Written By: Abdullah Khan
Reintegration of militants into the national fold is an uphill but essential task that the State of Pakistan has to accomplish. Majority of the militants fighting against us are our own citizens. We need to think seriously about how to bring those who fell in the hands of terrorist organizations back and reintegrate them into the society. The first step is to develop realization that these are our own citizens who fell in wrong hands because of various factors. Ownership of the mistakes and our citizen will lead us to the right direction.
There are several aspects of a possible reintegration program. Unless we develop customized policies and subsequent action plans for every aspect mentioned in coming paragraphs, the overall program of reintegration cannot become productive and result oriented in the long run. Following are some of the aspects our State will have to take into account while planning for a policy of reintegration of militants.
• Strategic Aspect: There are two schools of thought who blame state policies for promoting violent extremism. One school of thought believes that more than required role of religion in state as well as national affairs and Pakistan’s participation in Afghan jihad against the USSR are the major reasons for promoting religious extremism and subsequent terrorism in the country. The other school of thought believes that current wave of militancy started after 9/11 because of sudden U-turn by Pakistani state from certain policies and state’s alleged patronage of activities taking people away from religion. Although both point of views are identically opponent to each other but they have a common factor and that is Pakistan’s alliance with the United States. If siding with U.S. becomes root cause of promotion of extremism in our society then we need to do some cost-benefit analysis of our defence ties with the super power. Improvement in defence ties with Russia and investment coming through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) provides us an opportunity to lessen if not completely end our defence reliance and financial dependence on the U.S. Unless we set our strategic direction right and fix the mistakes we have made no plan of national reintegration of militants can yield long term sustainable results.
• Ideological Aspect: Militant groups fighting against the state can be classified into four categories:
a. Anti-State based on religion and foreign sponsored (TTP, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Islam etc.)
b. Sectarian groups (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipa-e-Muhammad etc.)
c. Anti-State secular groups (BLA, BLF, BRF etc.)
d. Proxies of political parties (Lyari War Gangs, militant wing of political parties etc.)
Every category has different set of ideological tools to motivate their fighters. Militants have to be detached from their ideology before they can be merged back into the main society. Especially the militants motivated by religion need special attention as religion plays a major role in their recruitment and motivation. Most of the militant attacks and subsequent deaths in Pakistan occurred in attacks perpetrated by militants motivated by religion.
• Financial Aspect: Although militants have people from rich to poorer to the poorest but majority comes from poor class in Pakistan’s context with low education rate, almost no job opportunities, and least exposure to the modern world. When some or more of them will be ready to shun violence, we as a nation need to have sustainable financial plans for them so that they are not hijacked again by their respective militant groups.
• Social and Societal Aspect: Those militants who will be selected for reintegration into national folds, their families and relatives need to be taken on board, too. Generally, more than one person from a family is found infected with extremist ideology, however, one or two become hardcore militants while others provide them moral and financial support. For reintegration of a militant, the strategy needs to incorporate requirements of whole family. Even if none of the family member other than the militant subscribes to the militant ideology, the family can play a crucial role in persuading the militant to denounce violence and come back to normal life. Families can be encouraged to report activities of ex-militants and they need to have a trust in the system that any such thing will not create any trouble for them and it will actually be helpful to keep their loved ones away from extremist groups.
Also, one cannot overlook bitter reality that the militants supposed to be integrated into the national fold remained members of such organizations who are involved in killing thousands of Pakistani citizens. It is a tough question that whether society will accept them or not. Any reintegration plan needs to be backed by the society. Sensitivities of the society need to be taken into consideration and incorporated into national reintegration policy.
• Legal Aspect: Any reintegration policy needs to be within the legal framework of the country. Are we going to reintegrate those who were involved in killing of our citizens and law demands they must be tried in the court of law? However, there is a counter argument that if we do not detach them from militancy they can kill more citizens. Those who are known for killing and are wanted in cases of murder cannot, and should not, get away with their crimes. Such elements may not get absolute amnesty; however, State can lure them with lesser degree of sentences from court in case they surrender.
There are also militants who may have or may in future complete their prison terms. There should be a policy for them as well, as they should not fall back in the hands of militant organizations.
• Constitutional Aspect: Any reintegration program will be within the framework of constitution. Those who want to come back will have to accept Pakistan’s constitution. It is a matter of fact that Pakistan’s constitution is the best reply to militant’s narrative but unfortunately never properly presented and promoted in that context. Our constitution sets absolute sovereignty of Allah, the Almighty and no law can be promulgated against Quran and Sunnah. No logic or argument can stand in front of the fact that picking up arms against Pakistan cannot be justified by any valid teachings of Islam. Thus, Islamic aspects of our constitution need to be highlighted and presented as counter argument to those who commit Takfeer in our State and justify violence in that pretext.
Any reintegration program will also need constitutional cover so that no upcoming government reverses the program for any reasons. Any such move can endanger lives of those officials who will be associated with the program. Any reversal can also make future peace process difficult to the impossible extent.
Any reintegration of militants will definitely be in DDR order (Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration). However, question is that should Pakistan target groups or individuals for reintegration? In case of individuals, it will be simply disarmament and reintegration process. While involving groups will be a complex and least productive approach in Pakistan’s context. For the time being militant groups are less likely to join a peace process for a variety of reasons. One of the sectarian extremist group Sipa-e-Sahaba (Jamat Ahl-e-Sunnat) has recently expressed its willingness to disband itself during a think tank’s activity. However, they are not operating as a militant group, thus reintegration of Sipa-e-Sahaba or Tehreek-e-Jafria does not fall in the domain of reintegration of militants. Their possible reintegration falls under reintegration of nonviolent extremist groups.
Therefore, instead of approaching to militant groups, Pakistan should approach foot soldiers and commanders of lower ranks. This will snatch base support from top leadership, which may eventually think to denounce violence in case State decides to accept them.
Role of the former militants can also play crucial role in motivating militants to denounce violence and get into the reintegration process. They can be presented as role models as well as hired to interact with those who have denounced violence and willing to come back but are skeptical of the prospects.
We have to realize the need to bring back our citizens who fell to deviant violent ideologies and traps. We have to devise a national reintegration program which has customized sub policies and action plans as per different categories of the militants. Any such program needs to take care of legal aspects as well as should have constitutional cover. The program must have backing of the society to be productive and sustainable.
The writer is Managing Director Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. He is an expert on militancy and regional security. He tweets at