Students' Perception of Terrorism and liberal Narrative about Afghanistan in Pakistan.


Byline: Ruqia Rehman, Fida Muhammad Bazai and Ghulam Murtaza


No country is free of prejudices; certain groups of its own citizens are discriminated against. Still, at the very least this is normally deprecated officially and, as in some countries, one sees genuine attempts to create an equalitarian society(Hoodbhoy, 2018).

The key objective of this article is to determine the relationship between liberal narrative in Pakistan about Afghanistan and university students' perceptions towards terrorism. There are three narratives in Pakistan regarding Afghanistan; liberal, conservative, and religious. Some scholars on Pak-Afghan relationship; Khadim Hussain, Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, and Amir Rana argue that there is a strong negative relationship between narratives about Afghanistan in Pakistan and its efforts against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They claim that it would not possible to defeat terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan before changing narratives in both countries. According to Khadim Hussain,

In Zia era the educational curriculum was particularly instrumental in forging a mindset that perpetuated the stereotyping of the 'other' and engendered a culture of intolerance. The climate provided a fertile ground for the militant discourse that, along with other factors, laid the foundation of Talibanisation in Pakistan. Sectarianism, which is eating into the very vitals of Pakistani state and society, is one of the by-products of this process(Hussain, 2014).

This study will illustrate whether there is any relationship between the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and the narratives about Afghanistan in Pakistan or not. If there is any relationship what is the nature of the relationship between the two phenomena. This study is exclusively focused on the university students in Pakistan four provinces in order to know if other factors than narratives are also playing their role in students' perceptions towards terrorism. It is important to mention one point that the differences between the three narratives; liberal, conservative and religious are more established in the cases of the United States and India than Afghanistan, because of their high importance in Pakistan's domestic politics.

Literature Review

There are different opinions among scholars over the relationship between madrasas, universities and terrorism in Pakistan. Educational institutions in Pakistan, especially madrasas, have been at the target of the United States since 9/11. According to Dr. Rehman, the madrassas, which were associated with conservatism, ossification and stagnation of Islam earlier are now seen as hotbeds of militancy in the name of Islam. After 9/11, a number of authors, both western (Singer 2001) and Pakistani (Haqqani 2002), have connected the madrassas with militancy. At least three reports of the International Crises Group (ICG) - published 29 July 2002, 20 March 2003 and 16 January 2004 - have taken the nexus between militancy and the madrassas as a given (Rahman, 2013).

There is a bulk of literature on the Madaris students support for terrorism. Many published reports and scholarly articles Gelfand, LaFree, Fahey, and Feinberg (2013), Tellis (2208) and Fair (2009) have claimed that the large number of students in Pakistani Madris are important sources of terrorism and suggested various strategies to streamline their curriculum. They claim in their reports and findings that the extremist curriculum taught in Pakistani Madrassah develop the same mind set as that of various terrorist organizations (Mufti, 2011).They further claim that radicalisation and extremism is not only present in Madaris, but also in Pakistan's higher education institutions (Afzal, 2018).According to Hussain,

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, instead of making learning a positive experience that brings out the best in students, successive governments have tried to harness the academic aspect of curriculum development for the purpose of indoctrination. At no other time has this approach been embraced with more fervour than during Gen ZiaulHaq's era (Hussain, 2014).

He further says that,

That period saw languages, Islamic studies, social studies and even the natural sciences infused with content geared towards developing an isolationist mindset. Moreover ...four main concepts were incorporated into the curricula; the glorification of war, the denigration of other religions, nations, countries and races, the representation of women as lesser humans unable to participate in social, political or even academic fields, the distortion of indigenous history and neglect of indigenous civilisations and personalities known for their intellectual, political and social achievements(Hussain, 2014).

Some of them (Gelfand et al., 2013) even assert that the Madris in Pakistan are providing foot-soldiers to terrorist organizations. However, there are very few authentic studies that study the relationship between universities students and terrorism. The large number of terrorist incidents by universities students inside and outside Pakistan necessitates a comprehensive research to find out the attitude of University students towards terrorism.

There are several renowned scholars like Christine Fair, Seth Jones, Hussain Haqqani, Ashley Tellis, Bruce Riedel, Ahmed Rashid and Frederic Grare, who regularly publish on political and strategic developments in Pakistan in reputable journals. There is a disturbing consensus among these recognised scholars that state sponsored narrative in Pakistan about Afghanistan, Indiaand US negatively affect the war against terrorism and extremism. According to Rana,

A general argument can be made that Pakistan's power elites have been patronising religious, ethnic, cultural and racial disagreements to further their regime, instead of looking at the diversity of religious, cultural and societal opinion in Pakistan as a sign of inclusiveness and plurality. That has significantly damaged the country's social fabric, mainly its humanistic values such as empathy and compassion, which safeguard individuals and societies from hate and aggression (Rana, 2019).

He further says that,

Pakistan's far-right religious groups have been known for mobilising their street power whenever the country has faced a crisis in its ties with its neighbours or Washington. The Pakistan Defence Council is the most recent example of such an alliance of religious groups. Among other things, it has been used to whip up public sentiment against the US for conducting drone strikes inside Pakistan, the Salala check-post attack in 2011, and the Raymond Davis affair that saw an American spy kill Pakistani civilians in Lahore(Rana, Establishing a new order, 2019).

According some scholars like Christine Fair, Khadim Hussain, Hussain Haqqani and Frederic Grare the state does not only use these organisations to promote specifickinds of narratives against India, US and Afghanistan, but also counter nationalist and secular narratives at home through religious groups. According to Ran,

The institutions of religious education may have not completely eroded the nationalist ethos of the Baloch but they have at least provided them a sense of connectivity with the broader religious communities in Pakistan. The TableeghiJamaat is one of the instrumental organisations...

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