Non Conventional Threat

Karachi - Countering Violent Extremism

By Alina Anjum Ahmed

Violent extremism is a complex phenomenon and it is usually synonymous with the terms religious radicalism and terrorism. Violent Extremism is taken in the different context in different societies, but it is usually the combination of psychological and tactical elements, which manifests when any conflict erupts between two asymmetrical groups, where one responds in violence. Pakistan has seen many phases of violent extremism of religious, sectarian, and ethnic nature since its independence. These interrelated conflicts and episodes of turmoil have been aided by both internal and external factors that are providing the funding and narratives to all kinds of militancy.

The violent extremism in Pakistan is a multi-layered and multifaceted phenomenon. It doesn't only exist in the form of sectarianism, radical Islamization, Terrorism, but also in the form of insurgencies of nationalist-separatist, ethnopolitical violence, and oppositions towards state's policies. The province of Sindh, primarily Karachi has been affected most by these violent disruptions and has claimed thousands of lives for past decade

Between 2013 and 2015 only, more than 6,000 Karachiites were killed wither in the act of terror or crime; most attacks in Karachi were targeted killings. Between 2008 and 2016, the police recorded over 12,000 homicide cases in Karachi. During the elections of 2013, Out of 30 reported incidents of political and election-related violence in Sindh, as many as 23 took place in Karachi, resulting in 26 deaths.

As the ethnopolitical situation in Karachi has become more complex over the time, the city has witnessed the emergence of more than 200 well-organized and well-armed militant groups and criminal gangs. The deteriorating conditions of law and order in the city have contributed in the organized crimes, sectarian violence, and have also made the city vulnerable to new violent actors in the form of Afghan Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other splinter groups. This multifaceted violence has put the city in a volatile condition in the past decade.

The prevalence of social and economic challenges, population explosion, underlining systematic issues such as inadequate urban planning, demographic pressure, poor policing, and ineffective judicial system have evolved the violence in Karachi and made the city an ideal hideout for militant groups. Moreover, the lack of opportunities and employment, worrying marginalization of the population and degrading educational system has made Karachi a prime recruiting ground for militants and other extremist groups. Due to the devoid of education, opportunities, jobs, and entertainment; the youth of the city is the prime target of recruitment by these militant groups. Increasing unemployment rate in the city is also another contributing factor in the violence in Karachi. More than 50% of the population in Karachi lives below poverty line and the on-going migration of low-skill workers in the city increase the levels of joblessness of in the city.

The constant struggle of sustaining the living in the city also traps the people especially youth into the webs of criminal activities. Along with the lack of employment opportunities, the deteriorating educational quality and infrastructure is playing a key factor in increasing violence and extremism.

According to the recent Education Survey of 2017 by Alif Ailaan, the education score of 4 our 6 district of Karachi was at the bottom of the list. Karachi South scored 39.68 out of 100; Karachi Korangi scored 44.58 out of 100; Karachi East scored 45.1 out of 100 and Karachi Central score 45.84 out of 100.

Within Pakistan, Karachi's importance to National Security is greatly acknowledged and Karachi is considered a key to domestic political stability and Democracy in Pakistan. The continuous predicament of the city has prompted the government - at provincial as well as federal level, civil societies, the private sector and political parties to propose and implement the initiatives and solutions to curb violence in the city on the ad-hoc basis. The Sindh Rangers Operation of last three year was one such effort by the State in countering the violence and has yielded tremendous results. It has not only restored the peace in the city but also put a halt to the evolving militancy in the city.

The civil societies and non-governmental organizations have played a key role in taking initiatives of countering violence in Karachi. These organizations worked on the holistic approach towards catering the root causes of violent extremism rather than mere counter-terrorism operations. These societies, in collaboration with state and other private sectors, have initiated programs focusing on peacebuilding, conflict resolution, good governance, promoting political participants, rule of law, improvement of the quality of education, providing jobs and promoting positive values.

Various Youth Empowerment Programs are initiated with the multi-pronged approach of creating a facilitating environment for the youth of from deprived and under-developed areas of Karachi. The lack of opportunities and education for youth make them vulnerable to being drawn to violence and extremism.

Sustainable initiatives by government and civil societies for skill development and employment opportunities for youth are promising in curbing the violence and conflict, and also essential for long-term economic growth. A recent project “Youth Employment Project carried out by Sindh Government and UNDP provided training and job opportunities in the garment industry to young women and men from conflict-ridden and marginalized areas of Karachi. To date, the project has trained over 7,000 people in garment-manufacturing skills and provided job opportunities to more than 4,000 youth. There is a need for more robust and sustainable empowerment schemes and projects like YEP to create opportunities for the vulnerable youth of Karachi.

Karachi is a heterogeneous society with diverse ethnicities and multiple denominations of cultures. Due to the past episodes of violence in the city, a fear has caused the social and cultural shift on the individual and societal level.

Promoting ethnic harmony, tolerance, conflict resolution in multi-ethnic neighborhoods through socio-cultural activities and campaigns can rebuild the diverse social and cultural fabric of the city. One such initiative I am Karachi has brought civil societies together in hopes to rebuilt and restore the peace and harmony, reclaiming safe public spaces for cultural rejuvenation in the city through arts, culture, education, sports, and dialogues. Along with other on-going initiatives, there is still a need for more robust measures to stem violence in the city through police and judicial reforms, strengthening state institutions, access to quality education and justice. The constant monitoring of Karachi's violent landscape and investment in policymaking for Karachi is required at the state level, as the country's economic growth and prosperity hinges on the stability of Karachi.