The year 2016 saw a further decline in terrorist activities on the Pakistani soil. While this is a welcome development and one that gives immense hope to the people of this country, the fact remains that the threat of terrorism can never be entirely eradicated unless the factors that contribute to violent extremism are also rooted out.
Every day of every year, extremist forces within Pakistan recruit young, potentially productive members of the country’s future workforce and direct them to a path of death and destruction. But why are these extremist outfits so successful? What is it that they have to offer that can possibly corrupt a carefree young mind?
This question is hard to answer in one straight forward sentence since there are a wide range of factors that propel Pakistani youth towards the path of violent extremism.
Interestingly, these influences, while operating in isolation are not strong enough to radicalize the young people. However, it is a combination of these factors that serves as a lethal cocktail that fuels militant outfits and their ugly agendas.
The so-called “push factors” are responsible for driving young people towards extremism. These primarily comprise of issues that cause dissatisfaction of the youth with their environment, including the society and the political economy that they live in and its impact on their psychological well-being.
On the other hand the “pull factors” consist of those conditions that motivate the youth to join a radical organization because it somehow seems to address the young person’s dissatisfaction with his current state.
Poverty and Exclusion
Young people belonging to lower income households unfortunately are more vulnerable to joining extremist and/or terrorist organizations.
These young people are often not very educated and in between low paying jobs. Needless to say they are most affected in times of growing inflation and always at the receiving end of the extreme socio-economic inequalities in Pakistan. They are then likely to opt for any avenue that offers them with an opportunity to make the two ends meet.
Society and Traditions
Families in most Pakistani cultures are often characterized by a strong, authoritarian and disciplinarian patriarch. This coupled with stringent traditions, often pushes young minds towards rebellion as they want a taste of the “free” life that satellite TV and the internet has informed them of.
The fact that young people are often entirely excluded from the decision-making process only adds to their feeling of powerlessness, thereby making them vulnerable to join a “movement” that offers them importance.
Propaganda by extremist and terrorist organizations often exploits the grievances of young people with the prevalent bad governance in their areas as well as the grievances based on unfair treatment of the Muslim Ummah at the global level.
This propaganda goes to reinforce the sense of victimization on one hand and further aggravates the youth’s discontent with their government.
Loss of Loved Ones in Military Operations
One of the leading reasons that have propelled young people towards extremism in the conflict prone regions of Pakistan, especially the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) is the loss of loved ones in drone strikes by the U.S government or the military operations led by the Pakistan Army.
The anger fueled by these tragedies incites a yearning for revenge that most of these young people feel can only be satisfied by becoming part of a militant/terrorist outfit.
What Needs to be Done
Inadequate education and understanding of religion when mixed with the various factors listed above has resulted in the loss of countless young Pakistanis to violent extremism in the last decade. Accordingly, for Pakistan to become peaceful again, it is imperative that necessary measures are taken by the government and the society to empower the youth, provide them with alternate avenues to vent their frustrations and address the societal conflicts that leave these young people disgruntled.
Moreover, it is equally important to start development projects in the areas that have survived conflict. This will not only offer wide spread employment to the local youth but will also indirectly serve to spike the literacy rate in the long run.
Unless serious steps are taken to educate the naïve young minds and to address their grievances, long-lasting peace is unlikely to becomes a tangible reality.