance against India will not work. This is now the time for Pakistan — the government and the people — to move against extremism. Not pursuing this objective with the full might of the state and citizenry will do the country even more harm.
By Shahid Javed Burki
Source DAWN
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