Reintegrating militants has to follow through a rigorous process, engaging multiple players, and setting some pre-conditions like renouncing violence and violent ideologies. Any group or individual to be reintegrated should be done, following some procedure, on the assumption that the past was wrong, within the bounds of constitution.
These thoughts were shared in a discussion forum on “Reintegration of Militants: Processes & Practices”, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think-tank. The forum, chaired by former defense secretary, Lt. Gen (R) Talat Masood, was attended by international experts from International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT) in the Netherlands.
Speakers argued one of the first goals of reintegrating militant is about assessing the need of this exercise and the groups with which it is undertaken. One of the incentives for the state is to lessen the players of violence, it was said. Liesbeth van der Heide, ICCT, said the process of reintegration is often compounded by prevalence of different responses towards different violent groups. Those attacking inside may not be viewed by all, as similar to those attacking outside.
PIPS’s project manager Muhammad Ismail Khan shared that PIPS-led expert group recommended that the country’s parliament should take lead in setting any contours of the process of reintegration of militants. That group, which included an array of experts, academics, policy makers, also suggested that no reintegration plan without remit of constitution be accepted.
Speakers argued that this process should then assess certain criteria of who to ban and may be un-ban them. It was said that the “starting point” of any reintegration exercise should be renouncing of violence. As to the next steps, these revolve around in ideological reorientation: convincing militants to shun the ideology that motivated them to violence. It is in the next steps that some difficulties emerge. Additional criteria may emerge too.
Speakers weighed how different models in different countries have been enforced to reintegrated militants. Some work on merely disengaging the militants from violence; others impose penalties for even espousing hate ideology. Elisabeth argued every state should work its own model out. There is no single model to be applied on all.
In Pakistan, some participants attending the session argued, radicalization has at times been a top-down approach emanating from state’s policies in the past, and therefore de-radicalization in the country should be viewed in that context too. Others argued that much of the society has internalized radical messages too, and viewing radicals as some “misguided” elements who needs to be rehabilitated may be misleading.
Meanwhile, PIPS researcher Safdar Sial, sharing PIPS experiences of working on de-radicalization programs over the decade, shared that a single approach towards the issue is not enough; there should be multiple approaches. He also called for relaying alternative narratives. It was also recommended that Pakistan-specific should be contextual to Pakistan, espousing democratic ethos.
Elena Dal Santo said that prison centers could be the “best environment” for de-radicalization of individuals. After all, many top-notch radicals encountered extreme messages through prisons.
Chair of the session, Talat Masood, called upon the government to learn the experiences of experts and civil society in de-radicalizing the militants. Dr. Haroro Ingram from the ICCT also spoke in the forum.