Pakistan’s patchy fight against Islamist violence sows confusion
At the rehabilitation center for former militants in Pakistan’s Swat valley, the psychiatrist speaks for the young man sitting opposite him in silence. “It was terrible. He was unable to escape. The fear is so strong. Still the fear is so strong.” Hundreds of miles away in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, a retired army officer recalls another young man who attacked him while he prayed – his “absolutely expressionless face” as he crouched down robot-like to reload his gun.
Both youths had been sucked into an increasingly fierce campaign of gun and bomb attacks by Islamist militants on military and civilian targets across Pakistan. But there the similarity stops.
One is now being “de-radicalized” in the rehabilitation center in Swat, the northern region which only two years ago was overrun by the Pakistani Taliban and has since been cleared after a massive military operation. He will be taught that Islam does not permit violence against the state and that suicide bombing is “haram” or forbidden.
The other had attacked the minority Ahmadi sect, declared non-Muslim by the state and subject to frequent attacks in Punjab, where many of them live. Though he was arrested after being overpowered by the retired army officer, survivors said many of their neighbors celebrated his act of violence with the distribution of sweets.
The different responses to the two are symptomatic of Pakistan’s compartmentalized approach on counter-terrorism and counter-extremism. In some parts of the country – like Swat – violent Islamists are crushed and their beliefs confronted. In others – like Punjab, the heartland province far more important to the stability of Pakistan than the more talked-about tribal areas bordering Afghanistan – they are tolerated while their ideology of religious extremism flourishes.