Since 2007, The Pak Institute for Peace Studies have been developing an impressive programme to counter radicalization and religious extremism. I spoke to their Director Muhammad Amir Rana to find out more. Starting from scratch in January 2006, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has covered a lot of distance in less than five years. The motive behind the formation of PIPS was to make a contribution to resolving national and international conflicts through a knowledge-based approach.

The framework of conflict resolution envisaged by PIPS draws on the efforts of researchers, academics and media persons who have a deep knowledge and direct experience of dealing with national, regional and global security issues. In this regard, Amir Rana told me that, “Our primary aim is to promote a better understanding of the threat of violence and terrorism emanating from a variety of sources in Pakistan and abroad. In pursuit of this goal, the PIPS team collects, processes, interprets and disseminate information relevant to our mandate and conducts independent policy analysis. This process is complemented by our skills and training activities which are designed to promote public awareness and build domestic constituencies for peace in Pakistan. We also aim to keep a close liaison with some of the leading global peace and security institutes and think-tanks. The purpose of building this domestic and international network is to create space for alternative views and approaches”.

The PIPS ‘Deradicalization Plan’ encapsulates their focus on the empirical understanding of radicalization and religious extremism, and the related concepts of deradicalization and counter-radicalization.

The Plan works as a progressive model traversing three levels:

  1. Taking its basic input from empirical studies and surveys aimed at understanding the issue of radicalization;
  2. Knowledge creation and knowledge sharing to evolve certain strategies; and
  3. Implementation of such strategies at the final stage, that is, deradicalization and/or countering radicalization.
Because of the firm belief of PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana that the first step in resolving violent conflicts is to understand them from all possible angles and dimensions, the Deradicalization Plan has been marked by a commitment to rigorous research; they have produced 31 research studies, both empirical and theoretical, since the launch of the programme in 2007. The institute has also initiated an exhaustive study to measure and analyze the extent and trends of radicalization across Pakistan by combining both quantitative and qualitative data. However, their work goes beyond just research they have also been sharing knowledge on their findings and developing practical strategies to counter-radicalization, so that they have been implementing strategies at all 3 levels of the plan. In 2008-9, PIPS launched a comprehensive awareness campaign to counter radicalization. Evaluations suggest that the Plan is advancing well in raising public awareness about the perils of allowing the spread of terrorism and radicalization, as well as shedding light on the means to curb them. It has also helped create a constituency for counter-terrorism and peace among a cross-section of Pakistani intelligentsia, media, policymakers and religious scholars. The PIPS does not have any specific partner for this work. The British High Commission in Islamabad and United State Institute of Peace have contributed to a few components, but the major part of the funding has had to come from PIPS’ own resources, and for this reason they are currently looking for partners.

The phenomenon of radicalization is very complex in Pakistan and has different layers, trends and drivers. But as told by Amir Rana there are three visible levels, which help to identify the trends and drivers, as they affect different parts of society.

Firstly, among lower classes, mainly in poorly governed areas includes tribal and its adjourned areas, South Punjab and interior Sindh, where the drivers to radicalization and terrorism are poverty, inequality and loose administrative structures, and motives are religious (Madrassas, religious and militant organizations role is important), and manifestation is sectarian violence. In tribal areas it can furthermore contribute to the ongoing insurgency. Secondly, among middle classes, mainly in urban- or semi-urban areas, includes central and North Punjab, Karachi, Hyderabad in Sindh, settled areas in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa and Kashmir, the drivers are political (influence of internal and external political developments and radical narrative promoting by radical groups and media) and manifestation is jihadism. (Militant organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jiash-e-Muhammad and Al-Qaeda affiliates’ terrorist cell, and Hizb-e-Islami mainly depend on this core of radicalization). Finally, among upper middle class and elites in the country, major driver is alienation and separation from the society.

Through numerous opportunities to participate and contribute on international fora he realized that the conflict issues, especially terrorism, security, internal and regional peace perspective required more in-depth understanding, especially in the Pakistani perspective. As Amir Rana emphasized that, “in Pakistan empirical knowledge base was very poor on these issues and there was the space for a new research based think tank organization. I discussed the idea with my friends in media and academia and agreed that there is a dire need for this kind of an institute. It was not an easy task. Generation of the resources was a challenge, but the biggest challenge was to develop the institutional systems and research and analysis frameworks. But we met all these challenges with the passage of time”. He acknowledged the determination of his colleagues Mr Mubashir Bukhari and Mr. Mujtaba Rathore for constant support through different phases of organisational development.

[linked page_id=5679]